Sport and Community Leadership

The Vancouver Whitecaps FC is leading positive change in Vancouver. We predict the club’s ideas, commitments and positive role modeling will soon send ripples throughout the worlds of sport, wellness and community. We look forward to measuring the myriad ways that Vancouver’s newest professional sporting club reaches its potentiality – on the pitch as well as in the community.

As part of their club vision, the Whitecaps are committed to being a significant community asset. For the past year, the club has been championing the Vancouver Street Soccer League through a unique partnership with the DTES community sport association. In addition to frequent ticket giveaways, practices with Whitecaps FC men and women’s teams and the recent nomination of VSSL President Alan Bates as their community MVP, the team has also looked to grow its roots within the youth soccer community. A recent example was their free community clinic at UBC where the Whitecaps invited over 100 students from Hastings Elementary and U-Hill Elementary for a coaching session with Carl Valentine (‘Caps Legend and current Booster), Jay DeMerit (the club’s Captain), and Russell Teibert (one of the club’s Canadian stars).

A new study by Griffith University’s School of Business will explore the relationship between new sporting clubs and the communities they impact by investigating “the benefits gained in terms of the fan base they will stimulate as well as the well-being of the communities they enter” and will aim to “identify ways to maximise both outcomes.” [Editor’s note: please take note of our outstanding quotations and credit-giving, Margaret Wente!].

A study by Up2Us of American professional sports leagues and the philanthropy that they deliver for communities, suggests that “‘team-based philanthropy’ centers around the following five categories: Funding; Signatures and Seats; Free Marketing; Team/Player Involvement; and Use of Space.” The report recommends that professional clubs go beyond providing hand-picked organizations with free tickets, signed merchandise and field space by truly inspiring and investing in their communities, even if it’s for transparently self-serving reasons.

For example, a team might address the challenge of youth health, wellness and fitness by, say, contributing to the construction and management a giant Soccer Training Centre that will provide access to youth in the Lower Mainland (and beyond), but will also provide an incubator for future Whitecaps FC talent. Another example from the report is a recommendation for clubs to not award grants to single community teams or local nonprofits, but to challenge these community-based organizations to develop campaigns or programs as part of a competition, where the winning organization would receive something cool (e.g. taco night with Jay DeMerit!) from the professional team.

In addition to Vancouver Whitecaps FC, here are some randomly-selected North American pro-sports clubs (and one very tall man) that are doing cool things:

What do you think of how sport clubs give and how such engagement helps communities realize their potential?

Vote for Alan Bates!

Alan Bates with the Portland FC team at the Homeless World Cup in Brazil

Dear Gumbooteers.

Rarely do Kurt and I call on you for swift and decisive action. But we’re asking for it now. Please visit MLS W.O.R.K.S. (which stands for Major League Soccer … W.O.R.K.S?) and vote to make friend of The ‘Boot, Alan Bates, the MLS Community MVP. Nominated by Vancouver Whitecaps FC, here are a few words about Coach Bates:

For the last four years, Dr. Alan Bates has been leading Vancouver’s Street Soccer community. Street Soccer is soccer for people affected by homelessness. As a resident physician in Vancouver’s inner-city hospital, Dr. Bates sees many people affected by mental illness, addictions and homelessness in the emergency room. When he heard about Street Soccer, he recognized it as an opportunity to help a similar group of people, but through sport. Shortly after joining Vancouver’s first Street Soccer team as a volunteer, Dr. Bates partnered with a small number of grass-roots volunteers and the Portland Hotel Society (one of Vancouver’s largest social housing providers) to form Portland FC. With Dr. Bates as the volunteer Head Coach, Portland FC has gone on to play with or against the Vancouver Police, the Mayor of Vancouver and some of the Vancouver Whitecaps. In 2010, they represented Canada at the Homeless World Cup in Rio de Janeiro where they won the prestigious Fair Play award and were featured on national and international media including CBC, CTV, and CNN. In addition to providing amazing experiences for the players, the team has generated a lot of public interest in the issue of homelessness as people are able to identify with soccer players and the inherent humanity of the highs and lows of the beautiful game. Dr. Bates also played a significant role in creating Canada’s first ever women’s Street Soccer team which represented Canada at the Homeless World Cup in Paris in 2011. As the President of the Vancouver Street Soccer League, Dr. Bates has grown the League to nine teams including teams for women, new immigrants, street youth, and First Nations players. Dr. Bates’ research about Street Soccer has demonstrated that players find better housing, gain employment, reduce drug use, make friends, build confidence, improve their skills and physical fitness, gain medical support and decrease contact with police. For the last four years, players have known that every Sunday morning, rain or shine, all year-round, Dr. Bates will be there to lead practice and provide a safe and fun environment to play soccer with friends and supports.

Meta World Peace being honoured and priviledged to meet Coach Alan Bates

Thanks very much for your time and consideration, Awesome Community-Members. Now get out there and vote early, often and tell 10 friends about this post.


