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Canadian Freestyle Ski Association earns sponsorship on Dragons' Den

Organization's $2 million pitch accepted by Michael Wekerle



The Canadian Freestyle Ski Association (CFSA) had an incredibly successful run at the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, winning seven medals including two gold.

They're hoping to keep the gold rush going for years to come.

Seven CFSA athletes and CEO Bruce Robinson appeared on Wednesday's (Jan.28) episode of CBC's Dragons' Den with a bit of a different pitch for the Dragons. Entrepreneurs often come on the show looking for investors for their business, offering partnerships in their fledgling companies. Robinson and the contingent of athletes, which included five of the Olympic medallists, instead pitched a $2 million sponsorship spread over four years.

CFSA CEO Bruce Robinson, aerials skier Travis Gerrits and moguls skier Maxime Dufour-Lapointe led the pitch, which was filmed last April.

After four Dragons opted out, the CFSA's fifth and final hope came through. Michael Wekerle, a merchant banker and co-founder and CEO of Difference Capital, agreed to sponsor the team.

Olympic halfpipe silver medallist Mike Riddle, a Squamish resident, said CFSA's A Team athletes have what they need financially and the pitch was to help support the next generation of athletes eying an Olympic run in 2022 or 2026. He said it's a concern because several companies are opting to boost the Canadian Olympic Committee, which helps current athletes, but tomorrow's competitors won't necessarily benefit.

"They fund a lot of the grassroots programs," he said of the CFSA. "The future for the Canada Freestyle would be the 2022, 2026 Olympics and they need to develop athletes for those Games. Without funding, that's not going to happen."

On the CFSA website, Difference Capital is listed as the organization's Premier Partner. On the episode, Robinson said sponsorship includes exclusive branding rights like cresting on athletes' suits, signage at CFSA events and appearances from athletes. Riddle noted that Difference Capital also took on the naming rights for the Canadian Tour for younger skiers.

"It was definitely strange, it's not something I'm normally used to," he said of the filoming experience. "I showed up not really knowing what to expect and when we got in there, I was definitely a little nervous. Those guys are heads of huge businesses and it's not my normal crowd at all."

Knowing the Dragons' feisty reputations, Riddle acknowledged having some concerns about the non-traditional pitch, but said in the approximately 45 minutes of filming, there was respect all around.

"I was kind of worried that we were going to get ripped apart at some points for not having a proper business or not having the numbers down," Riddle said. "But it was never like that. They were awesome and I'm glad it could work out and we could get some support for the association moving forward."

Moguls skiers Mikaël Kingsbury and Chloé and Justine Dufour-Lapointe, and slopestyle skier Dara Howell appeared as well.