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Economic recession blamed for Pride sponsorship woes

'This year is Pride lite': Dolinko

PRIDE LITE? "There's not a question, we're in a tight bind," Sponsorship coordinator Caryl Dolinko told a Pride Society board meeting Feb 2, noting that there are "no signed contracts yet" but a lot of verbal commitments. Credit: NATASHA BARSOTTI PHOTO

The Vancouver Pride Society’s (VPS) sponsorship coordinator says the global economic downturn is adversely affecting the organization’s ability to woo new sponsors and bring past sponsors back on board for this year’s summer Pride celebrations.

“There’s not a question, we’re in a tight bind,” Caryl Dolinko told a Pride Society board meeting Feb 2, noting that there are “no signed contracts yet” but a lot of verbal commitments.

“We don’t have a signature on a dotted line but we have a ‘Yeah, we’re going to be involved, you bet.’ But to what degree, I’m not sure,” says Dolinko. The “biggest search right now” is for a new presenting sponsor, she adds.

“We had thought at one point that we would have another financial organization that would be able to step in,” Dolinko says. “Unfortunately, the financial institution took a look at their quarterlies and they said there’s no way that they’re doing any kind of new spending,” according to Dolinko, who declined to reveal the institution’s name.

Dolinko says she’s had to go back to Pride’s previous presenting sponsor Vancity “on my hands and knees” and ask if they would “come on board and help us.” She says the bank is going to see “if there’s something that can be done,” but notes that there is “no commitment whatsoever.”

Vancity was Pride’s presenting sponsor for the past three years, but that commitment ended last year, according to Stephanie Thatcher, the bank’s communications manager.

“What we had was a three-year agreement and that’s now completed — that covered the term 2006, 2007 and 2008,” recalls Thatcher, who says the bank has worked with the Pride Society for eight years.

Even though Vancity has concluded its sponsorship agreement with Pride, she says the bank is looking at 2009 to see “what we can do.”

“What we’re doing now is we’re still in the process of finalizing all our sponsorship plans for 2009, so we haven’t got any decisions that we can tell you about at the moment,” Thatcher says when asked if Vancity would return as a presenting sponsor.

“It’s too early to be able to give any clarity on that,” she notes.

“Obviously we have to take into account current market conditions but overall it’s not specific to Vancouver Pride or any individual relationships that we have,” says Thatcher when asked if the current economic climate is a factor in the decisions involving Pride sponsorship.

Dolinko also told the board meeting that Edgewater Casino was “not coming back on board” with Pride.

“They cannot do it; they just don’t have the money,” she says.

Edgewater Casino’s Lindsay Lussin confirms that Edgewater will not be a returning sponsor.

“We’re not going to be participating this year. It’s purely budget constraints; it’s tough times right now, and we just need to be very careful of where we’re spending our money and making sure we’re getting the biggest bang from our buck, and right now it’s really targeting in on our target market,” Lussin told Xtra West. “We love to be part of community events, and we think Pride went over great last year and we’d love to do it again, it’s just purely budget right now and just cutting down in certain areas,” Lussin adds.

Dolinko says Molson’s, whom she called “a valued sponsor for many years now,” wants to see how many drinks are actually purchased so that they can “justify the spend for sponsorship.”

Molson’s BC director of sales Wade Bayne says the beer company has also not finalized its sponsorship commitments for 2009, but does “intend on sustaining our relationship” with the VPS.

“We have been involved for years,” Bayne says, but notes that “we haven’t had any discussions with any of the executives, at this point, of Pride.”

Bayne says Molson’s sponsorship of Pride in 2008 was both in cash and in kind but says he could not reveal if the company planned on maintaining the same level of commitment to this year’s event.

“I can say yes we still have interest for sure. We need to get our finalized budgets in play and then we need to have some meetings with the executive committee of Pride to work through it,” Bayne adds.

“Last year, I think we had it all put to bed — and there’s no reason why the timeline should change unless they have a need to have any discussions any earlier — [by the] end of March last year,” Bayne recalls.

 “I think the economic challenge is [of] concern on everything we’re doing in business,” says Bayne when asked if the much-touted economic downturn will affect Pride sponsorship deliberations. “It’s way beyond sponsorships. Everything we’re looking at — no different than everybody else — is where are our dollars best spent and is it the right link for our products and our brands and for what the company is about. And if so,” he says, “the investment stays there.”

 “We have a pretty good relationship [with Pride] and I don’t see that changing,” Bayne adds.

In the midst of all the uncertainty, Dolinko says, there is “some light,” indicating that Sandman hotel “expressed huge interest.” But she then went on to say that what they meant by interest is that they supported Pride but weren’t sure what they could do.

Xtra West’s attempts to reach the Sandman’s marketing department for comment were unsuccessful up to press time.

A Vancouver Marriott Pinnacle spokesperson, who requested anonymity, says that hotel will return as an in kind sponsor to the tune of $10,000.

According to Dolinko, eBay, an online trading company, has also come on board.

Nazia Khan of Environics Communications, the public relations company for eBay Canada, says eBay is “definitely hoping to be able to be involved at some point, at some level,” but says “nothing’s been finalized.”

“I can’t really comment on the level of their participation,” says Khan. “The only thing that we can confirm is… they’ve been talking with the event organizers.”

What many companies want to know, says Dolinko, is whether Vancouver Pride will be “cutting back” in the current economic climate.

Asked by director Ray Lam if there will be a review of the values stated in the sponsorship packages, Dolinko says the festivals committee has to meet and “seriously discuss potential changes in the festival lineups and the events that we hold,” before any review of the packages can take place.

She adds that it’s “uncomfortable” asking struggling companies for money while being unable to definitively say which events will continue.

Former Pride society president John Boychuk, who attended the Feb 2 board meeting, says he was under the impression from a conversation he had with the current president Ken Coolen in December that last year’s nine signature events were going forward.

“As of right now, it might be,” Dolinko responded, “but because we don’t have nine signature events with budgets proposed and with all of that sort of thing, I don’t know.”

Coolen, who was not at the board meeting due to WinterPride commitments, but who is the festivals committee chair, says the nine signature events are going forward. Coolen says he was planning to be at a festivals committee scheduled for Feb 11.

Meanwhile, Richard Boulier, resigned as treasurer of the Society, citing a serious hand injury he sustained in an on-the-job accident last April for which he has undergone surgery.

“This is permanent,” he says of his injury. “I can’t go back to work in my past job.” Board director Bernard LeClair was appointed interim treasurer until the next AGM in the fall.

Boulier, who was elected to the position just over three months ago at the Society’s AGM Nov 1, told Xtra West there was no mention of sponsorship concerns at the board meetings prior to the one on Feb 2. Boulier left the meeting after tendering his resignation.

“That Monday night… was the first time that it was going to have to be talked about,” Boulier told Xtra West. That meeting was “the big meeting” as far as he was concerned, he says, to include discussions about Pride’s expenses and whether the Society’s term deposits are going to be tapped because of sponsorship concerns. “I can’t speak on behalf of all the board but the general consensus in the board up till I left was that sponsorship was going to be okay, that there was no worry about losing too many [sponsors] that would jeopardize Pride.”

The treasurer’s report was deferred to the next board meeting, scheduled for Feb 16, so that the president could be present to speak to it.