(Trois-Rivières) If you’re thinking of starting a professional sports franchise in Quebec, you don’t have to hire Mark Weightman. But it probably wouldn’t hurt.
The president and CEO of the Trois-Rivières Lions took stock on Tuesday of the first year of existence of the Canadian subsidiary in the ECHL (see other text).
Despite COVID-19 restrictions, the team hit its ticket sales target and is said to be one of the league’s most followed on social media. Weightman also spoke for club owner, Newfoundlander Dean MacDonald, saying he was “very proud” of the results achieved in the inaugural season, despite the heartbreaking loss in the first round of the playoffs. .
Weightman himself is very impressed with how much the organization has accomplished in 11 months. Because on June 10, 2021, he recalled, the name and logo of the Lions were unveiled. That’s about all the small group of people who were working to create the new team had at that time, long before the players and coaches joined the adventure. The big boss of the franchise has the feeling “to have lived three years at the same time”.
This is obviously good news for the Lions. But when you look at Weightman’s journey, it’s no surprise. When he left Groupe CH in 2020, the man who was president of the Laval Rocket and head of operations at Place Bell left behind a healthy organization. The Canadiens’ training club has developed a distinct brand, adopted by hockey fans in Montreal and its northern suburbs.
Here he is today associated, in addition to his role with the Lions, with the Montreal Alliance, a new franchise of the Canadian Elite Basketball League (LECB), which will play the first game in its history in the coming weeks. He acts more as a governor, but the fact remains that it is another new team that is about to grow before his eyes. “A great challenge”, summarizes the principal concerned in an interview.
“It’s fun to be able to mold a team in my own way,” he said. I’ve been in professional sports for 27 years, I’ve seen some things done right, some not so. Today I have the chance to do things differently, in the way that I believe is best. »
“Hoping I’m right!” “, he adds, laughing.
Over the years, Weightman has specialized in organizational transformations. He did so at the end of his reign with the Montreal Alouettes, a team with which he worked for two decades, rising through the ranks to the position of president, which he held from 2013 to 2016.
He fulfilled the same kind of mandate with Linköping HC, in the first division of the Swedish hockey championship, “a bit old-fashioned organization” whose business approach he had “modernized”.
With the Lions and the Alliance, of course, Weightman is not in the seat of one who must modernize, but rather build.
In Trois-Rivières, he prioritized a “regional vision”: we are pleased with the influence the club has enjoyed throughout Quebec, but we have developed the Mauricie market as a priority.
With the Alliance, the challenge is quite different. Often ill-conceived, attempts to install high-level basketball in Montreal have never had any real success. And we are mainly attacking a sports market monopolized by the mammoth that is the Canadian. As the LECB is a summer league, we deduce that the competition will rather come from CF Montreal and the Alouettes. However, it goes much further, nuance Weightman. The competition, in fact, comes from the entire entertainment offering. “I could make the list of festivals, but I would never finish,” he illustrates.
How, in this context, can people be persuaded to spend the dollars they had planned for this area of their lives?
Despite the vastness of the market, Weightman reminds us that the industry has been in the midst of a change, for some years now, which no longer relies on mass solicitations, but rather on “surgical” approaches. Online databases, real goldmines for promoters, make it possible to target potential supporters.
With the Alliance, we seek on the one hand to attract basketball fans who have never had the chance to live their passion in Montreal, and on the other hand to convince the curious, sports fans or not, who want go and taste the atmosphere that will be created at the Verdun Auditorium, where the club will play its local matches.
Regardless of the strategy adopted, the objective remains the same: “Raise your hand higher than the others to get noticed.” »
History does not say what kind of success the Montreal Alliance will taste. But in light of the experience of the Rocket and the Lions, the Weightman recipe seems to be working.