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Clark’s chief of staff sparks new talks with Telus on B.C. Place naming rights

The B.C. government has renewed negotiations with Telus over the controversial, and much coveted, naming rights to B.C. Place Stadium, The Globe and Mail has learned.

The talks come less than a year after the government cancelled a tentative $35-million, 20-year deal with the B.C.-based telecom giant, a decision that was widely viewed as a humiliating blow to one of the province's most powerful companies and biggest employers.

In advance of a general election, it earned the governing Liberals the wrath of not only Telus's CEO Darren Entwistle, but also one of the government's most important constituencies – the B.C. business community.

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The current discussions are being spearheaded by Premier Christy Clark's new chief of staff, Dan Doyle, the pragmatic former deputy minister and Olympic executive. It's also understood that a new deal will likely involve the Vancouver Whitecaps on some level.

When the government announced last March that it was backing away from the pending arrangement with Telus, it said it was because the proposed package was not a good deal for taxpayers. In addition, the government suggested that B.C. Place had become an iconic name to which most people in the province had become attached.

However, it was believed at the time that some intense, behind-the-scenes lobbying by the Whitecaps also had something to do with the decision.

The team's primary sponsor is Bell Canada, one of Telus's fiercest rivals in the telecom game. When the team signed on in 2011 as a marquee, long-term occupant of the newly renovated stadium, it never imagined that the arena in which it played might be named after one of its sponsor's biggest competitors. Whitecaps owner Greg Kerfoot – not to mention Bell – was incensed when he learned that there was a deal in the works to call the stadium Telus Park.

Telus has been eyeing the stadium since it lost out in the competition for the naming rights to the home of the Vancouver Canucks, the crown jewel of Vancouver's sporting firmament.

Worse, Telus had to watch the name of another competitor – Rogers – go up on the walls of what was formerly known as GM Place. After that, Mr. Entwistle was determined to have his company's name highlight the much larger, and newly renovated stadium right across the street.

It seems likely that to make the Telus deal work this time around, the government is going to have to placate the Whitecaps in some way. It could mean reopening the deal it struck with the team, which offered the franchise little if anything in the way of game-day revenue from sources in and outside the stadium. A new arrangement that granted the Whitecaps more lucrative terms might be enough to quell the discontent in the organization that a naming rights deal with Telus is sure to cause.

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The team has two more years in its sponsorship deal with Bell. It may make sense for Telus to take over that role when the contract ends.

Telus is also a major sponsor of the stadium's other main tenant, the B.C. Lions football team. Beyond that, Telus did a multimillion-dollar technology upgrade inside the stadium a couple of years ago. As such, the Telus name can be seen in multiple parts of the 54,000-seat arena, which has also made the partnership that the Whitecaps have with Bell uncomfortable.

The government would like to have something to announce on the Telus front while the legislature is sitting, according to a source. The legislature convenes in early February and is expected to sit for about five weeks. The campaign leading up to the May 14 provincial election will commence in mid-April.

The Liberals' credibility took a major hit when it renounced the all-but-signed deal with Telus last spring. Many viewed it as the government reneging on a promise with one of its top corporate citizens, a company that only a week before the decision was made public had announced a $3-billion investment in the province.

There are thousands of Telus employees throughout the province.

Any new deal is sure to anger Bell, Rogers and Shaw Communications, all of whom were already furious with the government over its decision in 2011 to award a $1-billion, 10-year telecommunications contract with Telus.

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