FILLING THE GAPS
B2ten’s funding model makes impact by supporting Canadian athletes first — and by remaining flexible
Two emails, one decision. No office. One salaried employee. Private funding.
That’s how B2ten stays nimble in a sporting world otherwise tied up by the political strings attached to public money. That’s how the guerrilla support organization continues to help athletes step onto Olympic, world championship and World Cup podiums.
“We have no real rules,” said chief operating officer Dominick Gauthier. “We have our beliefs and philosophies, but they are not rules. If things pop up, we use our common sense and judgment and we do it, or not.”
The unique business model is working so well that today, already eight years past an end date insinuated by their corporate identity, there is no exit strategy.
“We always had an end game, obviously, with our name,” said Gauthier, the only full-time, salaried employee. “Then we raised money for 2016, then we raised money to go to Tokyo.
“And every time we do new fundraising, there is a purpose. We’re going to 2020 because now we feel we’re gaining some traction in the system, where people are embracing what we do. We’re having a bigger impact, but there is still more work.
“So the way we manage B2ten now is that B2ten is there. The funding model for it might change, and what we do could evolve, but we’re there to stay. I think it’s better to work that way, for the sport system to know we’re not leaving in 2020.
“We’re definitely going to 2022. I see us in Paris (in 2024). I see us in 2026, wherever it will be.”
Through targeted spending or technical expertise or both, B2ten has assisted about 100 Canadian athletes. Their impactful story started with Jennifer Heil’s moguls gold medal at Torino 2006 and has continued through Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir’s ice dance victory at Pyeongchang 2018.
In most cases, B2ten athletes also receive funding from Sport Canada and the Canadian Olympic Committee (COC) through Own The Podium (OTP), and all manner of assistance from their own national sports organizations (NSOs).
While those contributions are vital, B2ten has consistently identified and filled a top-up niche.
“One always has a need for additional resources,” said Own The Podium CEO Anne Merklinger. “So whether those resources are experts or financial, there’s always a gap that can be identified.
“Having another partner at the table that can fill some of those gaps in sport science or sport medicine or financial investments, like investing in a piece of equipment, is a huge contributor to the system.”
B2ten’s impact and longevity are testaments to the generosity of a small group of well-heeled donors, the passion and acumen of an even smaller cadre of hardworking and mostly pro bono principals, and an improved relationship with the establishment.
“The important thing is to work in collaboration and I think everyone in the system, the COC, OTP, Sport Canada and B2ten, has improved on that and it is something we are striving for,” said Eric Myles, COC executive director of sport. “The big thing is there is no fight.”
B2ten’s core mission hasn’t changed since its founding after Heil won in Torino; give bestcase training scenarios to athletes capable of winning medals, and by doing so, have a significant and positive impact on sport in Canada.
They’re also doing more than that, hosting sport science and medicine think tanks, working with individual sports organizations on best practices.
To deliver on all fronts they spend money wisely — at a rate of about $2 million per year — and only after building relationships with donors, athletes, national sports organizations, federal and provincial government ministries, and the aforementioned establishment.
Gauthier said they have raised $33 million over the life of B2ten. By contrast, OTP directs $64 million annually from Sport Canada to NSOs.
“In the big picture of sport we’re pretty small. We have a big impact because we’re able to be agile and top up what’s missing,” said Gauthier.
And they pick their spots. They don’t expect to work with every NSO.
“We’re aligned first and foremost to supporting athlete needs, coaching needs and then program needs,” said B2ten president J.D. Miller.
“There are some NSOs that see program first, coaching second and athlete third. It’s completely flipped. It’s just a different philosophy. That wouldn’t be a really great place for us to be.”
There is no better example of their modus operandi and success than Virtue and Moir’s final competitive act. Skate Canada had prioritized support for the dance team, as did Own The Podium. Working in concert with both, B2ten contributed $360,000 over the last three years of the Pyeongchang quadrennial to fund an integrated support team for Virtue and Moir, who moved their training base to Montreal. It was also home for most members of a team that included coaches, a nutritionist, sport psychologist, osteopath, physiologist, masseur, a Pilates instructor and two strength coaches.
