(Photo: Matt Forsythe)

Downey received award at the Strategy awards on October 3 in Toronto

Tennis Canada Chief Executive Officer Michael Downey has been honoured with the 2023 Association of Canadian Advertisers (ACA) Gold Medal for his outstanding contribution to the advancement of marketing communications in Canada. The award was presented during The CMO Strategy Forum at the Arcadian Court in Toronto on Tuesday, October 3.

After 30 years’ experience as a senior marketing and sponsorship leader, then as a chief executive – including 15 as Tennis Canada CEO split over two terms – earlier this year, Downey announced he will retire at the end of December 2023. As well as Tennis Canada, his impressive career has seen him hold leadership positions with the Toronto Raptors, Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment, Molson Canada and the Lawn Tennis Association in Britain.

Downey has been a driving force behind several of Canada’s most influential and recognizable marketing campaigns and events, from nostalgic Trident Gum commercials in the 1980s to innovative promotional campaigns in the inaugural years of the Toronto Raptors, the award-winning Molson Canadian ‘I am Canadian’ campaign and the Molson Canadian Rocks for Toronto benefit festival – more commonly known as SARSFest – which attracted 450,000 to Downsview Park, the largest-ever concert in Canada.

Downey ensured Tennis Canada utilized the global success of Canadian tennis stars – like Milos Raonic in a tongue and cheek ‘Kids’ Tennis Public Service Announcement’ advertisements and, more recently, Bianca Andreescu in the Girls Set Match campaign as part of Tennis Canada’s gender equity efforts with National Bank – to help raise the profile of tennis in Canada. In receiving the award, Downey joins past winners such as Hugo Powell (1999), Dr. Alan C. Middleton (2012), Paul Lavoie (2015) and last-year’s recipient Mark Harrison, all of whom Downey has had the privilege of working with.

(Photo: Matt Forsythe)

“It is a sincere honour to receive this prestigious ACA award,” Downey commented. “To be in the same company as marketing icons and legends is a real honour. In the end, one’s success is all about the company one keeps, and I was privileged to have worked for and with a plethora of inspiring and exceptionally talented people over the last four decades. The list is too long to recite, but they know who they are!

“I was also trained right of out of university in 1980 by the very best product managers at Warner Lambert in Mary Hurst and Moira Bell,” he added. “These ‘teachers’ of packaged-goods marketing made sure this ‘wet-behind-the-ears’ recruit was fully prepared to eventually tackle challenges and seize opportunities with great Canadian brands like Labatt Blue, the Toronto Raptors and Toronto Maple Leafs, the Molson family of brands and, of course, Tennis Canada and its world-renowned set of top tier tournaments, the National Bank Open (formerly Rogers Cup) in Toronto and Montreal.”

“The impact of Michael’s career in marketing and in  the advancement of Canadian tennis on the world stage are legacies that will endure the test of time,” said Ron Lund, President & CEO of the Association of Canadian Advertisers.

During his tenure as Tennis Canada CEO, Downey has enjoyed many highlights. In the mid-2000s, he led the development of a bold plan to diversify and increase revenue generated by the National Bank Open presented by Rogers and major gift fundraising to reinvest in high performance and tennis development in Canada. He also spearheaded a new strategy to form Tennis Canada’s first ever National Tennis Centre (NTC) in Montreal and regional U14 programs in Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver. This breakthrough program, equipped with world-class international and Canadian coaches, has helped develop Canadian tennis superstars such as Andreescu, Eugenie Bouchard, Raonic and Félix Auger-Aliassime.

Additionally, amid COVID-19, Downey led negotiations in securing ten and seven-year corporate partnership agreements with National Bank and Rogers respectively, which consolidated the future of Canadian tennis at a time of great uncertainty.

Downey also gave back to his community in 2010 and 2011, when he served as the volunteer President of the Toronto Humane Society, leading the troubled charity out of government-induced closure. 

Full details about the ACA Gold Medal Award are posted on the association’s website.