June 10, 2024

United Surge

UCalgary grad Jason Ribeiro, PhD’24, is building community and legacy through sport and culture.
JR Banner

UCalgary grad Dr. Jason Ribeiro's path to becoming the owner of the Calgary Surge is a story of timing, unexpected opportunities, relentless passion and a deep-seated love for the game of basketball.  

"I knew nothing about Calgary. I think even growing up in Hamilton and in the Toronto area for many years, it just never really registered with me," recalls Ribeiro, PhD’24. Yet his path to this vibrant city and into the heart of its sports culture is as compelling as it is inspiring. 

Ribeiro's move to Calgary was not just a geographical shift from Ontario, but a leap into the unknown.  

"I had this amazing opportunity once my career had grown in the realm of research," he explains. Completing his Master of Education at Brock University, he was on the lookout for a doctoral opportunity beyond Ontario. His search led him to the University of Calgary, drawn by the chance to work with Dr. Eugene Kowch, PhD, a distinguished associate professor at the Werklund School of Education with a unique blend of experience in the energy sector and education. 

"Dr. Kowch had a storied career of managing multi-billion-dollar projects around the world and then turned to education, becoming a teacher, superintendent and eventually a professor," Ribeiro notes. "What was really intriguing about my master’s work was this intersection between public, private and non-profit sectors, so I knew I would move across the country to work with an individual like Dr. Kowch." 

This decision marked the beginning of his life in Calgary, a city in the midst of significant political and economic changes in 2015. Despite these uncertainties, Ribeiro found a welcoming and open community, eager for new ideas and inclusive initiatives. 

JR Studio

Courtesy Calgary Surge

Looking Back 

From a young age, Ribeiro had a profound connection to sports, especially basketball. "I've played sports my whole life. I got obsessed with the sport of basketball really early simply because it spoke to so many things that interested me as a young kid," he says. Growing up as one of the few families who were visible minorities in his neighbourhood, basketball became more than just a game; it was a sanctuary and a source of inspiration. "I spent a lot of time just with a ball and a hoop by myself." 

Basketball's influence on Ribeiro was multifaceted, encompassing fashion, music and a sense of community. "I spent a lot of time watching the NBA and I got to see the sport’s intersection with fashion, music and culture and I just got enveloped in this world," he says. 

Ribeiro’s move to Toronto in the 2000s amplified these experiences, as he witnessed that city's transformation and growth through sports, entertainment, arts and culture. "There's not an ad that you see for that city today that doesn't feature Caribana or the Raptors or musical artists," he says. 

Arriving in Calgary years later, Ribeiro saw many parallels with Toronto's earlier days as an NBA city growing with the sport. “You got the sense that Calgary was on a similar trajectory, in that it still hadn't figured out its identity or its identity was in flux," he observes about the city's evolving landscape. "Sport had played a really big part in Calgary's story, particularly from the Flames’ and the Stampeders’ perspective." However, he believed that basketball could fill a crucial gap, amplifying other elements of diversity, culture and entertainment. 

Committed to this vision, Ribeiro immersed himself in Calgary's sports community. He became a vocal advocate for the city's bid to host the 2026 Winter Olympics, plus volunteering extensively and joining Sport Calgary's board, where he now serves as vice-chair. When the opportunity arose to bring professional basketball  to Calgary, it was a chance to realize a long-held dream.  

"When we found out that the CEBL (Canadian Elite Basketball League) was moving here, it really closed the loop on what I felt was a missed opportunity to host the 2026 Olympics," he says. 

Ribeiro's passion for basketball is not just about the sport, but about its ability to bring people together. "I think basketball being such a global game just speaks to those communities inherently,” he says. “You just need a net and a ball and, in some communities, that's all you have."  


Courtesy Calgary Surge

Evolution Through Sport

Ribeiro's vision for the Calgary Surge was rooted in inclusivity and accessibility; a hope to promote a more inclusive and vibrant community through the power of basketball.. 

"I'm a big fan of sport, all sports, just everything that I think it provides," he says. "Even now, as a parent, the most amazing experiences with my two young sons have been seeing them pick up a ball and instinctively know to pass it to another kid."

The establishment of the Calgary Surge in 2023 was more than just the creation of a new sports team; it was the culmination of Ribeiro's dedication to enhancing Calgary's cultural and sporting landscape. 

