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HomeBusinessSports lookahead to 2024

Sports lookahead to 2024

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Bob Mackin 

Looking into the crystal ball at the sports business headlines for the coming 12 months.

Goodbye, 2023, the year of Connor Bedard. Hello 2024 and Macklin Celebrini. 

North Vancouver delivered the Chicago Blackhawks their number one choice in the 2023 NHL Entry Draft, via the Regina Pats and Canada’s world junior champions.

Macklin Celebrini (Boston University)

Another North Vancouver phenom, Boston University freshman star Celebrini, has NHL scouts abuzz. 

The son of Golden State Warriors’ sports medicine director Rick Celebrini could one-up Bedard by the very venue where he could don an NHL sweater for the first time. 

It’s not a rink, but Sphere in Las Vegas will host the June 28-29 draft.

Messi is coming… maybe. 

Save the date. May 25. That’s when the David Beckham-owned, Leagues Cup champion Inter Miami CF will visit B.C. Place Stadium. As long as he is healthy, World Cup champion Lionel Messi should be in the lineup. 

When he was asked last August about playing on a plastic pitch, of which there are several in Major League Soccer, the Argentine wizard told reporters it would not deter him. 

“The truth is my youth was spent on artificial turf, my whole life was on that pitch,” Messi said. “Truth is it’s been a while since I’ve played on artificial turf, but I have no problem adapting myself again.”

Ticket resale prices for the May 25 match may rival those for the B.C. Place appearances by the Rolling Stones in July and Taylor Swift in December. 

A Vancouver football team will be the home side in the Victoria suburb Langford in 2024. 

Lionel Messi (Inter Miami)

But not the one the Westshore expected.

The Whitecaps will host Mexico’s Tigres UANL on Feb. 7 at Starlight Stadium in a CONCACAF Champions league match, because of the Home and Garden Show at B.C. Place. 

Starlight, with its 6,000 seats and 18 suites, was hoping for a visit from the B.C. Lions. Instead, Royal Athletic Park in Victoria will host the CFL’s first Touchdown Pacific on Labour Day weekend. 

The Aug. 31 meeting with the Ottawa Redblacks will be the Lions’ first in the regular season on natural grass in B.C. since 1969 at their original home, Empire Stadium. Tartan Turf was installed the next season. The Redblacks have been the lowest-drawing visitors in recent years to B.C. Place, but will that won’t matter with a cosy 13,000 to 14,000-seat setup in the provincial capital. 

The Lions hope to end their 70th anniversary season victorious on Nov. 17, when B.C. Place hosts the 111th Grey Cup. 

The Paris Olympics are July 26-Aug. 11 and the focus will be Canadians on the courts and the pitch. 

First, the pitch. Coach Bev Priestman’s squad will defend its 2021 Tokyo women’s soccer gold medal in the first major tournament of the post-Christine Sinclair era. Success in France would be just the ticket for a successful launch of the national women’s pro league in 2025, which will include the Whitecaps. 

On the basketball court, high expectations for a podium finish after Oklahoma City Thunder star Shai Gilgeous-Alexander led Canada to a bronze medal win over the U.S. at last summer’s FIBA men’s World Cup bronze medal. On the tennis court, members of Canada’s teams that became men’s (2022 Davis Cup) and women’s (2023 Billie Jean Cup) world champions could vie for medals. 

Just before the Games, the International Olympic Committee is expected to award the 2030 Winter Games to the French Alps and the 2034 Winter Games to Salt Lake City. 

For some of 2022, it was believed that 2010 host Vancouver and 1972 host Sapporo, Japan were frontrunners for one or the other. But corruption in the Tokyo 2020 organizing committee and B.C.’s multitude of politically fraught social and economic challenges scuttled the bids. 

Online gambling has exploded in Ontario, since the federal legalization of single-event wagering in 2021. The ads are wall-to-wall on TSN and Sportsnet. 

B.C. Lottery Corporation holds the B.C. monopoly. But lobbyists for BetMGM, PointsBet and Canadian Online Gaming Alliance are lining up to convince the NDP government to adopt the competitive Ontario license-and-regulate model.

Inside a B.C. Place Pacific Rim suite (PavCo)

This is an election year, so don’t bet on the NDP breaking up BCLC. With all the money sloshing around this young industry, it’s only a matter of time before a sports gambling scandal pops up somewhere in Canada. 

Costs of hosting FIFA 26 World Cup matches in Vancouver will come into focus in 2024. 

Last January, the province gave the City of Vancouver power to levy a 2.5 percent accommodation tax through 2030 to pay off the anticipated $230 million host city bill.

The provincial hosting budget remains a mystery for now, but could get some clarity in February when Finance Minister Katrine Conroy tables her election year spending blueprint. 

Major, pre-World Cup renovations are coming to B.C. Place, where B.C. Pavilion Corporation is seeking a construction manager to guide it through the expansion of level three suites, a new elevator, washroom and restaurant facilities and more. The successful applicant must have at least one $50 million project under his or her belt, a hint of the magnitude of work that B.C. Place is pondering for 2026. 

Speaking of the stadium, it’s now older than 40. Which makes it a senior citizen from the era of multiplexes. The second oldest, behind Mexico City’s 1966-opened Azteca, on the FIFA 26 roster. 

The NDP’s new housing development laws include instant upzoning to densify areas around SkyTrain stations. In 2018, Vancouver city council approved in-principle a mixed-use tower outside the stadium’s southeast corner, but B.C. Pavilion Corporation has not sold the land. Just like it has not sold the stadium’s name to a sponsor. 

Could the stadium be in play after 2026? It was assessed last year at $222.9 million ($167.5 million for the building and $55.4 million for the land underneath), a 13.7 percent year-over-year increase.  

If the Lions and Whitecaps need a new home in the long-term, could one be built just a punt away from their original stomping grounds?

At Hastings Racecourse, which dates back to 1892, the thoroughbred owners pine for modern facilities. But they remain in an uneasy marriage with track’s leaseholder, Great Canadian Entertainment. The casino is not the bonanza originally promised and slots players have glitzier options at the Grand Villa in Burnaby and Parq in downtown Vancouver. 

Mayor Ken Sim’s 2022 campaign included a photo op in the Hastings grandstand. But not to discuss the ponies. He’s in favour of expanding SkyTrain under or over Hastings Street and onward to North Vancouver.

Great Canadian’s lease with city hall is up for renewal in November 2024.

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