The CFL is apparently set to hand Vancouver its second Grey Cup in four years. When Bob Mackin broke the news last month that the B.C. government had set aside $2.7 million to host the Grey Cup in 2014, it seemed like a long shot. Vancouver last hosted in 2011, suggesting there would be plenty of cities ahead in the queue (including Winnipeg and their new stadium), and a 2014 Grey Cup in Vancouver means that B.C. Lions' owner David Braley (who also owns the Toronto Argonauts) will reap the rewards from hosting three Grey Cups in four years. However, Mackin reported Thursday that the Lions are hosting a major press conference at B.C. Place Friday morning, and when he asked club president Dennis Skulsky if it was about the 2014 Grey Cup, Skulsky said "I think that’s a safe assumption." That strongly suggests that the league has in fact opted to go with Vancouver yet again, and that should raise significant questions for CFL observers.
Simply put, hosting the Grey Cup is widely believed to be the most important way to make money in the CFL, and it tends to come with a pile of cash. A Toronto Star report last November suggested that Braley was set to make up to $10 million off hosting the 2012 game, and while that doesn't quite mean the federal government was funding Braley, it does mean that the league was directing a lot of revenues his way for the second year in a row. At the time, that wasn't really questionable: Vancouver was a logical site for the 2011 game (the city hadn't hosted since 2005 at that point), and Toronto was the obvious destination for the 2012 edition, the historic 100th Grey Cup. However, there seems to be very little reason to go back to Vancouver in 2014.
Some will point out reports that apparently B.C. and Winnipeg were the only teams bidding for 2014, which seems bizarre given the benefits of hosting the Grey Cup, but even if they were the only ones in the running, it's remarkable that the Lions would be chosen over the Bombers. Winnipeg hasn't hosted since 2006, and they have a shiny new field that's reportedly on schedule to open at the start of this year. There have been suggestions that they'll get the 2015 Grey Cup instead, as Rod Pedersen writes, but picking B.C. over Winnipeg in 2014 would be extraordinarily curious. The logical explanation is that the Bombers have decided to withdraw their 2014 bid in favour of gunning for 2015, but that also seems odd; surely having the revenues from a Grey Cup sooner rather than later would help to pay off some of their construction loans. Also, in 2015 there will be two more logical candidates to compete with: Ottawa and Hamilton. Winnipeg, Ottawa and Hamilton should all get Grey Cups in their new stadiums the next few years, and that's going to produce a substantial queue. It's tough from the outside to understand why the league would opt in favour of a B.C. return over getting started on that queue, particularly when you consider that Vancouver has hosted 15 Grey Cups over the years, more than any city besides Toronto.
This isn't to impugn B.C.'s hosting ability, and there are some factors in favour of the move. The biggest one is the massive $2.7 million subsidy the provincial government's budgeted for the event (some will undoubtedly consider that a Hail Mary to attract some popularity by a party projected to have just a 2.4 per cent chance of winning May's provincial election), which should allow for an impressive Grey Cup Festival. Vancouver also did a terrific job with the 2011 game, and there are great facilities in the city, including the impressively revamped B.C. Place and the new convention centre (which hosted many of the team parties and such in 2011, and will likely do so again in 2014). A Grey Cup in Vancouver should be a fine event.
It's just curious to see one team get to host the league's biggest game two times in four years, and to see one owner reap the benefits from doing so three times during that span. Braley may own 25 per cent of the league, but he's getting 75 per cent of the Grey Cups over four years; he's also getting them at an exceptionally convenient time, as he's said he'll sell the Lions by the time he's 75 and he turns 72 in May. This corner doesn't tend to subscribe to the conspiracy theories that have arisen around Braley, but giving him yet another Grey Cup sure isn't going to silence those. Another Grey Cup in B.C. will be fine for the fans, and it will be exceptionally good for the Lions and for Braley. Whether it will be good for the CFL as a whole is much more questionable.