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HomeBusinessAs Whitecaps and rugby sevens return, B.C. Place steps up name sale pitch

As Whitecaps and rugby sevens return, B.C. Place steps up name sale pitch

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Bob Mackin

Ian Aikenhead is hoping that the second try at selling B.C. Place Stadium’s naming rights will be a charm. 

Seven years ago, the BC Liberal government cancelled a deal to rename the 1983-built stadium Telus Park. It would have meant $40 million over 20 years, including the installation and operation of equipment, but for a telecom sponsorship tiff and complaints by bidders for the provincial government’s telecommunications contracts. Bell won the former. Telus the latter. The public eventually compensated Telus $15.2 million for equipment and labour.

“This time around the government wants to do something that is very open,” Aikenhead, the chair of the B.C. Pavilion Corp. board since last August, told theBreaker.news. “One of the criticisms last time was the opportunity was given to one company. With the kind of interest that’s gone around North America with naming rights, the government felt the [request for proposals] has to be an open process.”

Image from PavCo’s naming rights sales pitch (PavCo)

PavCo issued the call for naming rights bidders in early February and hopes to have a deal by mid-summer. It will evaluate bids based on a sponsor’s brand, activation strategy, community engagement plan and, most importantly, fees and term. PavCo enlisted the expertise of sports marketing and branding expert Yoeri Geerits, a former senior vice-president of Nielsen Sports Canada who is now with Calgary-based threesixtythree inc.

“What we’re told is that the general sponsorship naming rights business has increased fairly dramatically in terms of what sponsors are prepared to pay,” Aikenhead said. “There have been some high water marks back east. If we’ve hit the crest of the wave or we’re about to hit it or we’ve gone past it, what the market is prepared to do is unknown at this point.”

That high water mark is in Toronto, where Scotiabank agreed to an $800 million deal with Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment to call the home of the Toronto Maple Leafs and Toronto Raptors Scotiabank Arena from 2017 to 2038. 

Closer to home, Rogers took over naming rights of the Canucks’ home from General Motors in 2010 for a reported $60 million over a decade. In Edmonton, Rogers inked a 13-year naming rights agreement. When it was announced in 2013, Oilers’ president Patrick LaForge told reporters who speculated on $1 million a year that the sum was “not even in the ballpark.”

PavCo chair Ian Aikenhead (AMJ Law)

A PavCo sales video seeks bidders who want to “be the jewel in British Columbia’s crown.” The Crown corporation is marketing the stadium as the only venue of its type in Canada that has never had a corporate title sponsor, which means it is a blank slate with no legacy names or nicknames. (Commonwealth Stadium in Edmonton remains with its original name, but the field name was sold to the Brick furniture chain.) 

Vancouver is a market of 2.46 million with 10.5 million visitors a year. PavCo says the stadium is passed by 53 million drivers and passengers annually. B.C. Place hosts 17 Whitecaps and 10 B.C. Lions regular season games a year, the wildly successful HSBC Canada Sevens rugby sevens, and large scale concerts and trade shows. In 2018, the Whitecaps averaged 18,211 per game attendance and the Lions 14,769.

“It’s hard to know what attracts a particular naming sponsor, but the location, all the activity, the fact that it’ll be discussed when there are concerts, shows, exhibits, sports teams, that’s what they’re interested in,” Aikenhead said. “To be attached to an iconic stadium that reflects well on their brand. It’s all about branding.”

East Vancouver lawyer Aikenhead’s duty is to lead the turnaround of B.C. Place, which recorded a $12.12 million loss for the year ended March 31, 2018. The figure included a budgeted $8.5 million payment to the Musqueam First Nation under the Parq Casino lands accommodation agreement. PavCo’s other property, the Vancouver Convention Centre, reported a $2.76 million profit.

Aikenhead was the president of the Pacific National Exhibition from 1992 to 2001 and brings the most event hosting experience to the position. Past PavCo chairs have included ex-Grouse Mountain owner Stuart McLaughlin, politician Peter Fassbender, developer David Podmore, executive recruiter Catherine Van Alstine, wholesaler Doris Bradstreet and banker Diana Reid. 

The mandate letter from Tourism Minister Lisa Beare, another new move under the NDP, orders Aikenhead to “maximize private sector revenue” and “explore options for additional revenue streams.”

To that end, the land known as Site 10C, on the east side of the stadium property, could be developed by PavCo, leased or sold. Last year, Vancouver city council approved in principle a 400-foot rental tower on the site. Aikenhead said the government has not made a decision on whether PavCo will develop the property or sell or lease the land. 

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