VANCOUVER – Right now it’s the name of the arena that is changing, but a new agreement Rogers Communications Inc. has reached with the Vancouver Canucks could extend to how fans listen and watch NHL games in the future.
The Canucks will play their games in Rogers Arena next season, part of a 10-year naming and telecommunications sponsorship agreement the NHL team announced Tuesday with the communications giant.
No financial terms were revealed.
The deal opens the door for Rogers to show Canucks games on cell phones or BlackBerry devices in the future. The company may even purchase the team’s radio broadcast rights.
Rogers Sportsnet already shows the bulk of Canuck games on television.
“It’s not just the branding aspect,” Nadir Mohamed, Rogers’ president and chief executive officer, told a news conference. “But also extending it into the community, leveraging our technologies.
“One of the things we believe in is taking the game to the fans where ever they might be.”
Since 1995 the Canucks have played in GM Place. A 20-year, $18.5-million naming deal with General Motors was supposed to extend to 2015.
GM will remain a team sponsor, but switch to in-arena activities.
Canuck owner Francesco Aquilini never specifically said why GM wanted to drop its naming rights to the building.
“We worked out an arrangement where they are happy and we are happy,” said Aquilini. “They got what they needed.”
GM lost US$88 billion between 2004, when it last turned a profit, and last year when it declared bankruptcy.
The automaker received $52 billion from the U.S. government and $9.5 billion from the Canadian and Ontario governments, starting in 2008.
Rogers is Canada’s largest provider of wireless communications systems. The company also owns radio and television stations, magazines and trade publications.
On the sports front, Rogers own the Toronto Blue Jays and Toronto’s Rogers Centre, which was previously the SkyDome.
“Rogers understands the sports business,” said Aquilini. “It’s a perfect fit for us.
“It just wasn’t financial. It was everything surrounding it.”
Canuck games are currently broadcast on Team 1040, which is owned by CHUM Radio. Rogers currently owns several radio stations in and around Vancouver
Phil Lind, Rogers’ vice-chairman, said Rogers may bid when the Canucks’ radio rights come up for bidding.
“When they become available I suppose we will be interested,” said Lind. “Over time, we will be seeking to expand our footprint on different platforms.”
Splashing company names on sports facilities is a trend that began in the 1970’s. Historic Canadian buildings like The Forum in Montreal and Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto were replaced by new arenas with cold, corporate monikers like the Bell Centre and Air Canada Centre.
Selling a building’s naming rights helps a team’s bottom line, but can erase some history, said Lindsay Meredith, a marketing professor at Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, B.C.
“When a favourite landmark gets renamed, is something lost by that? Sure it is,” said Meredith. “No question about it.
“That is a genuine identity that sport fans have associated with for many years. There is brand equity there as well. Suddenly, you wiped it out in one stroke.”
Corporations are willing to shell out millions to have their names on stadiums for what is called top-of-mind advertising.
You won’t necessary buy a car because Ford or GM’s name in on a sports team’s building, said Meredith. But the chances are good you will remember the company’s name if asked who makes cars.
“That’s one of the key ingredients to actually getting people to maybe consider your product or your store,” he said. “The whole idea is if you create a strong presence, people will continue to associate with that presence.”
Corporate branding has created some tongue-twisters of names.
The home of the CFL Saskatchewan Roughriders is officially Mosaic Stadium at Taylor Field. The Winnipeg Blue Bombers play in Canad Inns Stadium.
The Vancouver Canadians, a member of minor baseball’s Northwest League, call Scotiabank Field at Nat Bailey Stadium home.
During the recent Vancouver Olympics the Canucks’ building played host to gold medal games in both men’s and women’s hockey.
The arena also hosts concerts and sporting events like UFC 115.
Mohamed, who grew up in Vancouver, agreed it may take time for some residents to get used to the Canucks’ home having a new name.
“It will come,” he said. “We’ve had some experience with the Rogers Centre.”