TORONTO — He worked under some of the biggest and boldest executives in sports, for some of the most recognizable brands, inside some of the most iconic stadiums and arenas.
Pacific FC’s newest hire was present for a pair of Stanley Cups in Los Angeles prior to being recruited to St. Louis, where he moved the needle for the Blues.
After beginning his career close to two decades ago with the Canucks, sports executive Josh Bender is back on Vancouver Island after being named Executive Vice President, Sales and Business Development of the Canadian Premier League’s west coast club.
“It’s the next step in my career,” Bender told CanPL.ca in an exclusive interview prior to the announcement. “I’ve never done anything like this before, coming into a brand new league or brand new team. For me, the draw of that challenge was strong.”
The soon-to-be father-of-three joins an expanding PFC front office that also includes Co-Founder Dean Shillington, President Josh Simpson and CEO Rob Friend.
Pacific FC also revealed head coach Michael Silberbauer last week in anticipation of the CPL’s #GotGame Open Trials this fall.
“I’m a part of what’s essentially a start-up and, in some cases, creating something from scratch and being a big fish in a small pond instead of another cog in the machine,” the long-time NHL executive explained.
Bender added he “jumped at the opportunity” to return to Vancouver Island, where he ran a painting company in his younger years and grew attached to island culture.
“My family heard about this and jumped at the chance,” he added. “I am thrilled to come back to my home province and be a part of an amazing experience.”
The former ticketing and fan experience executive’s reputation precedes him. He’s credited with doubling season ticket totals during his time with the Kings while driving more than 100 consecutive sellouts at STAPLES Center.
In St. Louis, Bender oversaw the implementation of full mobile ticketing and digital initiatives — including 3-D arena mapping, interactive ticket purchasing and loyalty programs that boosted the Blues’ profile in the Gateway to the West.
Now he’s tasked with bringing that same success back home in time for PFC’s inaugural season.
“I’ve been following Canadian soccer closely and I’m seeing the groundswell of support from people who are passionate about the game at all levels,” Bender said. “The opportunity to capture that passion of the fanbase is something that’s very exciting to me.”
Bender added he got a taste of North American soccer passion during his time with Anschutz Entertainment Group (AEG), which owns the Los Angeles Galaxy in addition to the Kings.
Through that experience, Bender said he intends to work closely with Pacific FC supporters — specifically the Lake Side Buoys — to produce an authentic environment on Matchdays.
“You really have to involve the supporters group and do it in a way that makes sure it’s organic. You can’t dictate what the experience is to them,” Bender imparted.
“You have to involve them early on in the decision-making process and truly make them an integral part of the Pacific FC family.”
Beyond creating a captivating Gameday experience, Bender’s next step is to engage the island at-large with the season a short seven months away.
“The end goal is to fill the stadium every night and to completely sell out our sponsorship inventory,” he said. “But I think in the short term it’s to really focus on awareness on the island and creating passion and emotion for the brand while igniting peoples’ feelings for local, Canadian soccer. Then we’ll introduce our revenue generating programs in the next few months. We’ll roll out our ticket packages and some great sponsorship packages.
“But we don’t just want to sell sponsorship packages. We want to create true partnerships with people who are on the island so those partners feel they’re a part of a club every night and they have great activation programs and aren’t just giving us money to throw up a sign. We want them to be real partners with us.”
Bender had been looking for the right opportunity to come home.
After finding it, his next mission is a challenge he says his previous experience prepared him for.
“The most important thing I’ve learned is it’s all about relationships — developing strong relationships with your fans and partners and clients – and you can never take those for granted,” he said.
“You always have to be working on those relationships to keep them genuine. Whether it’s hockey, soccer, or any sport, you always want to be cultivating those relationship to keep them strong and the fanbase engaged.”