It was the perfect marriage of sponsor and sport, Fast Track Capital and the Canadian luge team, home to the feet-first sliders who rip down an ice-covered concrete chute at 140-kilometres an hour.
But even with the Sochi Olympics on the horizon and steadily improving Canada winning two medals at the 2013 FIL world luge championships in Whistler, the Alberta-based financial investment company won’t fulfill the final year of a five-year, $1,002,014 sponsorship contract.
So now, as the lugers take to the track at Canada Olympic Park in Calgary Tuesday for the first on-ice training of the 2013-2014 season, they will once again sport FOR SALE signs on the front of their helmets.
“We’ve been knocking on doors for a long time,” Tim Farstad, the Canadian Luge Association’s executive director, said in an interview on Monday. “It’s difficult out there right now with the big sports like alpine, freestyle and snowboarding losing sponsors. And it just makes it that much more difficult for a smaller sport like ourselves.
“But for the first time ever, we’ve got a very good chance of winning Olympic medals. It’s exciting and I don’t know if everyone knows that. We want people to know we’re back for sale and looking to find some good partners.”
Veteran slider Sam Edney of Calgary says it’s critical that the sport find new financial backing.
“Not only to help us with this Olympic season coming up pretty quick, but also further creating a bit more of a lifeline past the Sochi Games and for the future of the sport in Canada.”
It was back in February of 2009 that the chronically underfunded CLA first came up with the idea of putting FOR SALE signs on the sliders’ helmets, a place usually reserved for corporate logos.
There was an in immediate burst of interest, but Fast Track Capital was the only one willing to commit long term. And in addition to the five-year contract, Darren Weeks, the company founder and CEO also offered a $1 million prize to any Canadian luger who won gold in 2010 or 2014.
The CLA, which will get $973,000 this season from Own the Podium, primarily to fund the national team, including coaching, used much of the $200,000 annually from Fast Track to finance crucial development programs.
But early last winter, Fast Track was suspended by securities commissions in Alberta, B.C., Saskatchewan and Ontario for various deficiencies, forcing it to drop its sponsorship. It only partially funded programs last season.
The company’s earlier contributions did pay off in helping the young doubles team of Tristan Walker, 22, and Justin Snith, 21, get to the World Cup level. Last February, the duo finished fourth at the world championships and helped Canada’s three-sled relay team, which also included Edney and Alex Gough of Calgary, win a silver medal.
The development programs established with the funding also helped Jenna Spencer, 17, of Pemberton slide to an overall silver medal on the 2012-2013 Youth World Cup circuit. The first legacy baby of the 2010 Olympics and the Whistler Sliding Centre, Spencer had five top five finishes last season.
“Most of our funds (from OTP and Sport Canada) are very restricted,” said Farstad. “It’s mostly about your very top athletes and coaching programs. When you have a corporate sponsor, you finally have some unrestricted funds you can use where you need them.
“Those funded the kids that are on the (national) team now, gave us the ability to train them properly and give them the equipment they needed, people like Tristan and Justin, Kim McRae and John Fennell. Jenna Spencer is another good example. She was really able to be in play because of those funds.”
Without Fast Track’s money this year, the CLA was forced to cut its development team to just four athletes from the usual 10 to 12. And those four will only travel to half the normal number of events.
Farstad said that while the CLA looked for one big sponsor in 2009, it might have to be more creative now and find a way to incorporate a handful of smaller sponsors. With Gough, a multiple World Cup medallist in women’s singles, and the relay team having a good shot at the podium in Sochi, he’s sure there are potential partners “who will want to come on the ride with us.”
“We’ve got to stay confident. We have an amazing program. We’re not a big, huge sport, so when you join with us, it’s like you’re part of the team. You can basically go for dinner with our team. You’re very connected and we’re able to do that because we’re such a small group.
“We’re not looking for freebies, for someone to just throw money at us and not get anything back in return. We’re looking for companies that want to become part of the team because that’s really what you feel.”
The World Cup luge season starts Nov. 16-17 in Lillehammer, Norway. The lone Canadian stop is in Whistler Dec. 6-7.
- Tristan Walker: Toughest guy in tights…on a toboggan (olympic.ca)
- Pilot Chemical to Host USA Luge Slider Search in October (prnewswire.com)
- USA luge ‘slider search’ to visit Burlington (wptz.com)