BC Sports Box Office: The Vancouver Bandits are hitting new highs with fresh owners

The Vancouver Bandits of the Canadian Elite Basketball League have a new name, new owners and an uptick in ticket sales

It’s going phenomenal,” says Dylan Kular, president of the Langley-based Vancouver Bandits of the Canadian Elite Basketball League when I reach him on the phone in the summer. Sure, things haven’t been exactly perfect on the court, where the Bandits were 5–10 in mid-July. But when it comes to box-office performance, the team was second in average attendance, starting with a home opener that drew more than 4,500 fans to the Langley Events Centre. “Ticket numbers have gone up 40 percent and people are super engaged with the games. It’s very nice to see,” he says.

As an inaugural franchise of the CEBL, this is the Bandits’ (formerly called Fraser Valley, now Vancouver) fifth season in the league. It’s also the squad’s first year under new ownership after mining entrepreneur Bryan Slusarchuk and real estate developer Kevin Dhaliwal bought the team last year. The Bandits became the second team in league history to be purchased privately.

The owners, heavily involved in the basketball community in the Fraser Valley, have put an emphasis on both the fan experience and the ticket prices at games.

“The moment you park outside the venue, you’re getting that experience,” says Kular. “Buffets, player warmups, face-painting, arcades, a flea market, DJs playing, post-game autographs and shooting on the court.”

Kular notes that while the club still has premium pricing for courtside seats and upper deck suites, the owners wanted to create entry level pricing so young families, particularly those hit hard by COVID, could come out to games. “The $15 ticket has been one of our most popular tickets and that’s part of why we’ve seen the ticket increases,”
he says.

Much of what the Bandits do revolves around building community around the basketball scene in the Lower Mainland. That’s one of the main reasons the owners were drawn to the cause. “They were impressed by what they do in community and wanted to find a way to enhance that and add fuel to the fire,” says Kular, citing the team’s Indigenous Basketball Collective, Kids Club and BC Basketball Festival, among other initiatives. “I would argue that we’re one of the most engaged pro sports franchises at the grassroots level.”

Player to watch

Former G-League (the NBA’s farm system) player Giorgi Bezhanishvili (centre) brings in quite the crowd at Bandits games. The Georgian attracts some 30 or 40 of his fellow expats for every match. “We had 36 at a recent game,” says Bandits president Dylan Kular. “They come with families, friends, they’re all waving the Georgia flag.” Bezhanishvili, a forward, is in the top three on the team in points, rebounds, assists and steals.