Welland native Sandra Gage helped promote four international tournaments in three sports

By Bernd Franke. Postmedia Network

Sandra Gage is going on the Welland Sports Wall of Fame as a builder for her work behind the scenes in basketball and soccer.

When she’s inducted Sunday in a ceremony at Seaway Mall, Gage will also become the latest member of a select group which is well deserving of having its own wing: women from Welland who have excelled in sports marketing at the international level.

Like Stacey Allaster, former Women’s Tennis Association chief executive officer and now the U.S. Tennis Association’s chief executive for professional tennis; and Michele O’Keefe, president of Canada Basketball; before her, Gage parlayed a passion for sports and a prowess for marketing into a high-profile career after leaving her hometown.

In fact, Allaster was at Tennis Canada when Gage, a Notre Dame College School graduate, Class of 1988, studied the organization as part of her research for a masters degree in sports marketing.

“It was actually Stacey Allaster that provided me with that opportunity,” said Gage, who earned a masters from the University of Western Ontario in 1992, two years after receiving an honours degree from the University of Windsor.

For her masters Gage studied national sport organizations and their marketing structures.

The daughter of Walter and Vera Gage of Welland has put that education to good use ever since. She has worked on four world championships: the International Skating Union World Figure Skating championships in 2001, which had equal representation of male and female participants; FIBA men’s world basketball championships, which was held in Toronto in 1994; FIFA under-20 women’s World Cup in 2014 and the FIFA women’s World Cup soccer cup which Canada hosted.

As director of business development for Canada Soccer, a position she has held since 2009, Gage oversees communications and marketing for all Canada Soccer properties, including the men’s and women’s national teams as well as programming at the grassroots level and development programs.

While Gage, 49, is the lone woman on the organization’s senior management team, the scope of her duties isn’t limited to promoting girls and women’s soccer in Canada.

“It definitely includes both genders,” said Gage, who lives in Ottawa. “I’ve spend as much time on the men’s side as I have on the women’s side over the course of my career here.”

News that she would be joining her late uncle Ron Gage, as well as Allaster and O’Keefe on the Welland Sports Wall of Fame caught her by surprise.

“I was quite emotional about it, to be honest, because my hometown means a lot to me, and my first thought really that this is really nice for my parents,” she said.

“It just feels very special because I think so much of what I have done within my career has been the result of my experiences growing up in Welland and the great community spirit that the city has.”

She said sports was a very important part of the community when she was growing up.

“I grew up always being involved in sport and my parents also very involved as volunteers in sports.”

“It was always part of our fabric.”

Gage was involved in sports in high school at Notre Dame and her friends were also in sports. She was a figure skater and played a lot of basketball in the winter and softball in the summer.

“For me it was always a way of how I defined myself growing up,” Gage said. “I was always part of a team.”

Gage’s passion for sports, combined with an interest in marketing, has given her a fulfilling career that combines the best of both worlds.

“Being involved in sports can be really good on so many levels, and I feel very privileged that I work in sport because I know how much time people commit as volunteers.”

She said many of the values young people learn in sports are applicable later in life.

The FIFA Women’s World Cup in 2015 drew 1.35 million spectators over 52 matches, making it the largest FIFA event other than a men’s World Cup.

Peter Montopoli, general secretary of the Canadian Soccer Association, wrote in a recommendation letter supporting the wall of fame nomination that Gage and her marketing team deserve credit helping attract an
average of 31,924 spectators to four international matches played in Canada last year.

“She has also played an important part in opening doors at the international and national levels for female athletes serving as role models, with programs like Live Your Goals offering mentorship opportunities to
youth through Olympic heroes like Karina LeBlanc.”

Ron Gage was inducted in 2007 for baseball and hockey.