SBJ/October 10-16, 2011/Franchises

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  • Whitecaps chief talks about team’s new home

    The Vancouver Whitecaps this month moved into the recently renovated 60,000-seat BC Place stadium, which the MLS team shares with the BC Lions Canadian Football League team. It was a major step up from the Whitecaps’ 20,000-seat temporary home at Empire Field, though the team’s partnerships
    BOB FRID / VANCOUVER WHITECAPS
    don’t always align with those of the Lions or the stadium, which is owned by BC Pavilion Corp. Staff writer Fred Dreier caught up with Whitecaps CEO Paul Barber to discuss the benefits and challenges posed by the new home.


    How do you handle branding opportunities within the stadium?

    BARBER:
    Essentially we’ve done a deal where the inner bowl is clean for our events and therefore we can bring in the LED signage, brand different areas and sell sponsorships around the pitch. Once we are outside the inner bowl, the stadium has the right to do its own naming-rights deal and it has the right to bring in its own partners on the concourses. The trick of it is where we can do deals that incorporate the stadium as well as the teams.

    Do you find that this limits your ability to sell sponsorships?

    BARBER:
    Budweiser is the pouring-rights beer of the stadium, but they are the official beer of the Lions and with us. I still tell people we didn’t get enough credit for that deal collectively, because it is one complicated deal to pull off. Where it gets trickier is obviously we have a jersey sponsor [Bell] that is a telecommunications category, and it is very possible the stadium will do a naming-right deal with a rival telecommunication company. We already have a slight hybrid in that the playing surface is a sponsorable asset, and we call that Bell Pitch. But if this happens, it will be the first time two telcos will have co-existed so prominently in the same venue.

    NEWSCOM
    The Vancouver Whitecaps share the newly renovated BC Place with the CFL’s BC Lions.
    How will the stadium’s infrastructure bring value to the team?

    BARBER:
    It’s a substantial uplift for us. We’ve gone from a $20 million facility with very few [premium] facilities to a $600 million world-class stadium with excellent facilities. We only had 12 suites at Empire Field. We now have 1,335 club seats, 240 loge seats and we have over 40 suites. We’ve gone from being paupers to being pretty well off. Sales have gone well, but we haven’t been out to sell the suites far in advance because we weren’t sure until fairly recently that the stadium would be open.

    How does the retractable roof affect the ambience inside the stadium?

    BARBER:
    The secondary roof, which not only masks the upper bowl of seats which we don’t need for our games, reduces the volume of the stadium so it feels like a smaller bowl than it really is, which adds to the atmosphere. It is a multipurpose stadium with a specific setup for the events being played. How we can change it in terms of look, lighting, setup and feel has been a shock to people.

    Do the clubs and stadium collaborate on sales?

    BARBER:
    If we have a good lead that a partner is looking for more events or greater volume, then we will try and pitch together. Right now we just have Budweiser. We did a similar pitch for soft drink but it did not work out. The building now has a soft-drink pouring partner in Pepsi, but the two teams did not end up contributing. Occasionally we will all come to the table, but we are prepared to walk away if the deal isn’t right for us. Each of the organizations has confidence in its own assets.

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