Vancouver Whitecaps hire former AS Roma executive Mark Pannes as CEO

Pannes’ experience includes managing nearly US$1.5B in capital, as well as 10 years with the New York Knicks

mark pannes
Mark Pannes will report directly to the team's ownership group | Vancouver Whitecaps FC

What happened: The Vancouver Whitecaps FC on January 7 announced that a global search for a new CEO netted them former Italian Serie A club AS Roma executive Mark Pannes, who will report directly to the team's owners and be in charge of the team's business operations. 

Why this matters: The hire is a major one at a time of rebuilding, and it reveals an organizational strategy, given that in November the team hired a sporting director who will be in charge of on-the-pitch activities and will also report directly to the owners. 

That sporting director, Axel Schuster, made his mark as a former executive with German Bundesliga teams. 

Both men reporting directly to the ownership group – former Yahoo president Jeff Mallett, former NBA star Steve Nash, Seagate chair Steve Luczo and technology executive Greg Kerfoot – implies that the owners may be more hands-on than at some teams.

Mallett is the public face of that ownership group, and he replaced John Furlong as the club's executive chair last month. Mallett is also on several Major League Soccer committees and he attends many team press conferences. He is nowhere near as involved with the San Francisco Giants, in which he also has an ownership stake. 

Pannes said after the announcement at a press conference that one of the things that attracted him to Vancouver was the city's historical passion for the sport. 

"I was doing my research for this opportunity and one of the things that stood out for me was that back when the city of Vancouver was half as large as it is today, it was able to draw on occasion upwards of 50,000 people [to a Whitecaps soccer game when the team was in the North American Soccer League,]" he said. 

"There’s a 54,000 seat stadium there. There’s a lot of customization possible with the sales structure so whether we’re drawing 25,000 or 30,000 or 35,000 or more. We have that capability. there’s flexibility there."

For the past few years, Pannes has been managing partner at Union Sports, LLC – a private consultancy that advises domestic and international sports and media clients on how to develop sustainable revenue platforms, facilities, and fanbases, according to the club.

He spent six years with Italian Serie A club AS Roma between 2011 and 2016, when he held positions including CEO, but also president of the club’s IP licensing business. He was also CEO and project lead for Stadio della Roma during that time.

Pannes plans to live in Vancouver, which is unlike what he did when he worked in Rome. Back then, the American told Business in Vancouver that he "commuted" between Rome and his home in Austin, Texas. 

Between 2006 and 2011 he was director of the global sports group at HSBC Private Bank, London, where he managed funds totalling US$1.45 billion for more than 500 athletes and institutions in sports such as football, Formula 1 racing, rugby, tennis, golf, and cricket; and events such as the Americas Cup and the Olympics.

He also spent 10 years with the New York Knicks, including three years as vice-president of marketing, when he oversaw all ticket and sponsorship revenue and brand management for the franchise. The Knicks sold every ticket in nine of the years that Pannes was there, the Whitecaps noted in a release.

Pannes also launched the first team-directed HD game broadcasts, and the Women’s National Basketball Association’s New York Liberty – a three-time league finalist – during his tenure in the 1990s, according to the club.

That diversity of experience was largely why Pannes got the job, Mallett said at the press conference.

"He has 30 years experience. I labelled him as a student of the game, or the business of sport," Mallet said.

"Obviously the Roma [experience] is great to have. He has smelled and touched some footballs and knows what a boot room smells like – but also the other dynamics In professional basketball. He cut his teeth – 10 years at Madison Square Garden in New York City, the New York Knicks. That’s a good place to get your first decade under your belt. He slipped in a law degree while he was doing that, which is always handy to put in there."

After Pannes rose to be the ownership group's top choice, "Mark kind of bopped us in the nose during the end of the process and said 'I want this job. This is the job I can do really well at,'" Mallett said.