“When Tessa and Scott began working with B2ten, for us and for them it was a perfect fit,” said Mike Slipchuk, Skate Canada’s high performance director. “We were 100 per cent behind them in that decision. We have a good relationship with B2ten, in particular the last four years with Dom and myself. We really made sure we were all on the same page.”
Two years out from Tokyo, B2ten has shifted focus to summer sport. In a budding partnership with Athletics Canada, B2ten will fund a series of warm weather training camps for the women’s 4x400-metre relay team.
In January, B2ten will host a corporate retreat for Cycling Canada, aimed at repairing what Gauthier believes was “a very bad culture.”
Cycling Canada executive director Matt Jeffries said high leadership turnover this year has been challenging, and B2ten has helped identify potential solutions.
“For us it’s all about getting some clarity and alignment around organizational purpose,” Jeffries said. “Just making sure everyone on our team is on the same page as to where we want to go as an organization.”
B2ten has also supported Cycling Canada by funding a training camp.
“They now see the benefit of working with us,” Gauthier said. “It will probably end up being one of our best relationships.”
Though B2ten still values distance from bureaucracy, their principals are happy to work from the inside out on occasion.
“The sport landscape is a club and we’re not in the club,” Miller said.
“We’re completely independent. We can pick and choose what we do and how we do it. If Athlete 1 needs resources that require $22,000 a year and Athlete 2 needs resources of $122,000 a year, we can provide that. NSOs can’t do that. They can’t pick and choose. They’re burdened with politics.”
Miller believes there was resentment from the “club” in Vancouver because so many athletes with B2ten support made it onto the podium and the organization became a media darling. Both the attention and resentment has faded over time.
“Some people didn’t like that we were so close to the athletes,” Gauthier said. “We would hear what we believed was the other side of the story and in some cases we got involved with some athletes who were not supported by their NSOs. That frustrated a lot of people because they saw it as us putting light on what they were not doing.
“I think now in 2018, everybody understands us better and we’re better at working with people instead of us being in our dark cave.
“I think everybody now sees the resources are limited and it would be stupid not to try to tap into B2ten, whether it’s for expertise or our money.”
Indeed. Most athletes who form a relationship with B2ten come away satisfied with the experience.
OTP’s Merklinger and COC’s Myles both believe B2ten is an important member of the landscape. NSOs like Cycling Canada and Skate Canada value their partnerships. And the core of donors has been happy to continue funding the business model.
Doug Goss was there at the beginning, one of 10 Edmonton businesspeople who combined for $50,000 per year to support Heil through Torino and into Vancouver.
“I did it because I believed in it,” said Goss. “It was all about putting money in the hands of the athletes and funding athletecentred programs. There wasn’t an endless pot, but everyone was on board with helping athletes and with upping the game of national sports organizations that needed help.”
After 2010, B2ten positioned itself for a longer run and the 13 heaviest hitters — Andre Desmarais and Stephen Bronfman among them — agreed to contribute $1.5 million each over six years. They have dug into their pockets again to get B2ten through 2020.
The organization is also a beneficiary of Canada’s Great Kitchen Party, formerly known as Gold Medal Plates, a series of crossCanada wine and food events. Gold Medal Plates said it raised $15 million over 12 years for the Canadian Olympic Foundation, but that relationship ended last June.
Goss left B2ten a couple of years ago and Gauthier said some other donors won’t be with them much longer.
“Some have told us they won’t continue and that’s fair. They have given us so much.”
B2ten has turned that money into a legacy of medals and best practices.
“We go out and do what we’re going to do because we believe it’s going to be good for Canadian Olympic sport,” said Miller. “We don’t need anyone to feather our bed. We stand on what we deliver.”
In the big picture of sport we’re pretty small. We have a big impact because we’re able to be agile and top up what’s missing
Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir partnered with the funding agency B2ten in the years leading up to the 2018 Olympics in Pyeongchang, where the ice dancers won double gold for Canada.