Whitecaps hire veteran sports businessman Mark Pannes as team CEO

Whitecaps-CEO

Vancouver Whitecaps new striker Lucas Cavallini, receives the teams jersey from Whitecaps sporting director Axel Schuster following a news conference in downtown Vancouver, Monday, December, 16, 2019. (Jonathan Hayward/CP)

VANCOUVER — The Vancouver Whitecaps have taken another step toward healing the bruises the Major League Soccer team took both on and off the field last season.

The club announced Tuesday it has hired Mark Pannes, who has over 30 years in sports management, as the Whitecaps’ chief executive officer.

“I think there is a remarkable amount of upside here,” Pannes said during a media gathering. “You have committed ownership, you have a stable and sophisticated senior staff.

“We are not constrained by a 25,000-seat building.”

In his new role Pannes will oversee all business aspects of the club. The Whitecaps had operated several years without a CEO.

Jeff Mallett, the Whitecaps’ co-owner and executive chair said structure and leadership is the foundation for any successful enterprise.

During his 30 years Pannes has had experience working with Italian Serie A club AS Roma and the NBA’s New York Knicks.

“I’ve labelled him as a student of the game, or the business of sport,” said Mallett. “This is what he’s done, and this is what he’s going to do.

“We like the diversity. The Roma is a great to have, he’s touched some football. He knows what a boot room smells like. Also . . . he cut his teeth for 10 years at Madison Square Garden. That’s a good place to get your first decade under your belt.”

Pannes, who was born in Boston but moved to Austin, Texas, when he was 17, was attracted to the Whitecaps because of the city and the league.

“I’m a big believer in marquee clubs and marquee cities,” he said. “It’s unquestionable that Vancouver is a marquee city.”

A difficult year on and off the field dented the Whitecaps reputation and resulted in some empty seats at BC Place Stadium.

An 8-16-10 left Vancouver last in the Western Conference and missing the playoffs for a third time in four years. That led to a chain reaction.

Bob Lenarduzzi, who had spent 45 years with the Whitecaps as a player, coach and executive, was removed as team president in August. He took on a new role as club liaison.

In November Axel Schuster, who has spent more than 20 years with Bundesliga clubs in Germany, was hired on the team’s sporting director.

Vancouver also made moves on the field, signing Canadian striker Lucas Cavallini for a transfer fee ESPN has reported to be at around US$6 million.

Besides struggling on the field, the Whitecaps reputation took a hit in the court of public opinion. There was criticism about the way the team handled an 11-year-old scandal where a former player on the Whitecaps women’s team accused a former coach of abuse and harassment.

Before Christmas an independent third-party review recommended the club improve its communication efforts and take steps to ensure that all complaints are properly documented and addressed.

Pannes said the club has made moves to put the past behind it.

“When you finish last in a season there is always some impact,” he said. “What I would say, if you look at what happened this off-season . . . these are the type of steps organizations that are about to experience significant growth take.

“Lasts season seems like it was bruising at times. The good things about sport is, on Feb. 29 everybody is starting fresh.”

Since 2016 Pannes was manager partner of Union Sports, LLC, a private consultancy advising domestic and international sports and media clients on the developments of long-term revenue platforms, facilities, and fanbases.

Prior to that he spent six years with Roma where he held numerous positions including chief executive officer, president of the club’s IP licensing business, as well as chief executive officer.

He’s also had a stint as director, Global Sports Group for HSBC Private Bank, and spent 10 years with the Knicks, including three years as vice-president of marketing where he oversaw all ticket and sponsorship revenue and brand management for the franchise.

Mallett said the CEO search began with 40 names.

Pannes said he is impressed by how the Whitecaps operate on both the business and sports side.

“The team is pretty sophisticated the way it operates,” he said.

Pannes doesn’t expect it will take him long to get up to speed with the. organization.

“I’m not the observer type,” he said. “I don’t feel you have to come in and make changes for the sake of change. I’m excited and motivated.”

The Whitecaps open the 2020 season Feb. 29 at home against Sporting Kansas City.

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