David Hopkinson, head of partnerships for Spanish football club Real Madrid and former commercial director of the Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment (MLSE) partnership, has not always been passionate about the sport. What interests him are people.
As a young man, Hopkinson attended McGill University to study politics and philosophy, which sparked his interest in understanding those around him. His studies in the humanities illustrated the value of connecting with people and fueled his 26-year career in the sports industry.
“Politics is about people, philosophy is about people and sport is about people,” Hopkinson explained. “My team and I don’t make anything physical like processors or construction equipment, what we’re building are memories and things that matter to people. “
In his current role with Real Madrid, Hopkinson derives a sense of accomplishment from the experience of the club’s dedicated fans, who are numerous in Spain and around the world. The team’s stadium can accommodate over 81,000 spectators and often, when Real Madrid face off against their Catalan counterpart, FC Barcelona, the global TV audience exceeds 500 million. The fame of the team has made it a dizzying number of soccer fans, which the leader of Canadian origin aspires to delight.
“For a futbol fan The Santiago Bernabéu stadium can look a lot like Mecca, ”he said. “You will see people crying in the stands because they are having one of the greatest moments of their lives watching a game live. We create these memories and these connections.
Hopkinson believes that trust is essential in building the relationship between the football team, its supporters and its business partners. Although he learned this principle early in his professional life as a home salesperson fresh out of college, he maintains the lesson has only gained in relevance over time.
“As the world has proliferated with options, confidence in the selling process has never been more important,” Hopkinson said. “Trust is a differentiator. We buy things from people we trust.
Partnerships make up the bulk of the organization’s overall business, including agreements with Audi, Emirates and Coca-Cola. As the organization’s global head of partnerships, Hopkinson strives to preserve and grow the sponsorships with existing associates and to seek new business to join the elite brand network that the football team attracts.
When negotiating team partnerships, Hopkinson also applies his belief in the power of trust. His strategic team supports him by creating tailor-made programs that can accelerate the business of current partners and allow him to make a good impression when meeting potential partners.
“It’s important to show that we’ve been thinking about their business, their customer, and their focus to our customer, our fan, and our own leadership so that I can present a smart way to partner up. Hopkinson rationalized. “We need to proactively think for them and give them something to react to instead of hoping that they will do this job for us. “
“My team and I don’t make anything physical like processors or construction equipment, what we’re building are memories and things that matter to people. ”
As a global brand, Real Madrid are constantly looking to expand their global sponsorship potential. While football has a predominantly European and South American audience, Hopkinson believes the Chinese and American markets are also promising. In light of the United States’ victory in the FIFA Women’s World Cup this summer and the 2026 World Cup, which Canada, Mexico and the United States will co-host, he is particularly keen to explore the prospects of his club across the Atlantic.
“As American brands seek to continue to dominate and grow globally, we can be a truly effective vehicle for them, both nationally and internationally where futbol is established or growing, ”Hopkinson reflected.
Data and technology play an irrefutable role in building and attracting business for Real Madrid. The organization’s strategy recognizes social media as a dynamic space that can benefit both their business and that of their partners if operated effectively. Every partnership and marketing conversation includes a review of the role social media will play in a sponsorship.
“Twenty years ago when we were selling sponsorships in the form of signs and displays and assumed those strategies were working,” he said. “Today, that assumption no longer exists, you have to prove that your strategy works. It’s more complex and more difficult than 20 years ago, but it also opens up new opportunities because we know what works.
David Hopkinson’s attention to his clients defined his first year as Global Head of Partnerships for Real Madrid. In an organization that prides itself on its commitment to success, it fits perfectly.
“It’s not just the players who are among the best in the world, every Real Madrid employee works towards excellence with humility,” Hopkinson said. “When I look at my teammates, I feel very privileged and lucky to be a part of this group.”
Marie Labrosse, a master‘English Literature student at McGill University, contributed to this play.