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Rogers nabs naming rights on Telus's turf

Rogers Communications CEO Nadir Mohamed, left, wearing a Vancouver Canucks jersey, shakes hands with Vancouver Canucks and Rogers Arena owner Francesco Aquilini, wearing a Rogers jersey, after announcing that General Motors Place is now named Rogers Arena in Vancouver, B.C., on Tuesday July 6, 2010. The arena had been called GM Place since it opened in 1995.


Rogers will now have a shining symbol of its foothold in Western Canada, smack in the middle of Vancouver, where one of its biggest rivals, Telus is headquartered.

With its purchase of the naming rights to the home of the Vancouver Canucks NHL franchise - formerly GM Place, henceforth Rogers Arena - the Toronto-based telecom provider gains a meaningful platform for blasting the company's message into a market in which Telus retains the largest share of wireless customers.

It is about more than exclusive advertising rights and branding opportunities. For Rogers' president and chief executive officer, Nadir Mohamed, the undisclosed sum transferred from Rogers' coffers is like sounding a foghorn to its competitors in the West.

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"Frankly, it signals that we're here to grow and we're committed to growing in a very significant way," Mr. Mohamed said in an interview. "It's right in the middle of the city. We get a tremendous presence. It builds on the investments we've already made."

Telus, which had discussed the possibility of securing naming rights for the stadium, has lost ground to Rogers Wireless in recent years, but retains the dominant wireless market share in Alberta and British Columbia. BCE Inc.'s Bell Canada unit, meanwhile, invested heavily to sponsor the Vancouver Olympics.

It beat Telus's $135-million bid, but remains a distant third in the Western wireless market.

"We evaluate sponsorships and naming rights for public venues against a set of criteria to ensure good return to our investors as well as our community," Telus spokesman Shawn Hall said. "The proposal they put forward did not meet our needs."

The material benefits of branding a large sports arena are difficult to gauge. Mr. Mohamed, while declining to give any numbers, stressed his company has seen significant gains from its intense branding of the Rogers Centre in Toronto, home to the Blue Jays Major League Baseball team.

Analysts, likewise, were without numbers on the issue. But Scotia Capital Inc. analyst Jeff Fan said it was simply a way for Rogers to increase its visibility in the West, where, despite owning multiple media properties in TV and radio, Rogers remains known only for wireless. The aggressive move makes sense, since cellphone competition is increasing and Rogers is continuing to push wireless Internet as a platform for content distribution in areas such as B.C., where the company does not have a wired cable network footprint, Mr. Fan said.

"Rogers traditionally has had reasonably good market share out in Vancouver," Mr. Fan said. "There's probably some need to expand or at least make the brand more visible."

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Vancouver Canucks chairman Francesco Aquilini called the agreement a "perfect fit" and said that Rogers "understands the sports business."

Rogers also understands the wireless business. The Toronto giant could bleed subscribers in the West as Telus and Shaw Communications Inc. begin to invest in telecom infrastructure and "bundle" their products more aggressively.

With files from reporter Matthew Sekeres in Vancouver.

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