Behind the MLS Ambition Rankings: Vancouver Whitecaps

Friday March 3rd, 2017

How much money has your team spent in the past five years on youth development? How much in the past year?

Whitecaps FC have the most extensive youth development network in North America, with professional coaches and academies located from coast to coast in eight of 10 provinces in Canada. The best male and female players filter into the full-time boys Residency and Girls Elite BC REX programs in Vancouver. According to commissioner Don Garber, the club invests more in youth development than any other club in MLS.

In 2007, Whitecaps FC Residency launched a full-time, fully funded, player development program unlike any other in North America. The Residency program is comprised of four youth teams–U-14, U-15, U-16, and U-18–with approximately 75 of the top players from across British Columbia and Canada. Aspiring players can enter the Whitecaps FC club system full-time as early as age 12, and be nurtured in an age appropriate learning environment, with gradational steps that will help them attain a successful professional club and national team career.

In 2015, Whitecaps FC 2 played their first season in the United Soccer League. The addition of WFC2 has provided a developmental bridge from USSDA to MLS. The WFC2 2017 roster includes eight Residency grads. Last year, four players signed from WFC2 to the MLS first team.

The club also operates a full-time Girls Elite Regional EXCEL Centre (REX) program in partnership with BC Soccer and Canada Soccer.

All programs regularly produce players who play for Canada at the national team levels. In 2016, 27 Residency and six REX players were called up to Canada’s youth national teams.

In addition to the WFC2, Residency, and REX programs, the club has regional Academy Centres linked through key staff, curriculum, and standards that provide professional supplemental club training for serious, motivated players. The Academy Centre network currently includes locations throughout British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario (London and Ottawa), Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island.

How many homegrown players have you signed? How many have played in MLS league games for your first team?

Whitecaps FC have signed 13 Homegrown players since joining MLS in 2011. The current MLS roster features five Homegrown players, including two first team starters, two that see significant minutes with WFC2, and one currently on loan in the English Championship. Eight WFC Homegrown players have played a MLS league match, while nearly every player has seen significant minutes in the Canadian Championship, CONCACAF Champions League, Whitecaps FC 2 (MLS Reserve League prior to WFC2), and with Canada Soccer at the international level.

How many season-ticket holders do you have? How many did you have in 2016?

For the second consecutive year, Whitecaps FC have 15,500 season-ticket members. Last year, WFC averaged 22,330 fans at BC Place in MLS regular season play, a year-over-year increase of 1,823 with 14 of the 17 matches sold out.

Where does your first team train? Did you build the training facility yourself? If so, how much did it cost?

Whitecaps FC train at the National Soccer Development Centre (NSDC), University of British Columbia (UBC). WFC have partnered with the BC government and UBC to construct, improve, and refurbish two artificial turf fields, three grass fields, as well as a state-of-the-art fieldhouse. In total, the multi-campus NSDC includes seven fields – two artificial turf fields at Simon Fraser University, and three grass and two artificial turf fields at UBC with a total estimated cost of $32.5 million CAD.

Phase One was completed in February 2013 and currently serves as the club's training home. The final phase of the NSDC, which will feature a state-of-the-art 35,000 square foot fieldhouse, is scheduled to be completed this summer. The fieldhouse is being designed by Acton Ostry Architects, an award-winning architectural firm based in Vancouver, in collaboration with BBB Architects, internationally recognized sports architects who recently completed the Kia Toronto FC Training Ground & Academy.

Once built, the NSDC will become the new training base for the Whitecaps FC men’s, and Residency teams, UBC’s soccer teams, as well as the West Coast base for Canada’s men’s, women’s, and youth national teams. Beyond these teams, the facility will also devote more than 50 per cent of field time to community soccer use. This facility will be a key asset in the training and development of Whitecaps FC and BC Soccer players, as well as local coaches and referees.

Did your team build its own stadium? If yes, how much money did the team spend on the stadium?

BC Place is owned and operated by the BC Pavilion Corporation, a crown corporation of the province. Originally erected as the world’s largest air-supported stadium in 1983, the stadium was reinvented and modernized in 2011 as a year-round open-air facility with a cable-supported retractable roof – the biggest of its kind in the world. The 2011 renovations included soccer specific initiatives such as pitch-level suites and a secondary roof.

The stadium was named one of the top 100 soccer experiences in the world in November 2015 by British soccer magazine FourFourTwo.

Do you have a USL affiliate? How big is your budget this year for your USL team?

Whitecaps FC 2 is fully integrated on both the business and soccer side.

On the soccer side, there are eight players from the Residency program that have earned USL contracts for this upcoming season, while a handful of young first team players see regular minutes with the side. Last year, four players from WFC2 signed with the first team.

How much money have you spent in the three previous years on Designated Players (transfer fees and salary)? How much are you spending on Designated Players this year?

Prior to the start of the 2017 season, Whitecaps FC acquired three-time MLS All-Star striker Fredy Montero as a Designated Player on a one-year loan from Chinese Super League club Tianjin Teda.

In addition to Montero, WFC roster features one of the league’s top defensive midfielders in designated player Matías Laba. Since Laba’s arrival in Vancouver at the start of 2014, no player in the league has made more tackles.

How much TAM have you spent since its inception in the middle of 2015 (including this year)?

Whitecaps FC have used TAM to acquire exciting attacking talents such as Christian Bolaños, Yordy Reyna, and Cristian Techera. The club has also traded TAM to acquire experienced MLS midfielder Andrew Jacobson.

How would you describe your investment in and use of data analytics? How many full-time analytics employees do you have?

Data analytics are used throughout the club.

On the soccer side, it helps coaches make better, more informed decisions, in an efficient manner. It is also used to educate, track, and inform players.

Who is your jersey sponsor? What’s your total income on sponsorships this season?

The club is very proud to have one of the best partners in the league with Bell Canada as the Premier Founding Partner, which includes the kit sponsorship for the MLS, USL, and USSDA teams.

Local TV deal: How many of your games this season are shown on local television? How much is your local TV deal worth per season? How big is your budget for presenting local TV broadcasts? Do your broadcasters travel on the road for local TV broadcasts?

All 34-regular season and MLS Cup Playoff matches are available nationally on TSN or CTV. Last January, Major League Soccer signed a new five-year landmark media rights partnership in Canada with TSN and TVA Sports.

How many front-office employees does your team have? How many have you added or subtracted in the past year?

There are 87 full-time front office employees, which includes two new positions in the past year.

In addition, there are approximately 50 employees at the club’s training center and an additional 38 full or part-time at the academy centers across the country.

What other sorts of details should we know about your club that are a good barometer of the club’s ambition? 

Whitecaps FC mission is to be a champion club on and off the soccer pitch.

The club aims to win trophies at the first team level, with a clear goal to capture MLS Cup. The ambition of the club is long term, and is focused on excellence at every level from grass roots through to the first team.

Another long-term focus of Whitecaps FC is to support BC Soccer and Canada Soccer in the drive to grow the sport across Canada. To provide access to professional coaching and a pathway for every young soccer player in Canada, from Kitimat, BC to Halifax, Nova Scotia, and ultimately, to play a critical role in helping Canada’s men's national team get back to the FIFA World Cup, and the women's national team win the World Cup.

Finally, community spirit is the club’s reason for being. Whitecaps FC players make over 400 appearances each year. BC Children's hospital is one of the club's key community partners and WFC have donated $1 million (CAD) to support the hospital. A beautiful Whitecaps FC playroom will open this fall and the club funds critical care equipment that the hospital needs.

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