As the parent company of teams such as the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Toronto Raptors, and the provider of exceptional live music and entertainment events, Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment Ltd. (MLSE) knows the critical importance of key players. Some prove their worth at the area, on the court, and in the field, while others, such as Shannon Hosford and Humza Teherany do their game-changing from the company’s head office.

Speaking with ITWC president Fawn Annan for a June 2021 installment of CMO Talks, a podcast series on marketing challenges, Hosford, MLSE’s chief marketing officer, and Teherany, chief technology and digital officer, described the team effort that goes into making a difference on the digital and marketing sides of one of the largest sports companies in the world.

“I have worked closely with Shannon on taking the organization into the future around digital first thinking, and then coordinating that with marketing and content and really coming up with new ideas for an exciting fan experience,” said Teherany, who leads one of the largest digital teams in North America. “It’s almost like an external technology company that we built inside MLSE, so it allows us to build solutions if they don’t exist out in the marketplace. Our key goal is to bring really great ideas and experiences for our fans, and to enable them with the best technology.”

In response to a question from Annan about what drives the company’s strategy and where marketing fits, Hosford described MLSE as a fan-first, digital-first organization. “That is part of our DNA,” she said. “That is what we think about daily. Marketing and digital are hand in hand, going to market, figuring out new ways to create audiences, to forge deeper connections, and to personalize our brand experience.”

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According to Hosford, the pandemic has inspired new digital platforms and technology that has grown the MLSE audience immensely, particularly the Gen Z demographic, which is one the company would like to expand.

“We really work hard on making sure that our goals are relevant to our fans first,” added Teherany. “Obviously we have a commercial side to our business as well, and we work closely with leagues, but I would say it’s in that order that we think. We believe that if we have good products and services, fans will like them and use them and then all the other benefits will follow.”

Teherany was quick to emphasize the many positive impacts of a team approach. “Combining marketing and digital can really change the trajectory of how fast you can do things in an organization and then the net benefit from doing things that way,” he said. “I don’t think marketing can work on its own without digital and I don’t think digital can work on its own without marketing in 2021.”

Hosford agreed. “Our whole organization is responsible for fan engagement. Humza and I lead fan engagement from the marketing and digital perspective, so we get credit for the spaces and places that we are creating and innovating, but everyone across the organization is accountable for a fan first mentality.”

For Teherany, it’s a top down success story. “Our leadership believes in what we’re doing, and what our plans for the future are,” he said. “A lot of this is creating and embracing a culture of innovation, making some mistakes along the way, but working together to get to the end goal.

It’s an approach that has earned Teherany and Hosford fans of their own, not to mention a 2021 nomination for best in sport technology, competing against giants such as the NBA and Microsoft. “We want to lead,” said Hosford. “We want to be the cheerleaders for Toronto and Canada and we want to put us on the map. Getting there is a collective effort.”

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