Masthead photo courtesy of robholland’s photostream on Flickr

Whitecaps FC Community Asset Review – Part 5

Editors’ note: Kurt and John are firm believers that Vancouver can and should be the Canadian epicenter for growing the sport and culture of soccer football soccer. This is a self-described healthy community. We can play outside year-round, as fields are rarely closed due to snow and/or freezing. And, most importantly, Vancouver is the place to expertly develop the sport of soccer because our city’s team, Vancouver Whitecaps FC, shares this goal and so demonstrates this vision through its Club Structure and the Whitecaps Foundation, which aims to create the fittest generation of BC Youth by 2020.

As Vancouver Whitecaps FC season ticket holders, Kurt and John are well-positioned to evaluate how the franchise showcases its commitment to “be a significant community asset” – so, following every match we will reflect on this commitment by answering two questions, which are below. Sometimes we bring friends and/or family-members to the game. And sometimes those awesome friends and/or family-members write awesome blog posts about the experience.

Yesterday’s match was a 3-1 victory for Vancouver Whitecaps FC.


Vancouver Whitecaps FC embraces the diversity of its community. The club fields players from 17 different countries, which is the most in the MLS (Seattle Sounders FC are second best, with players from 15 countries) – in fact, the ‘Caps might be the most culturally diverse team in professional sports in the world. The The Vancouver Sun’s Yvonne Zacharias wrote a great piece about the challenges of executing high level soccer performance when such a multicultural team is asked to communicate effectively with each other in the seven different languages that the players speak.

Diversity makes the club a significant community asset because it’s a rare thing for professional sports teams to reflect the community in which they play – sure, it’s not an exact reflection, but you get the idea. Our world is going to become more, not less, diverse in the years to come, and Vancouver Whitecaps FC is already showing how effectively diverse communities work to achieve goals.

Speaking of goals, yesterday the ‘Caps scored three goals and Houston Dynamo only scored one goal.

One of the many possible Whitecap Fusion dishes / vxla’s photostream on Flickr


With such a diverse team made up of players from so many countries and cultures I immediately thought of food – I’m also hungry, but this doesn’t make my idea any less awesome.

In order to be an even more significant community asset, Vancouver Whitecaps FC should serve – at games or via a superawesome Whitecaps Food Truck (©Copyright John Horn 2012) – dishes from players’ home countries. Not only would this idea celebrate the club’s diversity, but it would also be very, very tasty, especially if some of the city’s best culinary minds explore how to deliciously fuse some of the dishes (e.g. salt fish kimchi crepes?!) into amazingly unique Whitecaps creations.

moriza’s photostream on Flickr

Here are some of the potential menu items:

So there it is. My latest idea regarding how Vancouver Whitecaps FC can be an even more significant community asset. No need to thank me, Bob, John, Tom, et al – I share these gems because I’m a fan. And, for the record, I would absolutely eat a haggis empanada with some fufu poutine any day of the week…

Whitecaps FC Community Asset Review – Part 1

Editors’ note: Kurt and John are firm believers that Vancouver can and should be the Canadian epicenter for growing the sport and culture of soccer football soccer. This is a self-described healthy community. We can play outside year-round, as fields are rarely closed due to snow and/or freezing. And, most importantly, Vancouver is the place to expertly develop the sport of soccer because our city’s team, Vancouver Whitecaps FC, shares this goal and so demonstrates this vision through its Club Structure and the Whitecaps Foundation, which aims to create the fittest generation of BC Youth by 2020.

As Vancouver Whitecaps FC season ticket holders, Kurt and John are well-positioned to evaluate how the franchise showcases its commitment to “be a significant community asset” – so, following every match we will reflect on this commitment by answering two questions. Here they are:

How is the team a significant community asset?

Well, the ‘Caps beat the Impact 2-0 and you should read the wise words of my main man Simon Fudge for all the great details.

As this is the first post about the first game, well, I’ll keep it short and sweet. Vancouver Whitecaps FC demonstrated its role as a significant community asset by the way the team brought together people of different shapes, sizes, cultures, ages, neighbourhoods, and (kinda) socio economic statuses to enjoy a spirited match of very good soccer played by men from dozens of communities around the world.

Any time thousands of people high-five each other, sing songs together and embrace an opportunity to meet new people the event that makes this happen is an asset to our community. And this was the scene at Bell Pitch at Telus Stadium in BC Place on Saturday. And it was a beautiful thing.

What BIG IDEA will make the club an even better asset?

Here’s the idea: break the BMO Banking/Sponsorship hegemony!

BMO is “the official bank and a proud fan of Vancouver Whitecaps FC” and one of the club’s founding partners. The bank is also hedging its bets in terms of MLS support, as its logo adorns the uniforms of both the Montreal Impact and Toronto FC. Further, Toronto FC plays at BMO Field. So, is BMO really a proud fan of the Whitecaps? Or is the company just a proud fan of strategic cross-marketing opportunities?

Vancouver is a different kind of franchise in a different kind of city, which is why our recommendation for this week is for Vancouver Whitecaps FC to strategically align itself with Vancity Credit Union. One particular piece of cool collaboration between the ‘Caps and Vancity could be ongoing support of Vancouver’s Street Soccer League – some of the Whitecaps players have already trained with homeless players from Portland FC and Vancity funds many of the services, programs and places upon which Street Soccer players rely. I mean, how cool would the Vancity logo look on the uniforms?!

