Linda Southern-Heathcott looks for new ways to engage families, the community and corporate partners at the iconic Calgary facility

Linda Southern-Heathcott is president and chief executive of Spruce Meadows, the sprawling equestrian facility just outside Calgary’s southern city limits. It is hosting the National competition this week.

Linda Southern-Heathcott, president and chief executive of Spruce Meadows.

Calgary’s Business: Would Spruce Meadows be able to do what it does without its corporate support?

Southern-Heathcott: Oh we’ve had such great corporate support for 43 years. People have embraced Spruce Meadows. They’ve embraced the family and we wouldn’t be able to run Spruce Meadows without the corporate supporters and the employees in the companies. But it is difficult times and we have to always make sure that we always return value to our corporates and a return on their investment in us. So our team really does focus on looking at what we can do to improve and what we can do to really elevate that return on their investment in us.

CB: How’s it been for the last few years with the economy in getting that corporate support?

Southern-Heathcott:  We’ve been fortunate because of long-term contracts with our sponsors, our corporate supporters. But it is difficult. We’re seeing limit spending in discretionary spend. So they have their commitments with us but they’ve changed or altered how they want to do their extracurricular activities. What can we do to improve the relationship and what can we do to bring value to our sponsors?

CB: What value does Spruce Meadows give to those corporate sponsors?

Southern-Heathcott:  Really, the sponsors have been able to help us provide this venue to Calgarians – Canadians – at a very low cost. It’s truly the only venue probably in the world that costs $5. The support of our sponsorship has allowed us to continue that. Parking is free. We have a shuttle bus from the last LRT stop that comes here that’s complimentary and that’s really because of our corporate supporters. They engage in various ways whether it’s family days with their company to try and bring some esprit de corps to their employees. Host clients. Each company is different whether it’s retail or wholesale. We don’t really have a gold, silver and bronze type menu. We try to meet with our sponsors and understand what they would like to see out of the relationship and build on that relationship so that everybody sees value in it.

CB: Why has it been important for Spruce Meadows to keep the $5 charge?

Southern-Heathcott: For the show jumping events it’s very important because we want families to experience Spruce Meadows. The venue itself is the philanthropic gift of my parents to Calgary, to the citizens of Calgary, and the province and Canada. And it is for everybody to come and enjoy. While we have seats that cost more, or reserved seating, or we have sky boxes, but every person can come and enjoy Spruce Meadows. I believe that feeling of family and that feeling of taking us back in time slightly. When we started Spruce Meadows there were only 300,000 people in Calgary. Now we’re 1.2 million, 1.3 million. The city has expanded so much. But we’re bringing our rural roots and our foundation of family to Calgary, to Calgarians, to say you’re welcome here. People embrace this place. Families come every day pretty much and wander around the grounds. There’s no perception that you have to come and buy lunch. You can bring your own picnic lunch. You can squat on the hill and enjoy. And that’s what we want. We want people to embrace it.

CB: Looking to the future, what plans do you have for the site?

Southern-Heathcott: My vision is to take Spruce Meadows slightly from a little bit of a passive venue to a little bit of a more active venue. Our goal is to have a very good relationship with our residents that are close by. We’ve had an area structure plan that’s held us in great stead for a number of years. Now we are redoing our area structure plan for the next 15 to 20 years. You’ll see things like coffee houses. … You’ll see that we’re looking at having a farmer’s market here. Maybe engaging in other sports. (Recently it was announced that Spruce Meadows had acquired a Canadian Premier League men’s soccer team and that one of its arenas will be renovated into a soccer stadium.) What we’ll see is that we want to develop the venue to be more active and ongoing. … We want to be diverse with our activities but we also want to be engaging for the citizens to be able to come and enjoy the venue. So it will be slightly different. I see as we grow that we need to be a little bit more active but also being true to our traditions and staying true to what is founding principles of Spruce Meadows which is really family and so all of those engagements will be around family but more active.

– Mario Toneguzzi

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