AUG 4

A CONVERSATION WITH: STEVE WALLACE, CMO OF THE INVICTUS GAMES

The Invictus Games is a multi-sport event for wounded, injured or sick military service members and veterans who compete across a variety of adaptive sports. The Games were established by Prince Harry in 2014 and a record 17 countries and 550 competitors will be participating in this year’s edition taking place in Toronto from September 23-30. The Invictus Games mission is to draw attention to the cause of the military, wounded and ill service men and women, as well as their families. The Games look to use the power of sport to transform and provide healing.

MKTG sat down with the Invictus Games CMO Steve Wallace who was previously with the 2015 Pan Am Games, to discuss the upcoming Games, the unique events, and their approach to sponsorship.

MKTG:

One event that caught our eye was the Jaguar Land Rover Driving Challenge. It was the only event with a title sponsor. Could you provide some background on how the Jaguar Challenge came to life?

INVICTUS GAMES:

Jaguar Land Rover has been the presenting partner of the Invictus Games since day one and they have been completely committed to this property. The Jaguar Land Rover Challenge is the first event at the Invictus Games and it has been for the last two Games. This year we will be holding it in a transformed parking lot just north of the Distillery District. Jaguar Land Rover themselves have had a connection with the military worldwide with the use of their vehicles. A number of competitors drove military vehicles as part of their job. For them, it is fun to get back into the driver seat. It is part of the excitement of the game and it draws the connection between the military and the vehicles.

MKTG:

In the past, there have been sensitivities to the notion of commercializing the military and “camo-washing”. Do you talk to brands about the importance of backing up their sponsorship with a broader commitment to this cause in order to appear authentic?

INVICTUS GAMES:

Of course. The companies that we’ve approached and who have approached us will normally have an existing association with the military. They have been involved in either philanthropy within the military space or they have developed programs for the military. The Invictus Games become an extension of their community efforts and another way to demonstrate their support of the military. We are not really sensitive to it because our sponsors already have a connection, they aren’t using this as an opportunity to wrap around the Invictus Games flag.

MKTG:

Are there any events that could surprise people and really engage the fans?

INVICTUS GAMES:

One of the more popular events is wheelchair rugby; it is exciting, fast paced, and has a lot of action. Additionally, I think there will be other events where the unique nature of their venue will create interest. Wheelchair tennis will compete at the reflective pond of Nathan Phillips Square. It will be open to the public and inviting to people to watch during their lunch hour where they can see sport right in front of their eyes. We will be hosting archery at Fort York, and cycling at High Park. The venues will really help attract a number of spectators.

MKTG:

Are there Global Partners of the Invictus Games who have activated in past years of the competition? Or are all sponsors Games-specific?

INVICTUS GAMES:

We have been lucky that a few of our sponsors have continued their support throughout the previous editions of the Games. Being the third edition of the Games has made us the benefactor of support that has existed from sponsors like Jaguar Land Rover who has a multi-year commitment to the Invictus Games. We also have a number of other sponsors who have committed to multi-year agreements such as Sage Accounting Software, Fisher House Foundation, and ISPS Handa. Then we have the ability to add regional sponsors which we have done with Bell Media, President’s Choice Loblaws, Molson, Air Canada and Via Rail.

MKTG:

There has been a significant effort to take the Invictus Games brand into schools to build momentum and interest among youth. Could you elaborate on the pre-Games marketing activity?

INVICTUS GAMES:

It was a conscious effort to focus on not just talking to the military community but engaging the full community which includes school kids. It is also an opportunity to further their education as they are already learning about Canada’s role in military history. We have also created the first Invictus Games mascot, Vimy. I had success with the Pan Am Game mascot Pachi who was also a hit with school kids. Now, we can bring Vimy to schools where they can learn about the power of adaptive sport and we find that to be a powerful aspect for us. Vimy has been great for us and depending on future Invictus organizing committees it is a new asset that may live on for future editions of the Games.

