The Vancouver Whitecaps historically have not been headline grabbers among their MLS colleagues. If incoming club CEO Mark Pannes has his way, that will soon change.
As the latest addition to the club's executive office, Pannes comes to Vancouver with a wealth of experience in sports that includes six years with Serie A side Roma and 10 years with the New York Knicks in the NBA. That experience encompasses marketing, licensing, and fund management, and he was described by Mallet as "a student of the game and the business of sport."
In his new role, Pannes believes his mandate is a clear one — to take the Whitecaps to a different level as a club, both domestically and globally.
"I’m a big believer of a marquee club in marquee cities, and it is unquestionable that Vancouver is a marquee city," Pannes told reporters in a media roundtable Tuesday, the same day his appointment became official. “It’s part of the Commonwealth, so there is a 50-plus country network that we are going to be able to have a presence in.
"Then it sits on the Pacific Rim as a gateway. This is the city that has that as a very unique combination. It allows us to reach into Asia for fans and players, it allows us to reach into the Americas for fans and players, and it allows us to reach into Europe and Africa. It’s a very unique combination."
Pannes appointment followed the November arrival of Axel Schuster as the club’s new sporting director, and then the news last month that co-owner Jeff Mallet would be taking the mantle of executive chair.
With MLS recently allowing clubs to do their own marketing and revenue generation programs in markets outside the US and Canada, Pannes says the Whitecaps are keen to establish a "footprint" outside of North American borders. To do that, however, the 'Caps know they need to address issues closer to home.
After a disappointing 2019 season, that starts by putting a winning team on the pitch. With success comes increased ticket sales, a more attractive landing spot for top players, and a team people want to watch, both locally and internationally.
Pannes believes the ceiling for Vancouver is massive.
"We’re not a MLS team that’s constrained by a 22 to 25,000-seat building," Pannes said, referencing the potential for opening the upper level of BC Place. "As I was doing my research for this opportunity, one of the things that stood out me was that when the city of Vancouver was half as large as it is today, it was able to draw on occasion upwards of 50,000 people.
"We want people to go 'I want to go see the Whitecaps.' ... You want fans to come and say 'I love our players, I love what the coach is doing, I love the way that I'm treated when I'm there, I love the environment'. That type of engagement. That's always the goal."
Pannes' appointment is a step in a new seven-year plan drawn up by the club to build toward the 2026 World Cup. As much as short-term success would be welcomed, sustained improvement and growth is the ultimate goal.
"Sports clubs, they can catch lightning in a bottle and win without a proper sophisticated structure in place on both the business side and the technical side," Pannes mused. "But that's all they're doing. They're not going to repeat it. It's not going to be a platform for long term success. So you have to have a real proper foundation.
"You have to have stability, you have to build culture. You have to let that culture develop expectations of everybody in the organization, from the players to the coaches to the technical staff to the business staff. Those expectations are going to deliver behaviors and those behaviors are going to identify a club and let it perform for a long time at a really high level."