When the Vancouver Canucks were a perennial contender, winning their division year after year with an exciting team, they were an easy sell.
With a sold-out building every night and a lengthy season ticket wait list accompanying it, it was easy to get complacent on the business side of the operation.
Those days are long gone, of course, though it hasn’t resulted in a doomsday scenario for the business operations.
The Canucks have the second-worst cumulative record in the National Hockey League over the past four seasons, and while attendance isn’t what it once was, they certainly haven’t played in front of half-empty arenas like they did during the Mark Messier era. Officially, they have averaged over 18,000 fans per game during that span.
The team hopes to come out of the dark days this season, with a new, young, talented core group on the ice and a well-oiled marketing machine off it.
In an interview with Canucks Chief Operating Officer Trent Carroll, we got an update on the business side of things in advance of the team kicking off its 50th-anniversary celebrations on opening night.
Losing on the ice made them better off the ice
“There’s no doubt the team’s a big driver in the selling of tickets,” said Carroll in a phone interview with Daily Hive.
“It actually was a good thing that we looked into our business and said ‘okay, what can we do better?’ We can’t control what the team’s doing, on the business side. We put a lot of energy and effort into how can we make the fan experience better, so that despite the performance of the team we can point to make the experience better for the fans that did come to the game.”
Certainly, they’ve done that.
Game presentation has taken a giant leap forward since the team’s glory days, as have the food and beverage improvements made after they parted ways with Aramark in 2014.
New neighbouring towers have allowed for the addition of additional bars and concessions on the 100- and 300-level concourses, in addition to the Sportsbar where fans congregate before, during, and after games.
“The whole entertainment side of the game has gone up, not just in our arena, but everywhere… We wanted to certainly get a lot better. So we worked on the fan experience in the bowl.
“This year we bought new projectors, which are a significant cost, we’re bringing those in so that the show can have even more energy. There’s going to be even more lighting effects you’ll see when you come in. There’s more music elements to it, whether that be live music in breaks, intermissions, and pre-game. There’s DJs, there’s drummers, all of that has kind of changed.”
“We definitely appreciate people who support us and we know that they’re making a choice to come here on any given night, and we’ve got to earn that. And so we try to make sure that their experience is as good as we can possibly make it, despite what happens on the ice.”
Tickets selling better than they have in six years
The team doesn’t reveal exact numbers when it comes to their season ticket base, but Carroll said this year’s renewal rate had gone up over last year, which was above 90%.
“We got back into the 90s last year and we’ve exceeded that number,” he said, adding that the team had been below that important threshold prior to 2018.
“We’re back into a good place with our renewals and it gives us a base to be able to grow our business on. From there, every other area in our ticket sales is up. Groups are up versus last year. Mixed packs are up, in fact we’ve sold more mixed packs this year already than we did all of last year. Singles are doing really really well.
“This is the best year that we’ve had on ticketing in the last six years. Clearly, you can feel the excitement and the buzz in the city.”
Public captaincy announcement a new Canucks tradition
Just like they did before they began their 40th anniversary season in 2010, the Canucks will reveal their captain in front of their fans at the home opener. While there was some uncertainty as to who would get the C back then, it would be a shocker if they named anyone but Bo Horvat captain this time around.
Francesco Aquilini called it “probably the worst-kept secret,” and yet the Canucks are going to proceed with the big reveal — even playing the first two road games of the season without a captain.
Why the fuss? It’s all about creating a special moment fans can be a part of, says Carroll.
“We really wanted to do this for our fans. We wanted to have that opportunity to have our fans be there when they get a chance to see who the captain is. I know everybody’s got their idea on who it is and probably people have it right, but it really doesn’t matter for us. It’s more about the fact that a fan can say ‘I was there the night when so-and-so got the C.’
“That’s why we do those things.”
Opening night and 50th-anniversary celebrations
There will be no shortage of hoopla for the 50th anniversary season, beginning with opening night.
The evening includes the following:
- Party on the Plaza beginning at 5 pm, offering live music, alumni autographs, face painting stations, and other fan activations.
- Elias Pettersson’s Calder Trophy available for viewing outside Section 101
- 50th season “commemorative keepsake”
- AC/DC tribute band
- A “fun and cinematic new opening video” created with the support of Hollywood North Vancouver film and tv production crews in conjunction with Shawn Williamson of Brightlight Pictures.
“It’s the first time ever we’ve brought so many people in from the movie business to help us produce an opening. I think it’s going to be different but really cool. It’s really dialling up the entertainment side.”
With the new slogan “Colourful past, bright future,” the Canucks aren’t just looking to honour great moments, they’re embracing some of their quirks as well.
“We’re trying to make it real fun. So not so much storytelling about the past, but more bringing back some fun moments that make people go ‘oh yeah, I remember that.'”
But they’re also bringing back the popular Flying Skate jersey for 90s night on January 4 and fan appreciation night on April 4. The team will also wear a pair of throwback jerseys in warmup: the Flying V jersey for 70s night on November 5 and the original Orca jersey for 2000s night on March 6.
About those skate jerseys
For those of you hoping the Canucks will one day go back to the black, red, and yellow Flying Skate jerseys full-time, it’s not happening.
Carroll says their research shows that people like the Orca.
“The reality is we have a whole new generation of people that are growing up with the Orca and they’re just as excited about the orca, they just maybe don’t vocalize it as much. Whenever we do research or anything, the Orca still performs really well. It’s actually the jersey we’ve worn the longest now.”
“We feel like we’ve got a great jersey and logo that represents our city, represents the west coast, and it’s recognizable in all markets, so we’re good with it. It doesn’t mean we can’t go back and have a bit of fun with our older jerseys. Rather than hide from it we kind of embraced it a little bit.”
Aquilini suggested the team may “tweak” the Orca logo, but Carroll says don’t expect any changes anytime soon.
“We just made a tweak taking the ‘Vancouver’ off, it kind of gave the logo itself better exposure and it’s not so cluttered. That was the tweak that we looked at and we did. I don’t see anything happening for the short while. I don’t think you want to get into adjusting all the time. I just think it’s more about an attitude.
“It’s not like we’re saying ‘no, we wouldn’t touch anything.’ We always look at things, it doesn’t mean we’re going to change anything.”
There you have it. The whale stays.
Blue and green seats
In a radio interview last year, Carroll’s predecessor, Jeff Stipec, hinted that the team may replace the maroon seats at Rogers Arena with ones reflecting Canucks colours.
But that doesn’t seem like it’s on the radar anytime soon.
“I hear a lot about the seats,” Carroll said, laughing, “I don’t know what it is.”
“We’re always looking at areas that we’ve got to invest in the arena.”
“We do it more on priority. Do seats get on the list? Sure, but you want to improve the fan experience, would the change in the colour of the seats really change the experience that you have when you come into the arena? I don’t know… There’s other things that we’re working on that we certainly want to invest in too.”
Rogers Arena naming rights
When the Canucks’ home arena was renamed from GM Place to Rogers Arena in 2010, they signed a 10-year agreement. But the naming rights are not up after this year, says Carroll.
The team has a positive relationship with Rogers, who is also their television and radio rights-holder.
Rogers Arena will remain the name of the rink on Griffiths Way for at least another three seasons beyond this year, taking them through the end of the 2022-23 season.