Vancity is all about economically, socially and environmentally healthy communities, which certainly jives with the goal to create the fittest generation of youth by 2020. So, think about it, Vancouver Whitecaps FC and Vancity. You’re made for each other!

The Experiential Whitecaps Weekend

John and Kurt Watch Some Football

Kurt’s Amazing Narrative

Late in the afternoon on Saturday, March 19, we were on our feet in a jammed stadium at Empire Field next to Vancouver’s Empire Bowl. Surrounded by roughly 23,000 screaming blue and white fans, we had our first taste of the phenomena of “football fanaticism”. We were at the Whitecaps FC home-opener for the team’s debut in the MLS and something was in the air that we were getting in at the birth of one of Vancouver’s future premier sports franchises. Watch out Canucks – here we come.

The day started as it should when it comes to football – at the pub. We caught the SFU 135 from Downtown. Along the way we met half a dozen fans heading the same place we ere. Everyone was decked out in full gear (except for one fellow who had decided to body paint himself in team colors) and was jazzed about the start of the season and (perhaps) the beginning of a new era in West Coast sports. At Oscars Pub off Boundary, we waded into a throng of Southsider supporters. Jammed well past the firecode requirements, the pub was completely over-capacity. The three bartenders couldn’t keep up with the hundreds of orders for pitchers and pints. After initially planning on eating lunch at Oscars, we gave up, wedging ourselves into a nook at the bar and waiting 20 minutes for our 1 (and only) chance too order a pitcher and a shot (McNulty style).

We spent our time talking about the coming game, the MSL, the Whitecaps, the coming game again, World Cup Soccer and how nuts Southsiders fans are. We made friends with other Whitecaps supporters including Kevin, a friendly Air Canada baggage guy who had travlled the world watching pro-football in both North America, Japan and Europe.

By 2:45 it was time to head to the stadium. There we watched as thousands of fans streamed into the newly erected stadium. Almost everyone was wearing jerseys or team colors, thousands more carried their patented Whitecaps scarves. In the distance, the sun broke through the clouds shining on the snowy caps of Seymour and Grouse. The air was crisp and the excitement was palpable.

We made our way to seats in the north side of the stadium. From the first whistle to the final 90 minutes, the majority of the game was spent standing and cheering for the team. When the Whitecaps scored the first goal of the game early in the first half, the stadium erupted. Thousands of tiny drums could be heard thumping over the hoarse cheers of thousands of fans.

John’s Kolbian Experiential Cycle

As Kurt mentioned, he and I are two of the luckiest sports fans in Vancouver. After all, we are proud owners of season tickets to the Vancouver Whitecaps FC. And, as he scrawled above, we definitely learned something about soccer, Vancouver, and ourselves this weekend. Which leads me to David Kolb and the Experiential Learning Cycle. See, Kurt and I just had “an experience” and I’m a big fan of reflecting on actions and experiences in order to have a better and more educational experience going forward. Here are some key lessons from Saturday’s game:

  1. Show up at Oscar’s Pub earlier – as it turns out, the Southsiders like to party; a 1:15pm arrival at the pub revealed us to be grossly unprepared and left our bellies empty. Lesson: pack shareable snacks and become popular with equally hungry Southsiders!
  2. Wear a shirt (this is not our lesson) – to the chilled-out young lad who got on the 135 to SFU wearing nothing but white shorts, body paint and a heckuvalot of team spirit, remember to wear layers. Lesson: let the body paint dry and then put on a festive sweatshirt to warm your body en route to the game – this tip is as safe as it is stylish.
  3. Toronto FC sucks – what kind of seasoned, five-years-in-the-MLS team gets lit-up by an expansion team?! Lesson: only time will tell if Vancouver Whitecaps FC is a dynasty, if Vancouver will be the toughest place to play in the MLS, or if Toronto FC is just like the Leafs, Raptors, and Blue Jays, but with shin pads and way more endurance.
  4. Being Tall is an Enigmatic Experience – people like it when you can reach stuff or hurl your poncho farther than anyone else in your section, but they do not like it when you stand up and block their son’s view. Lesson: when people yell at you to sit down, don’t just succumb to peer, fear or fan pressure(s). Engage your fellow-fans and try to work out a solution! [Editors' note: by the end of the game John was leading cheers and getting thumbs-up from a super-excited mom and her even more excited son...who just needed to stand up on the bleachers!]
  5. Empire Field is at capacity – we’re not sure if Whitecaps FC’s temporary home field will be able to sustain the size of crowd that was there on Saturday. Beer and bathroom lines were both painfully long (for reasons that are different, but also the same). Lesson: you don’t need to drink to have fun! The atmosphere was intoxicating all on it’s own. And with less beer in our bellies, Kurt and I can avoid perilously long lines for the loo and spend more time getting to know the cool people who share seasons tickets in our section.

So there it is. With our lessons learned Kurt and I are excited to experience Vancouver’s fastest growing sporting community in a bigger and better way than we did last weekend. See you at Empire Field on April 2 for the big match against Kansas City (I know! I was shocked they had a team, too!).