55 Yard Line - CFL

There's been a considerable amount of uncertainty around the opening date of the new B.C. Place (model pictured above) ever since construction began, but that appears to have been cleared up. Back in November, I interviewed Warren Buckley, the president and CEO of PavCo (B.C. Pavilion Corporation, the Crown corporation that oversees B.C. Place), and he told me they'd be finished midway through September. There has been plenty of speculation since that suggested the true opening date would be much later, and Bob Mackin of 24 Hours Vancouver managed to obtain minutes from a Sept. 30 PavCo construction committee meeting that said the building would be "substantially completed" by Nov. 1. However, PavCo announced today that the whole project is expected to be completed by Sept. 30. Here's what PavCo chair David Podmore had to say:

"There's still a lot of work to do of course, but we have an exceptional team of skilled tradespeople, designers, engineers and construction professionals involved in this project," said David Podmore, chair of the BC Pavilion Corporation (PavCo).

"Our September 30th scheduled completion is also dependent on weather or other factors beyond our control. While we will do our level best to be ready on that date, we will, of course, always put the safety of our talented and dedicated workers ahead of any other consideration. Nonetheless, construction at BC Place is progressing so well, that we are now at a point where we can confidently set the re-opening date," Podmore added. "By committing to completion by September 30th, the BC Lions, Vancouver Whitecaps FC, and their respective leagues are now able to finalize their plans for 2011."

Of course, that's far from an ironclad guarantee the new stadium will be ready then. As Mackin writes, it's also possible the reopening could come later even if the stadium is completed on schedule. Still, this is promising news for the Lions, as they now have a date to go by.

The date itself also looks pretty good for the Lions. The 2011 CFL schedule hasn't yet been released, but if we go by the 2010 one, this would be completed in time for Week 14's games. As Lowell Ullrich points out, the completion date is a Friday, and that could mean a Friday Night Football debut for the new stadium; PavCo, TSN and the Lions would probably all love that. Even if the schedule doesn't turn out that way, though, the Lions should have six games between Sept. 30 and the end of the regular season. If those are split evenly home-and-away, they'd get three regular-season home games in the new stadium; that's not perfect, but it's a substantial boost over only having it ready for the playoffs. If the CFL schedule's tweaked to allow for this, though, the Lions could wind up hosting even more games down the stretch. There are some competitive balance questions there, to be sure, but they'd also have to go on extended road trips earlier in the year, so there are ways to even it out.

Why does the date matter so much? Well, for one thing, it's important for fans (and particularly those considering buying season tickets). The temporary stadium at Empire Field is an interesting atmosphere, but its infrastructure is limited and it isn't really equipped to handle big crowds. The renovated B.C. Place should be a better experience on both those fronts, although the proof will be in the pudding. Knowing the projected opening date should allow the Lions to develop plans to try and entice season-ticket buyers. It's also valuable for the facility and its staff to have a few test runs before hosting the Grey Cup; having the biggest game of the year be one of the first ones in a stadium is far from ideal from most perspectives.

What's even more critical for the Lions, though, is the jump in luxury and corporate boxes, where much of professional sports revenue comes from these days. The Lions went from having 36 boxes at the old B.C. Place to seven at Empire Field, and are expected to have 80 in the new B.C. Place. That's a huge revenue boost, and how many games they have it for may drastically impact their bottom line this coming year. If PavCo is able to stick to a Sept. 30 completion date, that isn't ideal for the team, but it's certainly much more positive than opening the new stadium in the playoffs or just before the Grey Cup.

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