Will the Whitecaps Open the Upper Bowl?

Five matches in 2014 offer the opportunity to increase seating availability at BC Place
by Don McArthur   |   Thursday, November 28, 2013

John Hefti Photography - Nigel Reo-Coker, Vancouver Whitecaps, MLS

Vancouver is not Seattle.

There are numerous factors for the success of the Seattle Sounders at the ticket gate, including the lack of competition during the spring with the loss of the SuperSonics, and on-field success during the first few MLS seasons.

Those factors do not apply to the Whitecaps.

During the first few months of the MLS season, the NHL’s playoffs provide considerable distraction for potential fans in Vancouver, while the CFL season begins in the summer.

The Whitecaps lack of on-field success since joining MLS in 2011 has also prevented the club from expanding the fan base.

However, there does seem to be a growing enthusiasm for watching Whitecaps matches, and that should be able to be translated into more ticket sales at BC Place.

An increase in ticket revenue would be welcome. Forbes recently valued Whitecaps at $86 million, 13th in Major League Soccer. This is in stark contrast to former CEO Paul Barber’s claim that Whitecaps planned to be a Top 25 club in the world.

The current seating configuration at the stadium allows for 21,500 fans to attend, with approximately 6,000 lower bowl seats covered by tarps. The entire upper bowl is blocked off. If the team was to remove the seating restrictions, 54,000 people could watch a Whitecaps match at BC Place. In a recent poll conducted by The Province newspaper, 78% of respondents suggested the team’s position of not opening the upper bowl is the wrong decision.

Of course, nobody wants to see matches in a half empty football stadium. Would 54,000 people show up for a match against Chivas USA? Not in this lifetime.

There are, however, 5 matches on the 2014 schedule that could provide the club an opportunity to increase seating availability and ticket revenue.

First Kick potential

With the league schedule being released so much earlier than past years, there is time to properly market the First Kick match on Saturday, March 8.

This match will begin Whitecaps’ 40th anniversary celebrations, and therefore would be fitting of a large spectacle.

The opponent, defending Supporters’ Shield champions Red Bull New York will make their first visit to BC Place since 2012. It will likely be the last time Vancouver fans will have the chance to watch Thierry Henry live.

Of course, there is also the likely chance Henry develops a mysterious injury days before Red Bulls’ visit to Vancouver. The French star’s lack of love for turf fields has been well documented over the years.

If Whitecaps could rely on Henry playing, the 1st match of 2014 would be a perfect opportunity to remove the lower bowl tarps, and even open part of the upper bowl.

No Becks, no problem against LA

Robbie Keane’s LA Galaxy will make their lone visit to Vancouver on Saturday, April 19.

While the Galaxy no longer boast a line-up with David Beckham, they do still have recognizable stars, and play an entertaining brand of football. While opening the upper bowl may be a stretch, removing the lower bowl tarps, which would increase seating to 27,500, is a no-brainer for this match.

Cascadia title defense

On Saturday, May 24, Whitecaps host arch-rivals Seattle Sounders in the first Cascadia match of the year at BC Place.

Whitecaps will be looking to begin their Cascadia Cup title defense strongly, while the Sounders will have their sights set on winning the title for the first time since 2011.

There will no doubt be over 1,000 travelling supporters from Seattle, as usual.

If marketed properly, there is potential to sell out BC Place for this match. No, not a 21,500 seat artificial sellout. The club could pack 54,000 fans into the stadium for this one.

World Cup fervor

Seattle Sounders return to BC Place again in July. While it’s unlikely a second home match would draw as well as the first, there are some special considerations involving this date.

The sporting world will be focused on the beautiful game, as World Cup quarterfinal matches occur earlier in the day. Many Vancouverites will be downtown watching World Cup matches at bars and cafes.

It is also the first day of Latincouver’s Carnaval del Sol. Countless thousands of people will descend upon downtown to celebrate Latin culture, which will include a street soccer tournament modelled after the World Cup.

If the Whitecaps marketing team can convince people to stay downtown and attend the Cascadia match at BC Place, there is an opportunity to open a portion, or all, of the upper bowl.

Final Cascadia match

The Cascadia Cup competition is usually tightly contested, often being decided on the final match day. Saturday, Aug. 30, will be the final Cascadia match of the year in Vancouver, and second last overall.

The opponent will be Portland Timbers, who will make their only visit of 2014 to Vancouver. As such, their will be a large contingent of Portlandians in attendance.

More than any match date on the calendar, this game has the potential for a complete stadium sellout.

If Whitecaps truly strive to be a top club, they will have to increase their fan base. The only way to do that is to open up the stadium and allow fans to attend the games.

Don MCARTHUR

Nationality:
Canada
College:
Capilano
Club Domestic:
Vancouver Whitecaps
Club Foreign:
River Plate, FCB, Rangers
Never invited for a tryout with Whitecaps, so writes about them instead. Leading a double life in Calgary & Vancouver. Lived and watched the beautiful game in places as far-flung as Toronto and Buenos Aires. Lover of cities and [most of] their citizens.
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