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HomeBusinessExclusive: Whitecaps attendance nosedives amid scandals

Exclusive: Whitecaps attendance nosedives amid scandals


Bob Mackin (Updated June 6)

Scandals swirling around the Vancouver Whitecaps, coupled with a slow start, caused thousands of fans to stay away from B.C. Place Stadium in April and May.

According to attendance figures released to by B.C. Pavilion Corporation, the Western conference’s ninth place club drew only 13,273 for the April 17 win over LAFC and 13,898 for an April 27 draw with Philadelphia Union. The Whitecaps overstated attendance on their Major League Soccer scoresheets for those matches as 17,038 and 17,835, respectively.

Whitecaps vs. Philadelphia, April 27 (Mackin)

When the Whitecaps shut out the Portland Timbers on May 10, the club used the figure of 18,356 on the scoresheet. But the attendance was 14,903. It was even worse when the defending champion Atlanta United edged the Whitecaps on May 15 and only 12,204 attended. The club again overstated the attendance, by publishing 16,138 on the scoresheet.

PavCo originally disclosed on May 31 that 11,746 had attended the May 15 match, but, on June 6, the B.C. Place operator notified that the correct total was 458 higher. “We are informed that this was due to a ticket scanner being offline when the initial numbers were reported,” said the correction note from PavCo records officer Rita Mogyorosi.

The crowd counts for the Portland and Atlanta visits were the worst back-to-back gates since 2012 matches against Sporting Kansas City (10,293) and FC Dallas (13,843). 

The Whitecaps averaged 18,211 last year. They kicked-off 2019 with a trio of matches against Minnesota United (21,858), Seattle Sounders (20,788) and L.A Galaxy (20,988).  Then came the four-game gate slump, as the team drew an average 13,388. 

The downturn began at the April 17 match, when the supporters groups, led by the Southsiders, left their seats in the 35th minute to protest the Whitecaps’ mishandling of allegations by players from the 2007-2008 W-League team, who complained of harassment and bullying by their coach, Bob Birarda. Supporters were also unhappy after learning that 2013-hired youth coach Brett Adams was suspended by the English F.A. for racism.

Whitecaps’ minority owner Jeff Mallett unsuccessfully pleaded with the supporters before the April 27 match to end the walkout protests. The Whitecaps had announced in October 2008 that they agreed to a mutual parting with Birarda. But a timeline that accompanied a May 1 statement, signed by two of the club’s four owners, used the word “termination.” 

Whitecaps fan protest on April 27 (Mackin)

Reporters from the Vancouver Sun/Province, News1130, Star Metro and were not invited when Mallett spoke to select reporters on May 1. twice canvassed sponsors like Bell, BMO, EA Sports and Canadian Tire for their reaction to the scandals and fan protests. None replied. 

The club rescheduled the 40th anniversary match of the 1979 Soccer Bowl championship team from Aug. 31 to May 31.

The 35th minute walkouts are now over. Beginning with the May 25 match against FC Dallas, supporters activated flashlight apps on smartphones in the 35th minute.

On May 27, the club announced that Mallett and principal owner Greg Kerfoot had met the previous week with whistleblowers Ciara McCormack and Eden Hingwing. The club agreed to hire the Sport Law and Strategy Group to conduct an independent third-party review of current and past safe sport policies and procedures, and management of those policies.  

Despite the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner’s 2016 order for PavCo to release attendance figures, Whitecaps’ chief operating officer Rachel Lewis said the club would stick to its policy of releasing only the “assigned seat numbers” rather than publishing the number of people actually present at a match. 

The biggest B.C. Place crowd for the MLS club was 25,832 against the Seattle Sounders on Sept. 15, 2018. Whitecaps claimed 27,863 on the scoresheet. On Sept. 28, 2016,  only 9,028 witnessed a 4-1 win over Trinidad and Tobago’s Central FC 4-1 in a CONCACAF Champions League match. The Whitecaps announced 17,038.

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