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The CFL has seen success on the East Coast, now it's looking to the West Coast
The BC Lions will celebrate their 70th CFL season not only by hosting the 111th Grey Cup game but also by playing a regular-season tilt at Victoria’s Royal Athletic Park (RAP).
The Lions will host the Ottawa Redblacks on Saturday, Aug. 31, as part of the league’s Labour Day weekend slate of games and its Touchdown Series, which for the last five seasons has brought Canadian football to the East Coast.
“It’s super special for me,” said Lions owner—and Victorian—Amar Doman, whose family tree was planted in this city more than a decade ago.
“It’s really about sharing the brand and making sure it’s British Columbia’s team.”
Doman was accompanied by CFL Commissioner Randy Ambrosie, among other team and area dignitaries for Wednesday’s announcement.
“From the cheers of the crowd and the impact in the community to the fun, fast, and entertaining action on the field, we can’t wait to deliver the full CFL experience to everyone in Victoria,” Ambrosie said.
The CFL is billing the event Touchdown Pacific, following the five Touchdown Atlantic events, the last two in Halifax.
Like Halifax, the game will be played in an intimate setting with a festival enveloping the action, making it a three- or four-day affair, featuring various football festivities, kids’ programs, camps, and other events.
“We really want to bring the sport of football and the CFL experience to the community, and we do that through the festival,” said Duane Vienneau, BC Lions president.
“We don’t just fly in, fly out—we will be here for a few days.”
The field at RAP will be transformed from ball diamond to gridiron, and the stadium’s seating capacity will be enlarged from its current 5K, with the CFL picking up the cost of placing bleachers on the outfield side of the baseball configuration, Vienneau said.
“It will be how much can we maximize? Is it six, is it seven thousand, and then we will also be doing some other builds around the stadium.”
The goalline-to-goalline seating will help push capacity to 12-14K, and Vienneau hinted the end zones will be made into a family zone at one end and a party zone at the other, similar to Huskies Stadium at Saint Mary’s University in Halifax, which hosted the sold-out (11K+) Touchdown Atlantic games.
“You won’t recognize it all,” Vienneau said.
Adding to the lively atmosphere will be onsite tailgate parties and music events, likely at Ship Point.
It’s expected ticket prices will remain about the same as games held in Vancouver’s BC Place Stadium, the team said.
“For the BC Lions, this isn’t about making lots of money,” Vienneau said.
It is for Greater Victoria.
“Events like this are a welcome boost to local businesses in the region,” said Paul Nursey, CEO of Destination Greater Victoria.
“Sports tourism is a catalyst for over $100 million in visitor spending in the Greater Victoria area every year.”
The city and region are hopeful Touchdown Pacific will score gains similar to the estimated $10-million impact Touchdown Atlantic brought Halifax.
“An event like this—at least it’s been shown in other, smaller communities—really is a remarkable economic driver for both the visitor industry and also for the folks who live here,” said Victoria Mayor Marianne Alto, one of the approximate 1K BC Lions season ticket holders who live on Vancouver Island.
"On a personal level, I’m obviously super-excited, but as the mayor too, being in a position where you can bring in an event like this, which is going to create an incredible memory,” Alto said.
The city is supporting the event with up to $300K in kind, meaning it will pay for field preparation, traffic control, staffing, and other expenses necessary to stage the game and festival.
“We’re not writing them a cheque,” the mayor quipped.
It should be noted that renovations to RAP won’t be permanent, so the benefit to the region will be of the tourism variety.
“Fans of the CFL will use this opportunity to either come pre-game or postgame and make a vacation around it,” said Vienneau.
Alto said when the Lions approached her with the idea at a game this season, she didn’t hesitate because the timing was perfect.
“I actually think for the hospitality industry in particular, it’s going to be a massive injection, at a time I understand, where it’s starting to slow a little bit for the tourism industry.”
The game likely will start at 4 pm, the Lions said, due to national television considerations, not because of any potential lighting issues at RAP.
“We think this is fantastic for Victoria and the sports market,” said Jim Swanson, managing partner of the Victoria HarbourCats. The stadium’s main tenants’ season will come to an end a mere two weeks prior to kickoff, leaving the CFL and city a narrow window in which to transform RAP into a professional football facility.
“I’m interested in seeing the timeline and planning,” Swanson said.