The best thing the BC Lions have done this season is raise the sails at BC Place and limit the capacity of the arena. It’s a move that was heavily criticized by CFL football purists, and even a few in the media. Perhaps, it’s tough to admit what the CFL is, and, that is a 20-30,000 arena capacity league. There’s no shame in that. None. People, and specifically, families have so many options available to them, that travelling downtown or walking a few blocks over to catch a football game isn’t the only option available anymore.
So, the team put the sails up, and problem solved right? Stands won’t look so empty on TV? The atmosphere will improve? People will come in droves? Hold your horses, if anything, this season has proved that the BC Lions have lost their silver medal position on the city’s sports team podiums. That position belongs to the Vancouver Whitecaps, as they are arguably the second hottest ticket in town behind that ice hockey club that plays in Rogers Arena. All hope is not lost though, there are five things the BC Lions can do to help ticket sales, presented below in no particular order.
1. Blackouts. Has there been a worse idea in sports today? The BC Lions have a home game, you can’t make it to the stadium, so you decide to watch it at home, but, lo and behold the game is blacked out. It’s happened before, and the Lions have said that they’ve entertained the idea on bringing local blackouts back. Maybe, you pull in a few more staunch fans, but you’re not going to find any new fans with such a maneuver. I’ll give you case study to compare, locally every baseball fan seemed to be either a Seattle Mariner or Toronto Blue Jays fan – and it’s not all to do with how the teams are performing. It’s a lot to do with how much they’re shoved down peoples throats. If you’re a baseball fan, you’ll watch whatever baseball is on, and if it’s consistently the Jays or the Mariners, you’ll likely end up becoming more familiar with the team than if no games were on TV. There’s a reason there’s a bunch of folks in Ontario who support the Tigers, and in the Atlantic, who support the Red Sox – they’re much more accessible. You want the casual football or sports fan flipping through the 50 high definition channels and landing on your product.
2. Marketing. You know what’s the most unique thing about CFL Football? It’s not the length of the field, it’s not the number of downs, or even the number of teams. It’s the fans. The league is built all around its die hard fan bases, and fan bases that often travel pretty well. If you know a 40 year old who has spent most of their life in Canada, they’ll likely have a favorite CFL team or memory, and it won’t just be a generic highlight reel play, it’ll be told to you with feeling. The NFL is often praised for having the craziest fans, Seattle has built an entire empire around it – but that league doesn’t cater and foster the fan and team relationship. You just need to go to a Grey Cup to see how fan driven this league is, the last one was in here in Vancouver, and I spent my time wondering around, trying to capture the stories of the people who make this league run. Just search #humansofgreycup on Instagram for the result of that. CFL Marketing in the past has focused on how some of its players are accountants on the side, and linebackers in the league. All that did was create the perception of it being some kind of glorified rec league. The BC Lions need to take a page out of the Vancouver Whitecaps marketing and promote the fans, they’ve tried this season, but compare the efforts below
3. Promotions. The Vancouver Canadians play a short season, they have a team of players that no one knows, in a league with eight teams. Sound familiar? The Vancouver Canadians have done so incredibly well with seating and fans, that they just recently added an extension to the historic Nat Bailey Stadium to cater to even more fans. The pessimist may say, the capacity of the Nat is a fraction of BC Place, and tickets are so incredibly affordable. Well, there are many a show, and many a game in this great city that you can take in on any day that the Canadians play – yet 6,000 or so choose to attend a Vancouver Canadians game for a variety of reasons. One of them being the quality of promotions the team has, whether it’s a corporate sponsored night, where a 1,000 umbrellas are handed out, or a bobblehead night, where a 1000 people are lined up a hour before, or even a ‘Superstar Signing’ where people will often wait hours in line to get a ‘baseball legend’ to sign something, their promotions hit home. Fridge magnets these are not. You constantly hear people speculating that the NFL, more specifically the Seattle Seahawks are stealing the BC Lions fans. If that’s the case, why not capitalize on it? For the record, if a fan is driving down to Seattle to watch a NFL game, they weren’t hemming and hawing between the Lions and the Hawks – it just doesn’t happen. Before the NFL season kicks off, why not bring up a Russell Wilson for a meet and greet in stadium, a Warren Moon, a Doug Flutie, there’s likely a long list of NFL fan favorites who would come out and do a meet and greet.
4. Social Media. The old, grumpy man in the corner will shake his head at social media boosting ticket sales, but, it’s important to remember that he’s old, and likely grumpy because he doesn’t understand all of this hullabaloo.
- The BC Lions have 12,000 followers on Instagram, and average roughly 250 likes a post
- The Vancouver Whitecaps have close to 44,000 followers on Instagram, and average roughly 700 likes a post
- The Vancouver Canadians have just under 2,500 followers on Instagram, and average roughly 1oo likes a post
Those numbers are quite telling – out of the three teams, one of them is grossly under performing. The BC Lions account isn’t fun, it doesn’t share the personality of the team or the players, there’s not a ton of behind the scenes or ‘Only in the CFL’ moments captured. There is no fan driven, or fan focused content. There’s a whole market that literally only interacts with the world via social media, as sad of a statement as that may be – they’re still potential fans, and ultimately customers.
5. Supporters Section. The Vancouver Whitecaps get all the praise in the city for having ‘the best sporting atmosphere’ – largely thanks to the major supporters clubs, the Southsiders, Raincity Brigade, and Curva Collective. Have you ever seen a hardcore BC Lions fan? They’re often covered in face paint, holding a drum, and screaming at the top of their lungs the entire game. They’re scattered throughout the stadium though. Why not incent them to sit in a section or two, have the noise emanate from one space, allow them to organize, and encourage them to encourage noise throughout the game. On the flip side of that, have a section strictly for families, and have the seats be made extra affordable in a non-alcohol section. They used to have something like this sponsored by Global BC, I don’t think it’s around anymore, if it’s not, here’s a rough estimate of what a ticket costs a family of four today to attend a BC Lions game:
Tickets – $176 ($44 per ticket(cheapest in the house)
$30 parking (that’s a rough average, it’d be about the same if you skytrain to the game as four, and park your car at a park and ride)
$60 food and beverage (to be fair this is likely pretty conservative, if a family decides to eat out before or after the game it’d be much higher)
All in all that’s roughly $266 on one night of entertainment. Is the experience worth that price point?