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HomeBusinessMilestone seasons at B.C. Place for Lions, Whitecaps coming in 2024

Milestone seasons at B.C. Place for Lions, Whitecaps coming in 2024

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Bob Mackin

The B.C. Lions open the 2024 season at home against the Calgary Stampeders on June 15, the first of five 4 p.m. starts in the team’s 70th season anniversary season.

(CFL)

The club announced the schedule Thursday and owner Amar Doman is promising to bring another hitmaker to perform a concert at the home opener. 

The June 17 kickoff against the Edmonton Elks featured hip-hop legend LL Cool J and drew the 2023 season’s biggest crowd of 26,814, according to figures released by the B.C. Pavilion Corp. freedom of information office. The club announced 33,103 on game day, representing tickets distributed. 

The Lions played six home games in 2023 at 4 p.m., under first-year president Duane Vienneau, in an effort to attract younger fans and those from outside the Lower Mainland.

“They can come in and come to the game and then get back to the Island or go back to the interior and not have to stay the night, and also it’s a good time for families,” Vienneau said. “The four o’clock starts were a hit for us and we pushed to get as many as we possibly could for ’24.”

In 2024, the schedule includes home games on four Saturdays, three Fridays and one each on Thursday and Sunday. For the first time, the Lions will play in Victoria at Royal Athletic Park on Aug. 31 in the CFL’s Touchdown Pacific against the Ottawa Redblacks.  

Overall, the Lions averaged 18,858 attendance for their nine regular season games and the West semifinal win over Calgary, the second most-attended game at 24,571. The Lions’ smallest crowd was Sept. 16 against Ottawa (15,376).

Lions fans will be fighting inflation again in 2024, so season ticket packages start at $205 for the upper family zone and $85 for youths aged 17 and under. 

“Our owner wants to be accessible, and so wherever he wants to try to take away as many barriers as possible to experience the BC Lions,” Vienneau said.

The CFL’s former chief Grey Cup and events officer joined the Lions as chief operating officer in 2022 and became president in 2023. The club hopes to end next season on Nov. 17 at B.C. Place in the 111th Grey Cup, which features a six-day festival benefitting from a $3.5 million B.C. government subsidy. 

The stadium’s other anchor tenant, the Vancouver Whitecaps, will also celebrate a milestone anniversary in 2024: the 50th anniversary of the original Whitecaps debuting in the North American Soccer League.

The NASL folded after the 1984 season, five years after Vancouver’s Soccer Bowl ’79 triumph. The Vancouver 86ers launched in the Canadian Soccer League in 1987 and rebranded as Whitecaps before the 2001 A-League season.  

The schedule for the Whitecaps’ 13th Major League Soccer season features Inter Miami on May 25, which could be the first visit by World Cup champion Lionel Messi. First things first, the Whitecaps will make their 2024 debut Starlight Stadium in Langford on Feb. 7 against Mexico’s Tigres UANL in February CONCACAF Champions League play. The rematch of last August’s Leagues Cup shootout thriller is happening outside Victoria due to the Home and Garden Show at B.C. Place.

That was one of 23 matches overall (18 MLS, two CONCACAF, two Leagues Cup and one Canadian Championship), in a season that saw the Whitecaps average 14,095 attendance. 

The Whitecaps scored the biggest single-game crowd among the anchor tenants, with 28,493 at the Nov. 4 home playoff loss to Los Angeles FC. The 30,204 announced on game night represented the number of tickets distributed. 

Whitecaps’ star Ryan Gauld modelling the 2023 Telus-sponsored jersey (Whitecaps/MLS)

It was the first time since the team’s 2011 move to B.C. Place that it opened level four seating and the biggest MLS match turnout since Sept. 15, 2018 when 25,832 watched the Whitecaps edge the Seattle Sounders. 

The team opened the season at home before 16,368 against Real Salt Lake on Feb. 25. LAFC’s April 5 visit for a CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal match was the worst-attended of 2023, at 9,621, and one of three sub-10,000 crowds.

In a scheduling anomaly, the Whitecaps played a seven-game road trip in August and September. 

CEO Axel Schuster hired former Ticketmaster vice-president Aditi Bhatt last March as chief commercial officer. In May, Schuster told reporters that the Whitecaps want to be “the “most affordable professional sport in this town for families.”

Schuster has more than nostalgia to sell in 2024, after the club-record 78 goals in the 2023 calendar year, achieving back-to-back Canadian championships and Cascadia Cups, and entering the MLS playoffs in two of the last three seasons. “This fall we set a club MLS era record with a 95 per cent season ticket renewal, and we are well on our way to set a record for new season members,” Schuster said in a statement.

Also at B.C. Place in 2023, the HSBC Canada Sevens rugby tournament expanded with a women’s division and an extra day, drawing a total 47,572 across three days from March 3-5. 

It will return Feb. 23-25 as the rebranded HSBC SVNS Vancouver. 

The biggest sporting event of the year was Dec. 5, the international soccer swan-song for Burnaby’s Christine Sinclair. The crowd for Canada’s 1-0 women’s soccer friendly win over Australia was announced as 48,112. The official tally has not been released.

PavCo officials said Sept. 2 that Ed Sheeran’s “The Mathematics Tour” concert set the venue’s all-time attendance record at 65,061. The official tally provided by the Crown corporation was 62,964.

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