Vancouver, Labatt Breweries rekindle partnership

Brewery sponsored 1979 NASL Soccer Bowl winners

On Wednesday, Vancouver Whitecaps FC announced a new five-year partnership with Labatt Breweries that will see Budweiser become the official beer of the team.

The relationship between the two organizations, though, goes back much further than that.

When Whitecaps FC were first launched in 1974, their brand was much different then it is today. Paying homage to their Canadian roots, the club’s colors were red and white, and their original logo was a simple crest with a black border and a red soccer ball centered by a maple leaf below the words “Vancouver Whitecaps.”

On the field, the team achieved only moderate results. They made the playoffs three times in their first five seasons, but bowed out to their Pacific Northwest rivals from Seattle twice and to Portland once.

While the red-and-white was patriotic, it never quite fit the Whitecaps’ image.

Before the start of the 1979 NASL season, the club decided to re-brand. They wanted to better represent the west coast, the mountains and the water that inspired Denny Veitch to name the team. But there was another big factor that shaped the evolution of the club’s trademark style.

Labatt was a major sponsor of the Whitecaps at the time, and they wanted their brand to be incorporated into the team’s new look. So, in a move that befits both organizations, the team changed their colors to blue and white.

Gord Couling was on the re-branding committee during that period, working as the Whitecaps public relations and creative services manager. He says that the new image brought a certain magic to the team.

"The look and the success of the team went hand-in-hand,” Couling told whitecapsfc.com before the club launched its MLS brand last June. “I think that people could relate to the new look because it was more relevant and attractive and, because of that, they really embraced the club and had more pride for the team."

The first season in the new colors remains the club’s most memorable, and one of the most celebrated in the history of Vancouver professional sports.

The Whitecaps went on an enthralling playoff run, beating the star-studded New York Cosmos on the way to winning the NASL Soccer Bowl over the Tampa Bay Rowdies. The team returned home to a boisterous celebration, parading down the streets of Vancouver in front of more than 100,000 people.

Today, the club’s colors remain blue and white, thanks in no small part to a little nudge from their friends at Labatt Breweries.