Rob Friend Details Vancouver Expansion Timeline
Rob Friend was on the field to celebrate a title win Pacific FC title win just a few months ago. In a few weeks time, if all goes to plan, he’ll be switching sides to focus on an expansion side in Vancouver instead.
The BC-based club is well on track to becoming the Canadian Premier League’s ninth club, with Friend confident that everything will be ready to launch in time for the 2023 CPL season.
Speaking on the AFTN Podcast, the football entrepreneur revealed that municipal and council approval for a stadium location is expected to be completed in a matter of weeks – and after that, it’s ‘go time’ ahead of an inaugural season launch just fourteen months from now.
“It has all essentially been agreed upon,” said Friend, “the stadium designs are there. The renderings are there. The location is essentially approved from both parties.”
While the club had been in talks with multiple municipalities, the where has been narrowed down to south of the Fraser River, where the Pacific FC ownership group initially looked before establishing a club on the Isle. This group has always had a first right option for the lower mainland, and felt the timing was right to make a move for it last year.
The specifics of this location will be public knowledge in a matter of weeks, though right now firm details are still unknown – just that it won’t be north of the river.
“We’re going to be in the valley market,” reiterates Friend, “the Surrey, Langley, Abbotsford region.”
The club will also own its home venue, which Rob states is a key driving factor in establishing itself within the community and disrupting an increasingly-crowded sports market that will likely see some confusion between the Whitecaps, MLS Next Pro, Pacific, and League1 BC already.
It won’t just be football that the expansion side will compete with once it plants it flag, either.
“The lower mainland has its challenges,” admits Rob, “whether it’s the ski mountains on weekends, the lakes, the oceans, that’s your competition as well. Vancouver Island was pretty simple: there were no professional sports here. We’re the only one in town, and we planted our flag, and we built from there.”
He’s ready to build from the ground up with this new venture, which is backed by an ownership consortium led by Pacific owners Dean Shillington, Rob Friend, and Josh Simpson, with Toronto-based Starlight Investments also inccluded as part of the SixFive Sports and Entertainment group.
There’s still room for an additional pro sports team in the Vancouver area, Rob assures, with the ownership group going into the venture knowing that they must differentiate themselves from a lot of the region’s established and newly-founded sporting options.
Do they have a pro team there? No. They do have a hockey team. It’s focusing on that market and those communities there which will be important. Do we spend marketing money or energy north of river? Probably not. There’s certainly things in place that we have to do, and then it’s how do we differentiate ourselves and some disruption too: I want to disrupt the football market.Rob Friend
Once the stadium can be formally announced in about six weeks’ time, the club hopes to establish a branding launch about a month or so later. To that end, he says that the club will be touching base with the lower mainland community, opening talks with fans and supporters to see what they want their local CPL team to look and feel like.
That means the colours, logo, and stylings of the Vancouver expansion team aren’t set in stone right now. Vancouver has already hired its first staff member for this community outreach, and more internal staff hirings will follow.
“We do have a framework of the business operations, the hires, the timelines, and the exciting part for the fans which is the coaching hire and the players.”
The as-yet-untitled club has actually begun this process already, working to identify sixteen young Canadians that it will bring in over the next fourteen months. A handful are already identified, with Friend stating that plenty is happening behind the scenes.
Given that Rob believes that the Canadian Premier League’s best path forward is with intimate, 8,000-to-10,000 seat stadiums, that’s a likely size of stadium that fans can expect to see here. He’s aiming to see the expansion side pull in between 4,000-8,000 fans a game, and says there’s no reason they can’t do that when running a proper football club in the lower mainland.
Once the stadium grounds are secure, Rob will begin removing himself from Pacific’s day-to-day operations so that he can fully dive all-in on the new expansion side. It remains unclear where the likes of Josh Simpson and Dean Shillington will be doing in terms of club roles.
“The unfortunate reality is that the startup of this league is very similar to where MLS started: sometimes it takes the same owner to continue to invest in this league. We’ve proven ourselves in Pacific, and two of the three partners are from the lower mainland. That is our market, I’d say.”
When the expansion side was announced, fans had voiced concern with owners increasing their involvement with multiple clubs. The league has put measures in place to have each venture remain fiscally independent of one another, with Rob stating that there’s a long-term plan that will lead to Pacific and Vancouver being separately owned.
“This has been three years in the making,” he stated, “we’ve been working on this project for a while, trying to find the right location and the right venue was priority number one. We knew that the lower mainland market can have CPL, and can compete in the football marketplace.”
A lot of groundwork has put in place, but it’s early days yet. Rob recognizes this.
The reality is that we kick off in almost fourteen months, and we haven’t announced our stadium. We have a lot of work to do, but there’s a lot of pieces in place that are ready to go that we haven’t been able to yet until we plant that flag in the location, put the stadium renderings out, and I think people are going to be very excited about it.Rob Friend
With the expansion side confirmed to still be on track for a 2023 launch date, it’s going to be a busy year for SixFive Sports & Entertainment. The ownership group will will hope to have its stadium announcement on the calendar in about a month’s time, with a full branding announcement just about a month after that.
“We’re ready, and once that signature is there we’re going and we’re not stopping,” said Friend, “Once we’re in the public, there’s no turning back and hopefully the fans get behind us.”
Vancouver is about to full steam ahead. It remains to be seen how the expansion efforts in Saskatoon and the Windsor-Essex area follow, with prospective investors still eyeing other regions, too.
Source: AFTN Podcast