Dispatches from Vancouver: The Curious Case of General Motors Place
Stephen Johns is camping out in Vancouver and reporting back on the 2010 Winter Olympics—with a focus on how they’re transforming one of Canada’s major urban centres.
Cloaked bank machines at “Canada Hockey Place.” Photo by Bradley Jorgensen
Canada Hockey Place isn’t its actual name. It’s actually called GM Place, and it’s usually home to the NHL’s Vancouver Canucks. But it’s been renamed—rebranded, as it were—while the 2010 Winter Olympics are in town. Why is that?
The answer, oddly enough, isn’t because GM isn’t an Olympic sponsor: on the contrary, the company’s website proudly declares it to be a “Proud Partner of the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games.” Rather, it’s tied up in a (shall we say) “convenient” approach to corporate branding that’s omnipresent throughout Vancouver. Sponsorship is an unavoidable part of the modern Olympic movement. To be fair, with budgets running into the billions of dollars, the Olympics simply aren’t feasible without significant corporate intervention. Atlanta might’ve awakened the world to this growing phenomenon, but Vancouver is demonstrating that it’s still very much alive and kicking. And few places make it as readily apparent as Canada Hockey Place, where the majority of the ice hockey tournament is taking place. But not because the building’s full of corporate branding: because it self-consciously is not.
Start with the name. GM Place became Canada Hockey Place because the International Olympic Committee, the same organization that curries corporate favour in order to offset the costs of staging its Games, won’t allow Olympic venues to bear corporate names. Their intention—to create a unique spectator experience—seems noble enough. Yet upon entering the rechristened arena, spectators are immediately struck by the presence of two particularly recognizable logos. One belongs to Coca-Cola. The other? Why, it’s the Olympic rings! Meanwhile, in order to “create this unique experience,” volunteers worked over Canada Hockey Place with rolls of duct tape and, quite literally, covered up any lingering vestige of corporate naming—which means you can buy a bottle of Coca-Cola, yet can’t see what kind of napkins you’re using. Even the spectator’s code of conduct has the name “GM Place” excised from its text.
The result, ironically, is a weirdly sanitized viewing experience, partly an idyllic vision of a mini-world without corporate encroachment, partly a reminder of how central their logos have become to our everyday lives. It’s ironic that a movement meant to foster our collective humanity apparently needs to scrub its facilities clean of corporate presence—save a few, select brands, of course—to succeed. It’s just one of the many contradictions that characterize these 2010 Winter Olympics, one of the many ways the movement has evolved in recent years.