BC Place naming rights part of Crown corporation’s dispute with journalist

Whitecaps want licencing agreement disclosure order quashed

The Vancouver Whitecaps soccer team is headed for court in an attempt to prevent public release of licensing documents that could put at risk future BC Place stadium naming rights negotiations.

The Whitecaps have filed a petition in B.C. Supreme Court to quash an order by the province’s information commissioner for the stadium operator, Crown-owned BC Pavilion Corporation (PavCo), to release licencing information dealing with the Whitecaps lease, including its contract and licence agreement with PavCo for games, practices and other events at BC Place.

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The records involve stadium locations the Whitecaps can use for sponsorship activities and how the Whitecaps can use them. They also include how the potential future sale of BC Place naming rights for the stadium would affect the Whitecaps. No further details are provided.

The information was requested by journalist Bob Mackin in 2016 under B.C. freedom information law. He, PavCo and the province’s Office for the Information and Privacy Commissioner are named as respondents in the court filing.

The information was requested long before Victoria in January approved PavCo issuing a request for proposals from companies for stadium naming rights, a private investment to offset operating costs.

A naming-rights deal came close to completion in 2012 with Telus set to name the stadium Telus Park. However, the government cancelled the proposed $40-million deal after nearly two years of talks.

PavCo told the commissioner’s office that, as its operating shortfalls are paid by from the  public purse, it needs to maximize revenue, part of which involves negotiating with licencees. Naming rights are part of such revenue generation.

PavCo also said the document in question also affected the interests of a third party – the Whitecaps – and could harm the team’s business interests.

However, OIPC adjudicator Erika Syrotuck found PavCO had provided no convincing evidence to back its claims and established no links  between disclosure of the information and the harm it claimed would occur as a result.

“PavCo is not authorized to refuse to disclose the disputed information,” Syrotuck said in her order.

The Whitecaps’ petition seeks to quash Syrotuck’s decision or to return it to the OIPC for reconsideration.

The Whitecaps’ petition asserts Syrotuck made “unreasonable errors” in the application of B.C.’s Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act. The petition said the commissioner’s office required PavCo to provide a level of proof beyond that required by the law. It called the standard of proof required “unreasonable.”

Further, the petition said Syrotuck failed to provide appropriate deference to PavCo’s determination that disclosure of certain information could harm its financial or economic interests.

While the Whitecaps play more games at BC Place than any other franchise, the stadium hosts the BC Lions, Rugby 7s, Canadian soccer matches, trade shows and concerts.

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