SBJ/February 18-24, 2013/Franchises

Whitecaps give marketing their all

As chief operating officer of Vancouver Whitecaps FC, Rachel Lewis has overseen the club’s transition to MLS, where it has competed the past two seasons, after a long history of soccer in the city in other leagues. More recently, Lewis was instrumental in development of the club’s partnership with the British Columbia government and University of British Columbia to build the National Soccer Development Centre, where the Whitecaps will train this spring when the first phase of construction is complete.

Lewis and her colleagues decided in early 2012 to take all of the Whitecaps’ marketing and advertising work in-house. The group subsequently received an ADchievement award from the National Sports Forum for Web-based campaigns, competing against other franchises across North America.


Rachel Lewis and the Whitecaps took their marketing work in-house.
Photo: VANCOUVER WHITECAPS
But there is more work to be done. While Casacadia rivals Seattle and Portland saw gains in attendance last season (averaging 43,144 and 20,438 fans per game, respectively) Vancouver (19,475 average) posted a 5 percent decline.

Soccer writer Christopher Botta spoke with the 39-year-old Lewis, who started with the Whitecaps in event management in August 2003 and was promoted to COO in 2007.

You’ve taken all of your marketing in-house and had success with it, creating your 2013 campaign and winning an award for your digital advertising last season. Why did you make the move away from agencies?

LEWIS: It’s something we talked about for a while. We thought creating sort of an internal agency would help us be more nimble. That’s not to say we won’t use specialty agencies from time to time if we have a concept that needs support, but we really feel that our own people know our brand best. Creating something as a team, your level of investment in it and your ability to deliver it and think it and breathe it every day — it’s really exciting for us.

What’s the meaning behind the theme of this season’s campaign, “Our all. Our honour”?

New ads feature scenes projected on players such as Jay DeMerit.
LEWIS:
We reset our mission statement, which had been the same for years when we were in the USL. Back then, it was about growing the franchise, becoming a significant asset. Now it’s about all those things plus being winners on and off the pitch and having values. … For the Whitecaps, the litmus test is FC Barcelona. They’re champions and they do it in an honorable way.

After your first years in MLS, what’s next on your agenda?

LEWIS: We want to fill BC Place on a consistent basis. We see what’s happening in Seattle and Portland, and we don’t see any reason why the market here can’t support that kind of growth. Our development programs are also an important focus. We want to see Canada’s national team ultimately be successful on the world stage. We’re only going to see that if we continue to invest in young Canadian athletes.

You’ve been with the club for almost 10 years. Do you envision staying with the club for many more?

LEWIS: You never say never, but as long as the work continues to be interesting and challenging, I don’t have any desire to go anywhere else. It never ceases to amaze me: In 10 years here, no two days have been the same.

You’re one of few female chief operating officers in North American team sports. Do you feel any sense of responsibility with that?

LEWIS: I’m really proud of what I do, but I honestly don’t think in that way. I have a responsibility to do the best job possible. If that somehow creates more opportunities for women, then that is fantastic.
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