FILLING THE GAPS

B2ten’s fund­ing model makes im­pact by sup­port­ing Cana­dian ath­letes first — and by re­main­ing flex­i­ble

Vancouver Sun - - SPORTS - DAN BARNES [email protected]­media.com Twit­ter.com/sports­dan­barnes

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

DAVID J. PHILLIP/THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

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.

Do­minick Gau­thier

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