Forty years ago, when B.C. Place first inflated its 255-tonne Teflon-coated fibreglass roof into a giant dad bod in a tight, button-up shirt, a storied run of events in the stadium began.
A record 60,342 fans crammed into B.C. Place the day after it opened on Monday, July 19, 1983 to watch the Vancouver Whitecaps christen it with a 2-1 win over the Seattle Sounders.
Three days later, for a CFL pre-season game, the B.C. Lions had 53,472 come through the turnstiles for a 45-19 win over the Stampeders.
After that, it was Robbie Knievel jumping 18 cars, Hulk Hogan beating Big John Stud in WrestleMania, papal visits, iconic concerts, Grey Cups and Soccer Bowls.
And while the Lions and Whitecaps have played hundreds of home games in the stadium’s 40-year history, this weekend will see another first: The upper bowl open for back-to-back games featuring the two teams.
The Lions and Whitecaps announced earlier this week that they are opening additional seating for their playoff games — the Lions host the Calgary Stampeders in the West semifinal on Saturday, the Caps welcome Los Angeles FC for Game 2 of their first round series on Sunday — with 30,000-plus fans expected for each match.
This will be the first time in the Caps’ 13 seasons as a Major League Soccer team that the top part of the stadium will be open. Their previous MLS attendance high was a lower-bowl sellout of 27,683 for a 2018 game against the Seattle Sounders.
All of the team’s attendance records came in the NASL era, save for an exhibition game in 2007 against David Beckham and the L.A. Galaxy (48,172).
The Lions have hit their high-water mark three times, all in 1985-86, when they had 59,478 for two regular-season games and a playoff game.
Both teams are realistic and know the days of selling out the building would require, at the bare minimum, a league championship game — and even that might not tilt the scales enough.
Through that lens, seeing the upper bowl opened is a monumental win.
The Whitecaps are trending, slowly and incrementally, back upwards. It’s been a hard sell for former fans of the team, who only dipped below a 20,000 average after 2018-19 season.
While this weekend is a massive win for the franchise, and a telling mile marker, it still comes after a season where they’ve averaged 16,745 fans per game — the second-lowest in their MLS era, just ahead of the 16,399 set … last year. They rank 26th out of the current 29 MLS teams.
But their Decision Day crowd was 25,146 — the biggest since their 2019 season opener — and Sunday’s game is shaping up to be the largest in their MLS history. They’re keeping the season ticket holders they do have, reporting a retention rate of 95.4 per cent, and more than 1,500 new packages sold for next season.
The Lions have been trending upward ever since Amar Doman purchased the team and quickly set about making it visible in the community again. This year, they’ve seen a 13.6 per cent jump in attendance, second only to the defending champion Toronto Argonauts, although the Boatmen are still last overall in CFL attendance.
The Lions are fourth overall with 23,208 fans per game, the highest since 2014. They’ve opened the upper bowl four times this season and six times since June 2022.
“It’s electric,” Lions receiver Justin McInnis said of the B.C. Place atmosphere this season. “You just notice that this year the fans have been by our side all year long, sticking by our side, just making noise.
“I remember being on a different team coming to B.C. Place and it was always kind of quiet. It’s not what it’s been this year. It’s super exciting to know that the fan base is growing, they’re supporting us. Just gotta keep putting on a show for them.”
Both teams have put an emphasis on pre-game activities on Terry Fox Plaza, in the absence of traditional tailgating.
On Saturday, the party starts at noon with the Lions hosting a Backyard Brunch — pancakes, sausage and egg sandwiches, cheeseburgers and hotdogs, as well as $5 beers and $6 mimosas. Their playoff game, with the winner securing a berth in the West Final in Winnipeg, starts at 3:30 p.m.
“You can’t beat November football in Vancouver,” said Lions’ president Duane Vienneau. “As we saw first-hand in last year’s playoff game and some of the bigger regular-season nights in 2023, our stadium has proven to be one of the best in-game experiences across the CFL.”
On Sunday, the Whitecaps kick off their party a few hours before their 4:30 p.m. match with LAFC, rain or shine. LAFC come into town holding a 1-0 advantage in their best-of-three series with Vancouver, after winning the opener 5-2. The winner will face whomever emerges triumphant from the Seattle-Dallas series, which the Sounders lead 1-0.
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