We the East: How a Halifax company has infiltrated sports media
Monday, December 14, 2020
A few years ago, Kurt Benson, CEO of Tidal League, had no connection to Nova Scotia. But in May of 2018, he quit his corporate job, sold his Toronto home, and moved to Halifax to start a sports entertainment agency.
“I’d spent half my life in Zimbabwe, half my life in Toronto, and I was working for a big international company out of Australia,” says Benson. He was doing really well, but he wasn’t working in the business he loved. He wanted to find a way to create a space for himself within the sports industry.
After spending several months researching to plan his next move, someone suggested he consider Halifax as a place to start a company. He decided to book a flight to see it for himself, and quickly fell in love with the city.
“It reminded me a lot of home in Zimbabwe with all of the natural beauty,” he says. “And the business ecosystem was growing, so there was also a ton of opportunity for new businesses from an operating standpoint.”
After his permanent move to the east coast, Benson and the Tidal League team spent the next year building relationships in Nova Scotia and abroad, travelling to NBA events around the US and Canada.
“Early days it was kind of tapping on people’s shoulders, knocking on hotel doors, and just hustling,” he says.
And the hustle paid off. With persistence, Tidal League made inroads within the industry, fostering relationships and creating opportunities for them to grow their presence.
Tidal League’s first real success came when they worked closely with the Toronto Raptors to host Jurassic Park Halifax during the 2019 NBA Finals, a series of outdoor events at Rogers Square where people could gather to watch the Raptors in their historic finals run. In the span of four days, Tidal League pitched, planned, and executed their first event, gathering licenses and sponsors along the way. By the end of game six of the finals run, their Jurassic Park Halifax events had partnered with brands such as Molson, Red Bull, and New Balance.
“We had media from all over the world,” says Benson. “It reached over 200 million people globally, and it just went viral. We had no idea it was going to do what it did for us, but that really gave us the momentum and it elevated us to have the street credibility that we needed.”
Following the success of Jurassic Park Halifax, Tidal League turned its focus toward entertainment.
“Coming out of it with all of these relationships and access, I saw an opportunity in media,” says Benson. “I thought that if we could put together great content, we will be able to have an audience, and if we have an audience, we become very valuable.”
And so, in October of 2019, Tidal League launched its flagship podcast, Court-Side Moms, a show that features the stories of mothers who have raised sons who are now in the NBA. The idea came from a conversation between Benson and Wendy Sparks, mother to NBA player Khem Birch, at a basketball camp in Halifax in summer 2019.
“A lot of the time people forget that the mom is the backbone of their child's success,” says Benson. “These stories have really become not just great, compelling stories, but also, the show is a resource for other moms who are going through this.”
The success of Court-Side Moms solidified Tidal League in the sports podcasting space. And when the working landscape went virtual as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, Benson and his team found a way to keep moving and create even more content.
“If we're doing it through Zoom, we don't need to fly players anywhere,” he laughs.
In the spring of 2020, Tidal League launched two new shows: Tidal League Podcast, which focuses on interviews with athletes from the NBA, and Tidal League FC, which explores the untold stories of the soccer community.
“We all know that soccer is probably the world's biggest and most followed sport, but in North America it's growing,” he says. “We've really been able to make inroads in that space and be the leader to cover that sport in America.”
Tidal League is prepping to launch three new shows in the new year and has plans to establish a network of 50 podcast series within the next three years. It’s an ambitious goal, but one Benson feels is achievable with the addition of new investors through a seed round and support from government agencies like Nova Scotia Business Inc.
“I think our work is speaking for itself, and the biggest challenge for us now is just getting our products in front of more people,” says Benson. “Through the Digital Adoption Program at NSBI, we've now brought on an agency to help us transform a lot of our digital tools.”
Along with creating a new website which is set to launch in the coming weeks, Benson and his team have also found success within Nova Scotia Business Inc.’s Scotians program, which gives entrepreneurs and small to medium-sized businesses access to a global network of passionate Nova Scotians, expats, friends, and alumni.
“The Scotians program has been great, because there are a lot of Scotians that are in this entertainment industry abroad, and we've been able to connect with some very, very talented people in different markets that have helped us,” says Benson.
“We’re not where we are today without the help of NSBI.”
As for Tidal League’s growth, Benson sees Halifax as being key to their continued success, specifically crediting its affordability from an operating standpoint as well as the pool of up-and-coming talent.
“So many young people who are sports fans want to work in this space,” he says. “We’ve already created jobs, and we’re going to be hiring more people.”
“This is home, and this is where we were born,” says Benson. “We’re happy to be here.”
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