The Canadian Freestyle Ski Association (CFSA) went into the Dragons' Den — and didn't get burned.
Far from it, really, as the association's pitch for a four-year sponsorship deal worth a total of $2 million was picked up by rookie dragon and Difference Capital CEO Michael Wekerle on the Jan. 28 edition of the CBC program.
The episode was filmed last spring, and though the results were officially embargoed until after the episode aired, CFSA CEO Bruce Robinson explained the network relaxed some of its rules so the agreement could kick in more quickly. Difference Capital was listed as a sponsor on the organization's website, and has already lent its name to some events on Canadian soil this season.
"The agreement this year is going well," Robinson said. "Part of the agreement is to sponsor the two World Cups as the presenting sponsor. CBC allowed us to put the Difference Capital branding on our bibs and on our promotional materials prior to the announcement of the agreement and prior to the airing."
Though Robinson and seven star CFSA athletes appeared on the show to make the pitch, the deal is designed to provide an eye to the future, helping youth athletes in an attempt to maintain the dominance Canadians are currently enjoying on the world circuit.
"The money is helping support a national series of competitions, so about $80,000 is being used for running a Canada Cup series of events, which includes some national events in slopestyle, halfpipe and moguls," Robinson said. "It's adding the title sponsor to our Canadian junior championship.
"We're also putting some money toward our girls' programming to help encourage young girls and women in order to participate in freestyle skiing, to have better training access and to enter the coaching profession."
CFSA sport development director Meredith Gardner said the funding is helping to add more "bells and whistles" to Canada Cup events across the country. She also noted programming for young skiers aged nine through 12 will also see some benefits.
"We're going to be able to allocate a little bit of that money towards programming so we can support the Freestylerz program that the Whistler Blackcomb snow school offers," she said. "We haven't defined where every cent of it's going to go next year, but we're building up the capacity to build a better program."
Gardner explained the CFSA is working to define how best to measure the effectiveness of its programming, and work to fill in any knowledge and skill gaps for athletes and coaches. As well, Gardner noted injury prevention is another major area of focus.
"We're piloting, currently, with Freestylerz an online program where we can track the kids' skill acquisition," she said. "It's a really big deal because it allows us to know how effective our coach and athlete development programs are and we can start to target more carefully.
"Let's say we look at the Whistler Freestylerz and we test them all and they can all drop a 20-foot cliff, but their etching skills are weak, we can say, 'OK, we've got a few more dollars to spend, let's put an initiative on the ground in Whistler to work with all the extraordinary ski experts.'"
Gardner explained the Freestylerz began primarily in the domain of the Whistler Blackcomb ski school, and the CFSA is now looking to get the program on the organization's Can Freestyle track to build fundamental skills.
Good deal for Dragon, too
Wekerle, who is in his first season on the show, credited the CFSA for its creative approach.
"I was really excited," he said. "Youth is really where it's at with the investment. It's an investment not just in physical dollars, but in emotional dollars."
Wekerle brought his family to the FIS Freestyle Ski and Snowboard World Championships in Kreischberg, Austria last month. He said he was glad with what he saw out of the team and said he's thrilled to associate his brand with a "winning team."
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