David Hopkinson, Head of Partnerships for the Spanish soccer club Real Madrid and former Chief Commercial Officer for the Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment Partnership (MLSE), hasn’t always been passionate about sports. What he cares about is people.
As a young man, Hopkinson attended McGill University to study politics and philosophy, which kindled his interest in understanding those around him. His humanities studies illustrated the value of connecting with people and has gone on to fuel his 26-year career in sports business.
“Politics is about people, philosophy is about people, and sports is about people,” Hopkinson explained. “My team and I don’t make anything physical like processors or construction equipment, what we’re in the business of making are memories and things that matter to people.”
In his current role with the Real Madrid, Hopkinson derives a sense of fulfillment from having a hand in the experience of the club’s dedicated fans, of which there are many both in Spain and around the world. The team’s home stadium can seat over 81,000 spectators and often when Real Madrid faces off with its Catalan counterpart, FC Barcelona, the worldwide television audience exceeds 500 million people. The team’s renown makes for a dizzying number of soccer aficionados, all of whom the Canadian-born leader aspires to delight.
“For a futbol fan Santiago Bernabéu Stadium can be a lot like Mecca,” he said. “You will see people crying in the stands because they’re achieving one of the greatest moments of their lives by witnessing a live match. We’re making those memories and those connections.”
Hopkinson believes that trust is central to constructing the relationship between the soccer team, its supporters, and its business partners. While he learned this principle early in his professional life as a door-to-door salesman fresh out of university, he maintains that the lesson has only grown in relevance over time.
“As the world has proliferated with options, trust in the sales process has never been more important,” Hopkinson said. “Trust is a differentiator. We buy things from people that we trust.”
Partnerships are the biggest part of the organization’s overall business, counting agreements with the likes of Audi, Emirates, and Coca-Cola. As the organization’s Global Head of Partnerships, Hopkinson works to preserve and grow the sponsorships with existing collaborators and source new business to join the network of elite brands that the soccer team attracts.
When negotiating the team’s partnerships Hopkinson also applies his belief in the power of trust. His strategy team supports him by creating tailor-made programs that can accelerate current partners’ business and equip him to make an impression when meeting with prospective partners.
“It’s important to show that we’ve been thinking about their business, their customer, and where they’re going in relation to our customer, our fan, and our own direction so that I can present an intelligent way for us to partner together,” Hopkinson rationalized. “We’ve got to do some of that thinking for them proactively and give them something to react to instead of hoping that they’ll do that work for us.”
“My team and I don’t make anything physical like processors or construction equipment, what we’re in the business of making are memories and things that matter to people.”
As a global brand, Real Madrid is constantly looking to expand its global sponsorship potential. While soccer has a predominantly European and South American audience, Hopkinson believes that the Chinese and American markets also hold promise. In light of the U.S. victory in the FIFA Women’s World Cup this summer and the 2026 World Cup, which Canada, Mexico, and the United States will cohost, he is particularly keen to explore his club’s prospects across the Atlantic.
“As U.S. brands look to continue to dominate and grow globally, we can be a really effective vehicle for them, both domestically and internationally where futbol is established or growing” Hopkinson mused.
Data and technology play an irrefutable role in strengthening and attracting business for Real Madrid. The organization’s strategy acknowledges social media as a dynamic space that can benefit both their business and that of their partners if harnessed effectively. Every conversation about partnership and marketing includes a consideration of the role that social media will play in a sponsorship.
“Twenty years ago, when we were selling sponsorships in the shape of signs and exposure and we assumed that those strategies worked,” he said. “Today, that assumption doesn’t exist anymore, you need to prove that your strategy works. It’s more complex and harder than it was 20 years ago but, it also unlocks new opportunities because we know what works.”
David Hopkinson’s attention to his clients has defined his first year as the Global Head of Partnerships for Real Madrid. At an organization that prides itself on its commitment to success, he fits right in.
“It’s not just the players that are among the best in the world, every single employee at Real Madrid works toward excellence with humility,” Hopkinson said. “When I look at my teammates, I feel very privileged and fortunate to be a part of that group.”