‘The Garage’ rolls out a new name

Wednesday, July 7th, 2010

GM Place now called Rogers Arena after Canucks strike sponsorship deal with Toronto-based telecommunications giant

Brad Ziemer, with a file from Fiona Anderson

A worker begins the job of taking down the old signs at the home of the Vancouver Canucks. The new name is Rogers Arena. Photograph by: Mark Van Manen, PNG, Vancouver Sun

The Vancouver Canucks have parlayed a cellphone turf war into a multi-million-dollar deal that has resulted in an immediate name change to the team’s downtown arena.

After 15 years, General Motors Place is no more. The building is now called Rogers Arena after the Toronto-based national telecommunications giant struck a 10-year deal with the National Hockey League team.

The deal, the financial terms of which were not disclosed, gives Rogers a significant presence in B.C. and serves notice to Vancouver-based Telus that its rival is serious about growing its business in the West.

“There is no question this is reinforcing our commitment to the province, to the West, to being a national player,” Nadir Mohamed, Rogers’ president and chief executive officer, told a news conference Tuesday at the arena that now bears his company’s name.

“We have been in a competitive market for a long time,” Mohamed said. “We like to compete. Our history is being a challenger brand if you go back to the legacy of [company founder] Ted [Rogers]. We took on the phone guys way back in our early days. We like competing. Frankly, we have done well in this market. We plan to grow, we plan to invest. Today is an example of building on our investment.”

The Canucks shopped the arena naming rights after General Motors decided it wanted out. GM has had the naming rights since the arena opened in 1995 and had another five years to run on its 20-year deal.

Telus, long the dominant player in the West, was approached about buying the naming rights, but spokesman Shawn Hall said the company decided against it.

“We looked at this opportunity and it wasn’t a good fit for us,” Hall said. “So our focus continues to be on expanding our network.”

Telus plans to spend $650 million in British Columbia this year on upgrades to its broadband and wireless service.

And Telus already has its name nearby, at the Telus World of Science.

“There certainly is value that comes with these kinds of things,” Hall said.

But despite Telus’s long-standing relationship with the Canucks, naming the hockey arena wasn’t something Telus wanted to do, he said.

“We wish them well,” Hall added.

As part of its new deal, Rogers also now holds the Canucks’ telecommunication sponsorship rights previously owned by Telus.

GM remains a significant corporate sponsor of the Canucks, but Tony LaRocca, GM Canada’s communications director, said the company wanted its advertising to be more product focused.

“If we wanted to stay within the existing contract it lasted longer than this year, but we have moved forward with this new agreement that works for all parties involved,” LaRocca said. “This is a good thing for us, a good thing for the Canucks.”

General Motors will retain a strong promotional presence inside the arena.

“We want to be more focused on our brands and on the specific products and the attributes of the products,” LaRocca said. “This give us an opportunity to do that in a way that allowed us to keep our partnership with these folks, which has been really good for us over the years.”

Mohamed said Rogers will use its wireless technology to enhance the experience of Canucks fans.

“We will partner with the Canucks to score new and revolutionary ways to use wireless technology to engage Vancouver fans any time, any place and especially at the Rogers Arena,” he said.

“This is an enormously exciting opportunity for us to build, invest and serve British Columbians. Sports and Rogers go together. Nationally, this adds to our broad investment in sports properties. It represents a natural and powerful extension of our existing relationships. That would include our ownership of the [Toronto] Blue Jays, our ownership of Sportsnet, our long-standing relationships with local sports organizations right here in British Columbia, like the Canadians and the B.C. Lions.”

Canuck owner Francesco Aquilini donned a Rogers sweatshirt while posing for pictures with Mohamed, who was clad in a Canucks’ jersey.

“Rogers Sportsnet has broadcast the majority of our games for nine years,” Aquilini said. “It is the first time in franchise history that local television, arena naming rights and telecommunications sponsorship rights have been held by one company.”

Mohamed also hinted that the company might be interested in acquiring the team’s radio rights when they come up for bidding.

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