Festival picking up pieces after Nortel rocks the Dragon Boat

Published on the front page of the Ottawa Business Journal.
July 2, 2007

Click here to view this article on OttawaBusinessJournal.com.

John Brooman, executive director of the Ottawa Dragon Boat Race Festival.
John Brooman, executive director of the Ottawa Dragon Boat Race Festival.
Photo by DARREN BROWN for the Ottawa Business Journal

John Brooman is picking up more than just cigarette butts and litter after the most successful Ottawa Dragon Boat Race Festival ever.

Mr. Brooman, the festival’s executive director, is now faced with the challenge of finding a new title sponsor for the event after Nortel Networks stepped down from the role last week.

“It’s a bittersweet thing for me… but I think it’s a good thing. It allows us to roam more and it doesn’t scare us in any shape or form,” Mr. Brooman says. “We’re fortunate because the festival is so well-run and fiscally managed that this can be absorbed.”

Mr. Brooman says the festival’s organizers are just now looking at approaching its other current sponsors to take over as title sponsor for 2008, with the Business Development Bank of Canada at the top of the list. Other top choices include the Ottawa Citizen, Dell and Tim Hortons.

Nortel was the event’s title sponsor for nine years, a way for the company and employees to be involved in the community and support worthwhile causes while also achieving some positive branding, a company spokesperson says.

This year. the telecommunications giant contributed $50,000 in cash and $20,000 to $30,000 in kind.

However, Nortel spokesperson David Hudson says the company decided to move on in order to focus on increasing involvement for its two other events in the summer months, the Tour Nortel race and the telethon for the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario.

“Part of our thinking was that the festival is very successful and well-run, and we felt there was real momentum and real opportunity for a new sponsor,” he says, stressing that the move was not a negative reflection on the festival in any way. “The challenge for us was how to increase involvement in our events, and we couldn’t see how to get people involved in all three in the same eight weeks.”

Mr. Hudson says cost was not a factor in the decision, which the company had been deliberating for more than a year.

“Why (the Dragon Boat Festival) instead of the other two events? We have larger employee involvement in the other two, and they both use our facilities. Also, the Tour Nortel has the most brand recognition and is the most precious to us,” he says. “On the other hand, the Dragon Boat Festival gets great support from the community and the Mooney’s Bay facilities.”

Nonetheless, Mr. Hudson says the company will continue to support its race teams in the Dragon Boat Festival, although it will be involved in a much less visible capacity.

Meanwhile, festival chair Sandy Foote says the event has lofty goals for 2008, both in terms of participation and fundraising.

The 2007 festival, which was held two weekends ago, saw more than 5,000 paddlers, 60,000 attendees and net charitable proceeds of more than $250,000.

“We’re going to take it a notch higher (in 2008),” says Mr. Foote. “Our financial goal is at least the same or bigger – $300,000 or more. And we may increase the number of teams to 200 (from 190), although that depends on logistics.”

While he acknowledges there’s definitely going to be an impact from the loss of Nortel as the title sponsor, he says it’s not one the event can’t overcome.

“With the number of people onsite and the demographic of people who are coming, these are all things that a title sponsor will be attracted to,” says Mr. Foote. “You never want to lose the title sponsor, of course, but we’re well-placed to attract a new partner.”

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