55 Yard Line - CFL

It's very early to be talking about the CFL in 2011, considering that there's still one week of the 2010 regular season left. There's one aspect of the 2011 season that has been prominently in the news over the last few days, however, and that's the renovations to B.C. Place (pictured at right, with the old roof at top and a picture of the ongoing renovations below), which will be hosting the Grey Cup game next November.

There was a big press conference this morning on the 2011 Grey Cup, and Jim Morris of The Canadian Press has the details. The most important part of that conference might be the comments by David Podmore (chairman of the B.C. Pavilion Corporation, the Crown corporation that oversees B.C. Place) on exactly when the new stadium will be ready for use by the Lions and Major League Soccer's Vancouver Whitecaps. Those comments directly conflict with ones made Sunday by David Braley, owner of the Lions and the Toronto Argonauts. We'll get to Braley's comments below, but first, here's Podmore:

"The building will be completed in the fall of 2011,'' said Podmore, chairman of the B.C. Pavilion Corp., known locally as PavCo. "There was a possibility, and it remains a possibility, for use before that but the building won't be complete.

"We will get them (Lions and Whitecaps) in as quickly as we can into the new building. We have made the decision we're not going to bring in any events into the building until it's totally complete.''

Podmore became irritated when it was pointed out a fall move-in date could span several possible months.

"I've answered your question,'' he said. "If we can do it earlier, we will.''

What is particularly interesting about Podmore's comments is that they appear to be in direct conflict with what Braley said publicly just a day earlier, when Bob Marjanovich interviewed him at halftime on the Team 1410 radio broadcast of the Lions' clash with Saskatchewan. You can find that interview via the Team's podcast of the first half, a free download through iTunes. The interview starts at the 1:22:25 mark, and the notable part is at 1:24:50 when Marjanovich asks Braley about when B.C. Place will be ready (commenting that he's heard that it might not be for the entire season). Here's my transcription of Braley's response:

"I understood that we were approximately a month or so behind schedule approximately six or eight weeks, 10 weeks ago, but everything's been caught up and we're now actually a week ahead of schedule right now. I anticipate somewhere between June the first and Labour Day at the latest, but it probably will be sometime in the summertime that we'll be in the stadium. It would be tremendous to open the season in the stadium."

Marjanovich then asks, "Are you hoping that that will be the case? Is that a long shot?" and Braley responds, "It's not a long shot. I think they're right on schedule unless we have some major, major weather problems. They're trying to erect the rest of those big piers and what have you. It will be sometime before Labour Day for sure. It will be in the summer."

There's obviously a substantial gulf between the two Davids' impressions of how the work is going, as the timeframe Braley laid out Sunday (between June and Labour Day) and the one Podmore set out one day later (somewhere in the fall) are quite different. That could be rationalized by Podmore's comments that there's a "possibility" for use before the renovation is fully finished, but he appeared to refute those in the next paragraph of Morris' story where he said, "We have made the decision we're not going to bring in any events into the building until it's totally complete." It could also be that Braley's being optimistic and Podmore's being overly conservative. Regardless of the cause of the discrepancy, though, just the fact that there appears to be one this substantial is certainly worthy of note.

By themselves, Podmore's comments wouldn't be all that notable. It's been rumoured for a long while that the renovated stadium probably wouldn't be ready until at least midway through next year's CFL schedule (and close to the end of the Whitecaps' MLS schedule), and both teams have previously announced that they're going to start the 2010 season at Empire Field. As I discussed here earlier, that has both benefits and drawbacks; Empire Field offers great sightlines and an old-time football experience, but does have plenty of issues, including constant lineups, extremely limited food and beverage services, minimal bathrooms, transportation challenges and a lack of corporate boxes and suites. Those issues (as well as the team's poor play) have hurt the Lions' attendance and profitability this year, as Ed Willes of The Province covered this past weekend.

As a temporary facility, Empire Field works, but you can bet the Lions will be eager to get back to B.C. Place as quickly as possible. What makes the discrepancy between Podmore and Braley's comments so interesting is that the effect on the Lions' bottom line from playing at Empire Field is substantial, as Braley told Morris:

Braley said the move cost him about 1,600 season-ticket holders a game and three major sponsors.

After several years of turning a profit, the Lions will be lucky to break even this year.

"We knew that was going to happen and we budgeted for it,'' Braley said.

"I didn't lose a lot of money. We have no idea at this point if we are going to be up $100,000 or down $100,000."

The financial impact of which stadium the Lions are playing in makes the date of the renovations' completion quite important. The team should haul in a fair chunk of change next year regardless thanks to hosting the lucrative Grey Cup, but exactly how much they bring in will be affected by how many regular-season games they're able to schedule in the 2011 season. The most important part of that may be the luxury and corporate box revenue; according to Braley, they had 36 boxes at the old B.C. Place, currently have seven at Empire Field (pictured at right below) and will have 80 next year at the new B.C. Place. Corporate revenue is a huge part of professional sports in this day and age, and that revenue's obviously going to change dramatically based on how many home dates they have at B.C. Place.

It's noted in Morris' piece that the league and the Lions may try and rearrange the schedule to have them open the season with several games on the road, which is also significant; you could make an argument that that could be either competitively detrimental (a, long, tough road trip to start the year) or beneficial (a disproportionate number of home games down the stretch) to the team. The two sides of that probably cancel each other out, so it wouldn't necessarily be a big deal if the league did arrange the schedule that way, but off-field considerations affecting on-field events always carries a certain potential for controversy.

It's not clear why there's such a big day-to-day discrepancy on the estimated completion of the renovations (perhaps things changed since the last time Braley was updated on the project?), but it's notable that that gap exists. This hasn't exactly been the most consistent project throughout, though. It was originally proposed as a $365 million project and was crucial to Vancouver's bid for an MLS franchise, but then received threats of being axed by one political party in the most recent provincial elections (but only for a few days), faced threatened cancellation from the province's other major political party and current government, eventually went ahead after much delay and debate and had the cost balloon from the original $365 million to the current total of $565 million ($458 million of which is for the roof). The opening date might just be the latest shift on this project, but it's one that will be highly significant for the Lions* and it's a story that's well worth following over the coming months.

(*Yes, I've noticed a tendency for this site to become rather heLeocentric today, but I recommend taking the advice of .gif Henry Burris if you're unhappy with that.)

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