MKTG:

Are there any specific athletes that you feel are highly marketable and sponsors should keep their eye on? For example, Bruno Guévremont, captain of the Team Canada at last year’s Games, will be the newest ambassador for the 2017 Bell Let’s Talk campaign.

INVICTUS GAMES:

There are a few athletes that will go on to compete at the Paralympics. Out of about 400 competitors that competed in the 2016 Invictus Games in Orlando, there was about 12 that went on to compete in the Rio Paralympics. There some examples where the Invictus Games is part of their athletic journey but it is not primarily what we are about.

We are more about providing rehabilitation and therapy for those competitors who felt shut out from the world and just getting to the starting line is a major deal. I think what is going to surprise Canadians is that all of these competitors have their own compelling stories. Each one is an amazing story and you fall in love with each one of them because of it. So, I don’t think for these athletes it is about marketability or personal best times, like I said, it is about getting to the starting line. We had a wheelchair racing competitor from Jordan who had never competed before, take two minutes to finish a thirty-second race. When she crossed the finish line it was the loudest applause in the whole stadium. All the other competitors stopped when they crossed the finish line and waited for her to finish. Those are the moments that show what the Invictus Games are all about.

MKTG:

Is there anything that would surprise us about expected fan demographic?

INVICTUS GAMES:

I think what will be surprising is how varied the fan demographic will be. There will be a lot of “Royal Watchers” who will attend just because Prince Harry is here. They tend to be an older crowd and you will be able to identify them because they will have their Union Jacks with them. There will also be a large contingent of military families. The average age of the competitors is about 32 so they will have their spouse and children attend as well as their parents and even grandparents. You will also see a number of school kids in the audience after introducing them to the Games with our school visits. It is a variety, in one corner of the bleachers will be grandparents and the other will be school kids making for a unique vibe. Rather than some properties where there is a highly targeted demographic, this property pulls from a variety of demographics.

MKTG:

The poem “I am master of my fate, I am captain of my soul” is prevalent with the Invictus Games. It seems to represent the brand of the Invictus Games. How would you describe the brand of the Games?

INVICTUS GAMES:

I have been blessed to be the custodian of a well-baked brand that was created by an incredible bunch of individuals and agencies. Invictus is Latin for unconquered, which means everything about the Games is focused on determination, overcoming challenges, and not being defeated by life’s obstacles. The “I AM” poem is more than 100 years old and those lines mean a lot to different people. You will see the “I AM” all over the place during the Games. I only have 4 colours in the brand pallet, it’s black, grey, white, and yellow, that’s it. It is a strong pallet of colours and everything about our brand is strong, unconquered, and unyielding. You will see a lot of black and yellow on the streets of Toronto in the next couple months.

MKTG:

What is the broadcast exposure and broadcast presentation (ie: personalities) of the Invictus Games?

INVICTUS GAMES:

The Invictus Games started out of the UK so the BBC jumped right into the mix, they are very committed to this property. They will be broadcasting every night on BBC 1 from a studio in Nathan Phillips Square. They are sending 40 people to Toronto to commentate and broadcast daily throughout the Games. The BBC is very committed to this property and telling the stories to the UK. ESPN was a new broadcaster that came on last year with the Orlando Invictus Games. Bell Media jumped on board right away and saw this as a broadcast opportunity for not just sport but news and entertainment. They have given a lot of support to the Games on the news side with military commemorations. Also, from the entertainment side, they know the Royals will bring out celebrities which they will also be focusing on. The opening and closing ceremonies will be live on CTV the 23rd and 30th. TSN will then cover all the events throughout the week.

MKTG:

What are you most excited about for the Invictus Games?

INVICTUS GAMES:

I am most looking forward to how the city will react to the Games. I think that Torontonians and Canadians really surprised themselves with how they received the TORONTO 2015 Pan Am Games. In the lead up to the event there was not much of a buzz but when they got underway, this city erupted in Pan Am spirit. I think the city is looking for another opportunity to do the same and we are excited to be the ones to deliver that.

Secure tickets to the Invictus Games here.