How Tennis Canada Plans to Surpass Hockey

Mark Healy is discarding the once-exclusive sport’s stuffy reputation to bring tennis to a hockey nation through Tennis Canada

When Mark Healy joined Tennis Canada in 2014, the organization was facing a major identity crisis. Those who were familiar with the nonprofit sports association, Healy says, recognized it as the sponsor of the Rogers Cup, a 10-day tournament that promotes a tiny portion of what the organization represents. But the majority of Canadians didn’t recognize it at all.

“As marketers, it’s key that we capture millennials now. If you don’t have that sort of mentality, you’re in trouble.”

“It’s not a huge secret that tennis isn’t the most popular sport in Canada—at a professional level, it’s probably 10th,” says Healy, Tennis Canada’s chief marketing officer. The organization is in charge of leading the development and promotion of tennis in Canada, but it wasn’t seen as an essential part of the tennis community. “It was an enormous brand problem.”

To boost the reputation of the organization, Healy knew Tennis Canada was due for a 21st-century makeover. That meant changing the country’s perception of tennis from “elitist to accessible,” he says.

With Healy at the helm, Tennis Canada launched a sweeping rebrand aimed at humanizing tennis, replacing campaign imagery of celebrities and ultra-wealthy fans with ordinary Canadians playing casual matches with loved ones. The company leapt online, with two newly rebuilt websites (tenniscanada.com and rogerscup.com), new Facebook and Twitter pages, and mobile apps designed to drive engagement. Perhaps most importantly, it rebranded the Rogers Cup as a more egalitarian, come-as-you-are affair.

THEN & NOW
Since Tennis Canada’s rebrand:

  • Web activity is up 38%
  • Media and online mentions are up 50%
  • Web impressions—sessions and users—are up 112%
  • Merchandise sales are up 400%
  • Social-media buzz for the Rogers Cup is up 150%
  • Mobile reach is up 1,167%

It worked. Three months after the rebrand, Tennis Canada’s media and online mentions shot up 50 percent, and its merchandise sales and mobile reach increased by 400 percent and 1,167 percent, respectively. All metrics, it’s worth noting, that are crucial to netting millennial consumers—the demographic that every modern marketer hopes to appeal to.

Tennis Canada’s newfound success is a clear win for the organization, but it is a particular point of pride for Healy.

A Queens University-trained engineer, Healy fell in love with marketing while pursing an MBA at the University of Western Ontario and later at Venture Communications, a marketing agency owned by the entrepreneur Arlene Dickinson, where Healy spent a year as head of strategic planning. But after nine years as an independent marketing consultant, Healy felt it was time for a change.

“I wanted to land in a client-side CMO role, and I wanted it to be in an area where I’m passionate,” Healy says. “The only two things I care about, really, are sports and fashion—so that’s what I told the universe I was looking for.”

Soon an opportunity arose. Kelly Murumets, the CEO of Tennis Canada and an acquaintance Healy had met through a former consultant client, desperately needed to restructure her organization’s marketing culture and strategy. Murumets created the chief marketing role to ratify swift internal and external changes, and she asked Healy to fill the position.

“Murumets saw me as an outsider—someone with no preconceived notions about how to market tennis,” Healy says. “She thought having a newcomer in that role would be an advantage and would provide a fresher approach to marketing tennis to the next generation.”

Indeed, in the short time Healy has been with Tennis Canada, he’s recognized the influence and buying power of millennial consumers. Like most senior-level marketers, Healy has come to understand the demographic’s impact on the long-term success of his brand and has set his sights on capturing the elusive market.

“Millennials have hit the age where they have jobs, but most are unmarried and without kids, so there’s a huge amount of disposable income waiting to be tapped,” Healy says. “As marketers, it’s key that we capture millennials now. If you don’t have that sort of mentality, you’re in trouble.”

SERVE & LOBBY
Healy outlines the four steps that have made for a successful rebrand:

1. Increase revenue and expertise in digital properties such as web, social media, and mobile apps.

2. Launch marketing initiatives aimed at humanizing Tennis Canada’s brand: “Real people playing real games.”

3. Replace campaign imagery of old, affluent consumers with more-diverse populations.

4. Overhaul the Rogers Cup, the organization’s biggest revenue driver, to appeal to a wider, younger crowd.

For Tennis Canada, nabbing gen-Y consumers means pouring money and expertise into new digital properties and getting more strategic with marketing initiatives that already exist.

The Rogers Cup, Tennis Canada’s biggest revenue driver, offers a perfect example. According to Healy, that event was billed as a costly—and, by many measures, stuffy—experience reserved for older, affluent tennis fans. To contemporize the event, and to draw young Canadians and casual tennis fans, the organization dropped the ticket price and picked up a smattering of amenities and activities: a bar-lounge area, tournament apps, and music-festival-esque games.For Tennis Canada, nabbing gen-Y consumers means pouring money and expertise into new digital properties and getting more strategic with marketing initiatives that already exist.

After landing the newly created role, Healy also made some swift internal changes. He restructured the marketing department, which was decentralized with separate advertising, promotions, and digital divisions functioning as an internal agency model. Healy was able to create a department that “works together as a single unit to solve problems,” he says.

Externally, Healy’s leadership has taken a decidedly idealistic approach. Shortly after joining Tennis Canada, the chief marketing officer launched a cross-country tour, visiting tennis players, coaches, parents, and fans in every province.

“After travelling across the country, I identified four values that represent tennis to Canadians: grace, honour, discipline, and perseverance,” Healy says. “Those might sound like just words, but if you take a deeper look at them, you’ll see they’re not only relevant to tennis—they’re also very Canadian.”

Ever since, Healy’s work has hinged on a simple but crucial idea: that Canadian values and tennis values are one in the same.