We start our week-long Supporters Culture series with a look at how the Vancouver Whitecaps organization collaborates with the three largest supporters’ groups. In talking with the Whitecaps organization, we wanted to provide fans with a better understanding of the role the team plays in facilitating the atmosphere at BC Place and collaborating with supporters’ groups. We want to thank Whitecaps Communications Coordinator Piccolo Ocampo and Fan Services Manager Josh Nanavaty for agreeing to participate in our series.
Throughout their existence, the Vancouver Whitecaps has emphasized the importance of the supporters’ groups within the ethos of the organization. As a result, Josh noted that the club is “in communication weekly with the supporters and we typically have a face-to-face meeting with the three supporters’ groups every quarter.” He noted that the topics of conversation from the team vary, but are often focused on “ensuring the best stadium experience, new things the club is looking to implement, and what the supporters’ groups would like to see.”.
Josh highlighted that working with the supporter groups is enjoyable as “their passion is infectious”. On game day, “the supporters’ groups bring great value to the match. It’s their passion, energy, and support that help create the best sporting atmosphere in Vancouver, and play a big role in driving the team to victory”. However, as fans, we know that sometimes the desires of the club and of the supporters’ groups may differ. We asked Josh to give us a bit of insight into what happens when this occurs. Josh told us “the club tries its best to consider all interests. We love to see our supporters come up with new ideas and initiatives, and we do our best to accommodate and support them. We also have to balance the enjoyment of other fans in the stadium, many of whom enjoy a different stadium experience.”. Nevertheless, in striking that important balance, Josh tells us that the club is “always looking to improve with the help and collaboration of our supporters and the leaders in those groups”.
For those ingrained in the Vancouver Whitecaps supporters culture, their origins may be well known, however, for many fans, little may be known about how the supporters’ groups were formed. While we will leave the details to that question for each piece later this week, we did ask Josh how the location in BC Place for the supporters’ groups was determined. “Supporters’ sections pre-date the club’s time in MLS. The supporters stood in the south end zone at Swangard Stadium, and so when the club planned their move to BC Place, the club looked for the closest equivalent location, while also being close to the end zone that the players come out for pregame and postgame.”. As the Vancouver Whitecaps have grown, so too have the supporters’ groups. This has required the club to “work alongside the groups to help secure more seats” while making sure that each supporters’ group maintains its individuality and that each is treated equally in the process.
As an organization using another’s venue, in someone else’s league, fans are often curious if the requests of BC Place, Major League Soccer, and various supporters’ groups ever clash. We posed the question to Josh and he told us “like any organization, there are a number of stakeholders who need to work together. The club makes it a priority to make sure that the supporters are being heard and their priorities brought to the table. From there, it’s a balancing act, like with all of our various partners”. Of course, with multiple stakeholders, there are times when priorities clash. We followed up with Josh about how the Whitecaps organization walks the fine line of balancing the wants/desire of the supporters’ groups with the concerns BC Place might have with activities. Most recently, this has manifested in a desire to make a general admission section, but can also include the use of large noise-making items. Josh stated that “it’s a two-way partnership and we do our best to openly communicate with all parties to come towards agreeable solutions for all involved.”
However, the club seems to understand the importance of the supporters’ groups in the Whitecaps identity. When we posed the challenging question of what role the league and front office should play in dictating what is acceptable behaviour/activities for supporters, Josh let us know that “this is their club too, and we want to make our best efforts to allow them to drive the atmosphere at the matches. At the same time, we always have to look out for the interests of all guests and make sure everyone who attends a match enjoys the stadium experience”. It is important to remember that while the supporters culture is a large part of the Vancouver Whitecaps and soccer in general, not everyone who attends a match is looking for that experience.
With it in-mind that the Vancouver Whitecaps organization is responsible for the matchday experience of all fans who attend the game, we wanted to know how far outside the stadium gates does the responsible of the club, in dictating activities, extend? Josh emphasized to us that “safety is our number one priority. We work in conjunction with numerous partners to ensure that everyone has a safe, enjoyable, and memorable match experience. That starts from the match to the match, to the final whistle.”.
Finally, we had a few curiosity questions that we posed to Josh. One that many fans seem to wonder is if the Canadian Football League and Major League Soccer want to use BC Place on a particular date, who makes the final decision. Josh told us that they “are co-tenants with the CFL’s BC Lions, [so we] work with our contacts at the stadium, broadcast partner TSN, and respective leagues to determine priority dates.”.
Another curiosity was how much does the front office assists supporters in acquiring (group) away match tickets and accommodating away supporter groups. Josh told us “The supporters’ groups handle away match tickets on their own. However, we work in partnership with the three supporters’ groups when it comes to Cascadia away tickets”. For visiting fans, Josh “assists with any visiting team or visiting supporter requests from around MLS for matches at BC Place”.
Once again, we want to thank Whitecaps Communications Coordinator Piccolo Ocampo for connecting us with Fan Services Manager Josh Nanavaty, who was kind enough to ask all of our questions and let fans know a bit more about how the Vancouver Whitecaps Organization fits into the Supporters Culture surrounding the club.