What it’s like to be a Vancouver Whitecaps executive

Rachel Lewis, Vancouver Whitecaps | BCBusiness
Under COO Rachel Lewis, the Vancouver Whitecaps have become one of the MLS’s best-attended franchises.

Spending some time in the shoes of Rachel Lewis, who has helped build one of MLS’s model franchises as COO of the Vancouver Whitecaps

As COO of the Vancouver Whitecaps, Rachel Lewis oversees a staff of more than 60 across nine departments at the team’s Gastown offices. In recent months, soccer development and youth have been particular priorities as the team looks to establish a United Soccer Leagues (USL) Pro minor league franchise in the Lower Mainland, to start play in 2015.

Back in July, the Whitecaps signed a memorandum of understanding with the City of New Westminster to make Queen’s Park Stadium the home base for the new franchise. Following months of discussions, city council unanimously voted down the proposal on September 15, citing budget concerns. For the Whitecaps, it’s back to the drawing board.

With time running out, Lewis and her team continue to consult with other municipalities to see if a stadium can be secured in time to start the new season next March. The Whitecaps themselves played in a temporary facility at Empire Field for their first Major League Soccer (MLS) season back 2011, but Lewis says those circumstances were extremely challenging. She’s not eager to go down that road again.

With an MBA from UBC and a background in event management, Lewis joined a staff of five when the Whitecaps were a minor-league team themselves, back in 2003. She became COO in 2007 and has overseen all aspects of the Whitecaps’ business operations as they’ve transitioned to MLS and become one of the league’s best-attended franchises.

“I didn’t expect to stay in one job for such a long time,” she says, “but it’s never boring. Every day is different.”

In addition to the ongoing USL negotiations, Lewis is also guiding the rollout of the Whitecaps’ 2015 season-ticket campaign, which starts in late September. The unique “12 Days, 12 Per cent” campaign accounts for 70 per cent of season ticket sales each year. It allows the team to start the planning earlier for next season by concentrating the selling cycle into a very short timeframe, accomplished by offering a 12 per cent discount for new purchases and renewals for just 12 days.

Beyond the boardroom, Lewis is a face of the franchise around BC Place on match days. She’s hands-on with stadium staff, hosts sponsors and other VIPs in the team’s suite and presents cheques from the team’s 50/50 draws to organizations like the Canadian Cancer Society.

Lewis also shares her experience in the sports industry and with the Whitecaps business during regular pre-match speaking engagements for organizations like the Business Council of British Columbia’s Next Leaders Council.

When asked about her role as a woman in the male-dominated world of pro sports, the mother of two young boys says she learned to love soccer when her father brought her to NASL-era Whitecaps matches as a little girl, and she’s grateful for the opportunity to bring similar experiences to families today.

Lewis encourages women to get involved in the industry. “Just get on with it. People accept you if you can do business.”