"Being a small part of unlocking that potential is why I've become so passionate about sport and found myself now owning and operating a business in the sector," he says. 

For Ribeiro, the appeal of basketball extends far beyond the court. Unlike many sports, basketball is deeply intertwined with other facets of life, particularly arts and culture. 

This interconnection is especially evident in the public eye, with NBA and WNBA star players of today seamlessly transitioning from on the court to events like Fashion Week and the Met Gala. Add to this athletes using their platforms to not just endorse brands, but to advocate for diversity and inclusion, and the sport carries a unique crossover appeal. 

This connection was palpable for Ribeiro from a young age, especially during the early days of the Toronto Raptors. "Looking back to my roots and seeing the birth of the Toronto Raptors and being at those first games ... the allure was the cool factor," he says.

Ribeiro fondly remembers Vince Carter’s arrival on the scene Toronto, the future eight-time NBA All-Star has a profound effect on an entire generation of young fans in Canada. "The Vince Carter Effect was real. It put a basketball in my hands," he says. Carter represented the Raptors first true global superstar, a highlight reel athlete with tremendous ability.

 "To now be on the other side of providing opportunities for young Canadian talent means a lot to me” says Ribeiro.

Ribeiro is optimistic about the future of basketball, both in Canada and globally. He praises the sport's ability to produce high-quality competition and its inherently inclusive nature. 

"Good basketball is good basketball," he asserts. This principle is evident in the success and growth of pro women's basketball, which has seen increasing support and interest "They're not putting many asterisks beside things like the women's product; they're just letting it compete with the rest."

JR and Son

Courtesy Calgary Surge

Growing with the Community 

This inclusive and quality-first approach is mirrored in the strategy of the Calgary Surge. "Just open the door, put a good product forward, and the market will respond," Ribeiro explains. This philosophy has paid off, with the team quickly gaining a loyal following and making significant strides in the community. 

The Calgary Surge's success in its first year exceeded all expectations, with 2023 seeing the largest launch of a new team in the league's history. This accomplishment has set the stage for even greater ambitions. "Based on the success of Year 1, we felt confident in saying we're going to take some risks in Year 2," Ribeiro states. 

The mandate was clear from the beginning, says Ribeiro. "I told our team, we're going to go everywhere. We're going to go to all four corners of the city and take that approach from a community perspective. Frankly, that kind of concept is new to basketball, it’s new to professional sports.” 

"We found ourselves not only in schools, but in mosques. We found ourselves in art galleries. We found ourselves in all these Calgary nooks and crannies." The team’s goal was to engage those who felt forgotten, or those who were looking for a chance to be part of a different community. 

"I credit our amazing team for buying into that vision and for committing themselves to the discipline of doing that each and every day," Ribeiro says.  

This relentless community-engagement strategy wasn't about immediate returns. "Knowing there's not going to be an immediate return or transaction at the end of the day, but knowing that it will filter up in the macro," Ribeiro explains. The hope was that, through consistent effort, people would begin to see themselves in the team, fostering a sense of belonging and pride. 

On May 21, the Surge reached yet another milestone as they hosted the Edmonton Stingers in the CEBL’s sixth-season launch at the Scotiabank Saddledome. It was the largest single-game crowd in CEBL history with 12,327 fans.  

Ribeiro reflects on the accomplishment and the community's unwavering support. "If you give people a reason to get behind something, open your doors and be humble and earnest in the mission that you're trying to achieve, Calgary is a city that will have your back," he concludes.  

It’s something that both he and Surge Co-Chair Usman Tahir Jutt, have seen throughout their careers. Like Ribeiro, Jutt is a successful business owner with multiple links to the Calgary community, sitting as a current board member for Calgary Economic Development and Contemporary Calgary, and was recently named Calgarian of the Year by the City of Calgary. 

“We owe our success to is this place,” says Ribeiro. “Do I think we would have done well in other places? Yeah, but not like this.” 

UCalgary Connection

This journey with the Calgary Surge is not just a professional endeavour; it is deeply personal and rooted in his profound connection to this city and its institutions, one of which being his alma mater UCalgary. 

