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Rogers nabs naming rights on Telus's turf

An aerial view of GM Place against the downtown skyline.

Handout/ The Globe and Mail/Handout/ The Globe and Mail

First it was removing the inflatable roof at BC Place, perhaps the defining image of Vancouver's skyline.

Now, the sign atop the city's favourite playpen, General Motors Place, will no longer greet motorists as it has for the last 15 years.

Vancouver has lost two landmarks in the sports-and-entertainment corner of downtown this year, but the National Hockey League's Canucks say a 10-year sponsorship deal with Rogers Communications Inc. will improve the fan experience at the newly named Rogers Arena because of what the company can offer with wireless technology.

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"It's a new day," Canucks chairman Francesco Aquilini said Tuesday. "We're really happy to move forward, and I think all our fans are going to be excited about it as well."

Although the company hopes that Rogers Arena rolls quickly off the tongues of British Columbians, there is also a tendency for fans to nickname facilities based on their corporate sponsors. So while "the Garage" is no longer suitable, new monikers such as "the Kiosk" or "the Call Centre" will surely arise in time.

Nadir Mohamed, the president and chief executive officer of Rogers, wants nothing of the sort. During a news conference Tuesday, he joked that he was worried because three minutes had gone by without a mention of Rogers Arena. But Mr. Mohamed also acknowledged that his company will have to do its part to promote the new name to a community where Rogers is not as established as such telecom competitors as Telus and where GM Place was so widely known.

"It works when you put the commitment behind it - you market it, you build the organizations - and I think it will come," Mr. Mohamed said. "We have some experience, obviously, with the Rogers Centre [in Toronto, formerly SkyDome] where today most people call it, uniformly, the Rogers Centre."

Mr. Mohamed also cited the Rogers Cup tennis tournament, which had many names, including the Canadian Open, before the company took over the title sponsorship in 2005.

Rogers becomes the first company in Canucks history to have partnered on arena naming rights, telecommunications sponsorship and broadcast rights, via Rogers Sportsnet, at one time. The Canucks said Rogers would work with them on "new and innovative" ways to connect with fans.

Rogers vice-chairman Phil Lind added that the company would bid for the team's radio broadcast rights, currently held by CHUM-owned Team 1040 AM, if and when the time comes.

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"When they become available, I suspect we will be interested," Mr. Lind said. "Over time, we'll be seeking to expand our footprint on our different platforms."

Piece by piece, the General Motors Place sign was removed from the arena's facade on Tuesday, and the Canucks said a new Rogers Arena sign will be affixed no later than 60 days before the start of the NHL season in October. Neither side would disclose the value of the deal - although one source said that it was more than $1-million annually - but when it was noted that 10 years is a short-term arrangement in the naming-rights world, Mr. Mohamed said: "Let's put it this way: We don't plan to end after the 10 years."

The 18,000-seat arena officially opened in September, 1995, and has since been the venue for thousands of sporting events and concerts. It served as home court for the NBA's Vancouver Grizzlies before the team was relocated to Memphis in 2001.

It has also welcomed celebrities including the Queen, the Dalai Lama and former U.S. president Bill Clinton. More recently, it was home to the first mixed martial arts card in Vancouver.

GM Place was temporarily renamed Canada Hockey Place during the 2010 Vancouver Olympics and hosted the gold-medal hockey games in the men's and women's tournaments.

GM's contract ran through 2015, but the former auto-making giant begged out earlier this year, unwilling to invest in promotions and other activities planned for the team's 40th anniversary season. The company remains a team sponsor, but will be confined to activities inside the arena such as rink-board advertising.

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About the Author
B.C. sports correspondent

Based in Vancouver, Matthew spearheads the Globe's sports coverage in B.C., and spends most of his time with the NHL Canucks and CFL Lions. He has worked for four dailies and TSN since graduating from Carleton University's School of Journalism a decade ago, and has covered the Olympic Games, Super Bowls, Grey Cups, the Stanley Cup playoffs and the NBA Finals. More

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