News — Arguably the biggest move this offseason for the Vancouver Whitecaps was the introduction of the CEO and sporting director roles in the front office of BC Place. After searching high and low — and stripping power from Bob Lenarduzzi — Mark Pannes and Axel Schuster filled the spots, respectively.
It was a step in a new direction for the club, following a lack luster 2019 campaign. Moves the club makes are considered a breath of fresh air. Reporting only to the ownership group, Pannes and Schuster set about implementing a new, forward-thinking mentality around the club.
Fast forward to today. Pannes and the club are “parting ways” just six months into a four-year contract. Schuster has taken over as CEO andSporting Director. Pannes soldiered on after being handed a tough situation with the season being suspended and losing fan engagement after 2019.
A wide array of marketing campaigns and fan engagements activities flew out of the young Texan. From the “Save the Vancouver Aquarium” campaign to the #FrontlineHeroes art piece that raised proceeds for the Food Bank, the Whitecaps were putting the club’s name out there during a time where someone needed to in the city. Hockey will always dominate the Canadian sporting landscape, but Pannes helped spearhead the movement to take a step towards closing that gap.
Schuster handed the Torch
Yet, at the end of the day, it will be Schuster who will take the torch from here. Almost out of the blue, Whitecaps fans woke up to see the news circulating on social media. Even more strange was almost no explanation. Following a media session with the owner Jeff Mallett and Schuster, a few questions were cleared up.
However, the dust is yet to settle.
The biggest question was “Why?” Despite Mallett saying this was to streamline the front office, it still doesn’t quite sit right. Perhaps there were too many voices going around in the front office, with Mallett saying that everyone was “on the same page internally.” Mallett pushed the idea that this wasn’t a financial matter, but rather a chance to have one voice and to simply “streamline operations.”
Schuster was the “clear choice,” according to Mallett, despite noting the impact and changes Pannes has had on the club.
“This decision is to be the most effective for the club. It was clear we wanted one voice. Axel is the best person to do that. It is the opposite of cost cutting” — Jeff Mallett, owner
Final thoughts on Mark Pannes
It will be interesting with how Schuster takes over the reigns at the CEO position. Replacing years of experience of Pannes’ time at AS Roma, the New York Knicks and the University of Texas will be no easy feat. The MLS is Back Tournament in less than a month, this will be a great window into how Schuster plans to juggle all those balls at once.
In a farewell note to the club, Pannes posted to Twitter, saying “the staff’s work ethic elevated the club to a golden standard in fan engagement, sponsor and partner relations, and daily content creation, allowing so many to stay connected to the club during an unprecedented time.”
Pannes wished the team luck going forward, told everyone to stay safe and then disappeared as quickly as he came.
A re-inspired fanbase with a soft spot for the work done by Pannes, left bamboozled, with the idea that the new “forward thinking” club just lost the figure head for it’s fans in a time where they need a connection to the club the most. This in no way means that Schuster will fail in comparison. However, replacing a well liked figure such as Pannes so early into his tenure rises suspicion and questions about the club’s direction and management of front office officials.