Whitecaps grappling with the ups and downs of 2022 “transition” season

Whitecaps CEO Axel Schuster | Rob Kruyt

The Vancouver Whitecaps are nearing the end of their first full season back in Vancouver since
the start of the pandemic. But with Major League Soccer (MLS) playoffs on the horizon, the team is only mathematically alive in a push for post-season action, and home game attendance is way down.

In 2019, BC Place could expect nearly 22,000 people during
a Whitecaps match. This year

attendance has been hovering around 15,000, with only two games exceeding 18,000.

In fact, attendance is down across the league, with the majority of teams experiencing declines since 2019.

Whitecaps CEO Axel Schuster at- tributes reduced attendance at BC Place to the team’s two-year ab- sence from the city.

“It’s a transition year for ... ramp- ing up the business again,” said Schuster.

“We knew it would cost us this full year to reintroduce us to the

community and rebuild the relation- ship to them.”

During the pandemic, the 2020 MLS season was cancelled and re- placed with a tournament, and Can- adian teams were relocated to the U.S. for most of the 2021 season. Not only did that mean lost ticket sales, but it meant that the team could not fulfil previously established contracts.

Schuster said the Whitecaps had to grant credits back to fans and use funds that could have gone to com- munity outreach, fan development and improvements in game day

Meanwhile, he pointed out that

there has been a bump in attend- ance over the past month as the Whitecaps begin to get their footing back in the city.

Unsurprisingly, he attributes at- tendance growth to wins, starting with the team’s sellout, home-sta- dium win in the Canadian Champion- ship against Toronto FC. That win and the team’s spot in next year’s Champions League are among the reasons that Schuster hopes will help the Whitecaps build a founda- tion for growth and success next

Increased Whitecaps success will

also contribute to the organization’s long-term plan to build soccer fan- dom within the province.

The organization is also looking to improve its overall fan and game- day experiences.

Schuster said the Whitecaps have used this transition year as an opportunity to try new things, including happy hours, speciality food and drink offers and ticket packages.