"When I moved here to do my PhD at the University of Calgary, it was always an affiliation I was very proud of," Ribeiro reflects. His career trajectory has been marked by his close ties to various Calgary institutions. From being a commentator for Global Calgary to serving as an executive with Calgary Economic Development and sitting on the Board of Directors for Sport Calgary, Ribeiro's professional life has been a testament to his commitment to this community.

The pride in his continued affiliation with UCalgary as an alum is unmistakable. This connection is not just academic; it is personal and familial. Both Ribeiro and his wife, Dr. Natalie Scime, PhD’22, completed their doctoral work at the university and credit the institution for providing their family with stability and comfort when they really needed it. This deep bond with UCalgary has influenced Ribeiro's vision for the Surge in the community and includes fostering a strong relationship with the university, its alumni and, of course, the UCalgary Dinos. 

"Understanding the university’s Ahead of Tomorrow strategic plan, I saw a way we could collectively unlock the vision we want to see in the community," he says. The emerging partnership between the Surge and UCalgary aims to showcase the vast alumni community and celebrate shared values through unique events, such as SLAM FEST on June 15. The festival-style event that will celebrate community and highlight the interconnections between this “alumni-built” organization and the UCalgary Dinos. 

"It's an amazing showcase opportunity for alumni who are business owners, entertainers and athletes," Ribeiro adds.


Calgary Surge

Celebrating Together: SLAM FEST and Beyond

The first ever SLAM FEST is coming up on June 15 at WinSport Event Centre and will be a celebration designed to engage and reward the alumni community. 

"The ability to do big things like SLAM FEST so early in our development is thrilling," Ribeiro says. Events like the skills challenge, three-point competition, and fun interactions between Dinos mascot Rex and Surge mascot Surgio will provide a unique and family-friendly experience for alumni and community.

Executing such events requires a deep level of trust and faith, qualities Ribeiro and his team have cultivated from the beginning. 

"We were so selective, so careful about who we partnered with," he explains. The partnerships the Surge have formed are deeply personal, based on mutual trust and shared values. "Knowing that the University of Calgary is an institution and brand that people trust and plays an outsized role in the community, has meant the world to our staff."

The vision for the Surge extends beyond immediate successes. "This has not been about a one-and-done," Ribeiro emphasizes. "It's about planting the seeds for new opportunities to take root." 

He notes that this long-term commitment to the community is mirrored in the actions of UCalgary, which goes into community hubs like the Genesis Centre, Central Library, and other locations to engage and activate Calgarians. As Ribeiro looks forward to the future, he is excited about the continued growth and deepening of these community relationships. 

"I just can't wait to see what SLAM FEST looks like and how it takes shape in the years ahead," he says. The partnership with UCalgary, built on trust, faith and community values, promises to unlock new opportunities and drive success for both the Surge and the university. 

"Undoubtedly, this will unlock success for both of us."



Join us to cheer on the UCalgary Dinos and the Calgary Surge at SLAM FEST on June 15th. Bring the whole family out to enjoy contests, giveaways and basketball featuring Surge and Dinos players and more! Celebrate the University's partnership with the Calgary Surge, a proud alumni (co-owned) CBEL team! >>BUY ALUMNI TICKETS HERE<<
*Note: The Calgary Surge will donate $1.50 from every ticket sold to the UCalgary Student Food Security Fund.

Wide Shot Surge

Courtesy Calgary Surge

Jason Ribeiro will also be taking part in the Spark Change with UCalgary Alumni Entrepreneurism Webinar on June 21st where he will join a panel of alumni entrepreneurs, register for this unique event today!

Spark Change with UCalgary Alumni Entrepreneurs

Tuesday, June 25 | 12 to 1 p.m., MT - ONLINE (Zoom)

Join UCalgary Alumni to ignite your entrepreneurial spirit!

With a focus on entrepreneurship and entrepreneurial thinking, this career-development webinar will allow you to learn from the best. Join an incredible panel of alumni experts — including A.I Tech Start-up expert Danielle Gifford, MBA'20, international recruiter Jane Griffith, BA’96 and the owner and president of the Calgary Surge, Dr. Jason Ribeiro, PhD’24 — as they describe the unique paths they carved out as entrepreneurs.  

Gain insights from those who’ve turned their ideas into reality and use the opportunity to exchange knowledge, and perhaps even start something yourself!