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The proposed B.C. Place sale won’t necessarily have a huge impact on the CFL’s Lions

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NDP leader Adrian Dix (at podium) has promised to investigate selling B.C. Place.

Wednesday's story about B.C. New Democratic Party leader Adrian Dix promising to investigate selling B.C. Place if his party wins May's election (something they currently have a 98.4 per cent chance of doing, according to ThreeHundredEight) obviously has raised some concerns in the CFL community. The facility is run by Crown corporation PavCo, and it underwent an impressive $514 million renovation in 2011. It's the home for the CFL's B.C. Lions (and Major League Soccer's Vancouver Whitecaps), and also is a great venue for Grey Cups; it's hosted the CFL's title game in 2011 and will do so again in 2014. Thus, CFL fans should be interested in what happens to the building. However, even if the facility is sold (not a certainty, as there may not be a huge amount of private-sector interest in it), it's unlikely there would be a substantial impact on the Lions' future.

From The Province, here's what Dix had to say about his proposal:

"When the operation of a facility draws tens of millions in public subsidy every year and has left taxpayers with a mountain of debt, I believe we have to take a close look at whether that's a business that we should be in."

Dix says Pavco has accumulated $1.2-billion in debt and incurs operational losses of tens of millions of dollars a year. If elected on May 14, Dix said he will appoint a panel of business and community experts, who will have 90 days to look at Pavco's books and report back to government. A self-professed sports fan, Dix said he wants to ensure the long-term viability of both sporting franchises, the stadium and the Crown agency.

"If the private sector can do a better job running BC Place while freeing taxpayers of millions of dollars of losses and reducing public debt, we've got a win-win and we will pursue that," said the New Democrat leader, who is heavily favoured in polls to be the next premier of British Columbia.

In some circumstances, that could certainly be concerning. A secure long-term setup to play in a top-quality stadium's crucial for a CFL team's success, and while the Lions appear to have that now, an ownership change could alter the situation. However, the particular setup of B.C. Place means the facility appears to need the Lions just as much as
they need it. It's an excellent facility for football and soccer, but it's large enough (it has a total capacity of upwards of 54,000) to be less than ideal for concerts by any but the biggest-drawing groups, and there are only a few of those out there. Throw in that it's right next to the 19,000ish seat Rogers Arena, which has proven to be an excellent concert venue (and there are plenty of other good ones in Vancouver, too), and it's clear that a lot of B.C. Place's bookings will have to come from events other than concerts. Sure, there are some of those, including trade shows and conventions, but the fancy new Vancouver Convention Centre (opened in 2009, also owned by PavCo) also competes for some of that business. Thus, B.C. Place needs sports, and the Lions and Whitecaps provide the building with crucial anchor tenants. There really aren't a lot of options to replace them.

Of course, that lack of flexibility extends to the teams as well. The Lions are pretty well stuck with B.C. Place at this point (which is far from a bad thing, as the new facility works quite well for football), and the Whitecaps may be as well, despite off-and-on rumblings about trying to build a waterfront, natural-grass stadium. It's not out of the realm of plausibility that a new private-sector owner of B.C. Place could try and jack up the Lions' and Whitecaps' rents given that the teams don't have many other options. However, the stadium needs its sports tenants almost as much as they need it, and that doesn't seem too likely to change regardless of who's running it. Thus, CFL fans shouldn't start panicking about the potential impact of a sale on the Lions just yet.

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