With the Grey Cup, 50 Cent and the Jonas Brothers, the BC Lions are hoping for a record year

The BC Lions are pulling out all the stops for their 70th anniversary

You probably wouldn’t be alone in assuming that the Canadian Football League and the Jonas Brothers seem like a bit of an unlikely mix. But while Randy Ambrosie, the 61-year-old commissioner of the league and former offensive lineman, might not be a huge fan of the boy band, he is in fact, familiar with their game.

“I have three daughters, they were Disney Channel aficionados,” Ambrosie said over lunch at a Vancouver restaurant on Monday a couple hours after the news dropped that the Jonas Brothers would be playing the halftime show for the 111th Grey Cup in Vancouver. “We kept the news very tight. Keeping it from them was difficult. They heard this morning and called me to say that they’re coming to the Grey Cup.”

The announcement is undoubtedly part of an effort to get fans of all ages engaged with the league. That’s something that the CFL’s BC Lions have been very conscious about trying to do since owner Amar Doman took over in 2021. Ticket sales under Doman have steadily risen, in no small part to the acts and special events that he and the Lions front office have been able to secure.

That includes, of course, the home opener, featuring 50 Cent, which is on its way to selling out the upper bowl of BC Place—a rarity for a Lions game. “Amar and [Lions president Duane [Vienneau] provided a lot of leadership around resetting the table, thinking big, being creative and trying new things,” said Ambrosie.

Vienneau joined the Lions in 2022 after previously serving as the CFL’s chief Grey Cup and events officer. So he knows a few things about running these events for the league. Vancouver last hosted a Grey Cup in 2014 (halftime show: Imagine Dragons), and Vienneau predicts that BCers are in for something completely different this time around.

“The last time it was here, there was a different model in place,” he explained. “It used to be that the host team gets the game, pays a bit of a rights fee, makes their plans and then keeps the profit. Those days are over. There’s a bidding structure, you have to outline your intentions in advance and commit to what you’re doing. It’s elevated the Grey Cup across the board. It’ll be double, maybe triple the size of what it was, in terms of the events and activations.”

Pressed about that and exactly what BCers can expect surrounding the game and in the week leading up to it, Vienneau outlined that “traditional Grey Cups in Vancouver haven’t had a lot of outdoor activations. For most of the other markets in the country, it’s always outside. Even if it’s minus-40. So we just said that we’re not going to be scared of the rain.”

That includes plans for a giant family zone with a zipline and rock-climbing walls as well as eSports, the Ultimate CFL experience (where kids get to throw TD passes and run the 40-yard dash) on mini-football fields, as well as multiple free concerts.

Doman, who was essential in booking 50 Cent for the home opener, also had his hands all over the halftime show booking. “Amar has a way better playlist than I do,” said Ambrosie with a laugh. “His level of engagement was phenomenal. He had a good idea of what he wanted—an act that would speak across generations and be a big attraction for younger fans. In that regard, we nailed it.”

The Lions are also playing a game in Doman’s hometown of Victoria. Dubbed “Touchdown Pacific,” the team’s August 31 match against the Ottawa Redblacks at Royal Athletic Park sold out in under an hour. It’s another effort to bring in a diverse set of fans to the team and to the league in general. It’s clearly something on Ambrosie’s mind, as well as Doman’s and Vienneau’s.

Asked what the league’s average fan is, Ambrosie didn’t cite numbers or demographics. “I don’t think we have an average fan,” he said plainly. “What’s happening in all our stadiums is that, and I give the Lions a lot of credit for this, the game-day presentation is so great. You’ll have a song come on… and a mom and her six-year-old daughter will be dancing and singing together on the screen. When you send them home, do they care if the Lions won by five or 50? The memory and the imprint will be on the memory they had together. You watch that and realize that what’s happening is about community.”