Shannon Hosford: Leading by example

by Holly MacKenzie
In the spirit of International Women's Day on March 9, we will be highlighting some of the women in the MLSE and Raptors organization who are leading, innovating, and leaving their mark on the sports industry in a continued celebration of IWD all month long. 
This week, we are featuring Shannon Hosford, MLSE CMO. Hosford has been with MLSE since 2000 and has been a leader in many of the organization's biggest successes along the way.

In 20 years with MLSE, CMO Shannon Hosford has always found a way. Hosting the first NBA All-Star game held outside of the United States? Check. Leading a #WeTheNorth rebrand of the Toronto Raptors? Creating and unveiling the Toronto Maple Leafs Legends Row? Check and check. Planning a championship parade where millions attended? Check again.
 
Hosford and her team know that running the show in professional sports means being ready for anything and always figuring out how to adapt. Even during a global pandemic. In the year since the Coronavirus stopped much of the world in its tracks, Hosford has been tasked with sorting out a Raptors season unlike any other.
 
When it comes to sports marketing, it doesn’t get more logistically-challenging than transporting an entire NBA team to another city in another country for a season.

Shannon Hosford

“There are so many pieces to navigate,” Hosford said. “It's the strength of a talented team that you just see it as an opportunity to do something [new], executed with excellence, as we always do.”
 
In addition to needing to outfit Amalie Arena in Tampa, Fl. for NBA games, Hosford also incorporated touches from Scotiabank Arena, like in-arena music and signage, to make the Raptors’ “home game” experience feel familiar for the fans watching from home in Toronto. She wanted to ensure fans still felt connected to the team despite the distance.
 
“Everyone was up for the challenge in terms of, ‘How do we do this?’” Hosford said.
 
Hosford also has always been up for the challenge when it comes to leading the way in innovation and creativity under the pro sports umbrella. Even if she didn't always know this was where she would end up. After graduating with a degree in criminology, she found herself in a sales rep position, but hadn’t yet discovered the thing that made it all click.
 
A chance encounter with a woman that was working in sports promotion changed everything.
 
“It was just very serendipitous,” Hosford said. “I was working for a marketing promotional agency and I ran into a [woman] that was doing a sports promotion. She's like, ‘Oh, yeah, I want to be in the sports industry and entertainment’ and I was just captivated. I'm like, ‘There's a job like that?’ I just had no idea [that I could work in professional sports]. Growing up it’s like you’re going to be a teacher, doctor, lawyer. I just didn’t know it existed. So that's where it started my journey.”
 
After finishing a postgraduate program at George Brown, Hosford started working at a sports agency before she began her time with MLSE. In her initial role with the organization, she worked in corporate partnerships before moving into a marketing role and ultimately becoming CMO four years ago.
 
From that first lightbulb moment where Hosford realized that sports and entertainment was a legitimate career option, to today, more than 20 years later, that excitement remains.
 
“The business of sports and entertainment, the pace of it, what it means to fans and to the people you work with, I find it very hard to find another type of business where you can marry your passion for sport and entertainment with the impact that it has on your community," she said.
 
“I'm just so fortunate, because of the business we're in, it attracts the best in the business. So you have an opportunity to work with really talented individuals to create great moments.”
 
While fans on the outside usually have their own definitive moments that stand out as a franchise’s best, for Hostford and her team, the highlight reel is a little different.
 
“When I look at those moments in time, the All-Star [Game], #WeTheNorth, and the championship, all the memories I have are my team and what we're able to deliver in those moments. There's so many highs and lows before [it actually happens], it's actually right before our fans get to experience it and see them [that is the most memorable].
 
“And that hug with your team at the end of the day,” she added.
 
Hosford credits the leaders she has worked with over her career with MLSE with helping to influence and inspire how she approaches her job each day. She also singles out her colleagues and day-to-day team for all of the inspiration they have given with respect to learning and leading in the digital space.
 
MLSE has long championed women in sport. Raptors President Masai Ujiri has been adamant about the need to have women in positions of influence and power, not just in sport, but in every industry. For Hosford, a crucial element that MLSE gets right is making sure gender equality is not an exception, but the norm.
 
“I really do believe it's becoming part of our DNA as an organization,” Hosford said.  “We need diversity of thought. And in particular, you know, as we talk about it, it [was just] March 9th, International Women's Day, and all the things that we have done as an organization and we can spotlight. But I think it's just empowering everyone to ensure that they have a voice.”
 
Hosford considers it the responsibility and duty of those in leadership positions to lift up those around them.

Shannon Hosford

“I really feel like Masai’s leadership and just overall, that as an organization, [diversity] has become one of our strengths,” she said. “That is what we believe in and that's what we foster.”
 
While Hosford didn’t know a career in sports and entertainment was what she was looking for until she found it, her advice for young women wishing to find their place in the industry is simply to begin.
 
“I think the number one thing is just to get involved,” she said. “Get involved at any level or where you can volunteer. I started off as an intern early on. I was like, ‘Absolutely, that's where I want to be.’ But [getting involved] also opens up your eyes to see if it might not be. If that's where you want to be, you will succeed if you have that drive and ambition and are willing to put yourself out there in sports and entertainment.”
 
Though no two paths are exactly alike, perhaps Hosford’s words can provide encouragement while also serving as a bit of a blueprint.
 
“I'm always asked, ‘How did you succeed? What did you do?’ You have to make your own opportunities, and own them and deliver on them. No one is handing out opportunities, but they're there for you to have. And I also say to you, believe in yourself. As Fred VanVleet [would say] “Bet on yourself.”

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