How the BC Lions secured their largest home crowd in eight years

The CFL team is changing up the atmosphere under its new owner.

BC Lions

Credit: BC Lions on Twitter. BC Place will be packed on Saturday as the BC Lions are opening the upper bowl for the first time in years. 

The CFL team is changing up the atmosphere under its new owner

When Amar Doman bought the BC Lions in August of last year, he did it with a promise. “I’m motivated, most of all, by the future I see ahead for this franchise. I am extremely excited to get started,” said the founder of the Vancouver-based Futura Corporation.

So far, Doman is delivering on that promise, at least when it comes to injecting a renewed sense of excitement into a franchise that has underwhelmed in the market for the last few years. Saturday’s season opener against the Edmonton Elks at BC Place will mark the first time in eight years that the team will be opening up the upper bowl for a game. The Lions expect over 30,000 fans for the contest.

“There are a few factors to it,” explains Lions communications manager Matt Baker. “One, our owner has a vision to make these games an event—it’s not just the game, our event starts when the customer leaves the door for BC Place.”

To that end, the organization has tried to embed the game with other events, like concerts from Bif Naked and Grammy-nominated pop group OneRepublic. “That’s a big league type act,” Baker says of the latter. “They played the Grey Cup in 2016, they played halftime of Rams-Bears in Week 1 of the NFL. So we had a strong uptake in sales for the concert for sure.”

Other factors Baker notes are being able to run at full capacity with lightened COVID restrictions and a new era of Lions football with a new starting quarterback in the Victoria-born Nathan Rourke, who broke records at Ohio University.

Baker knows that winning will be important in the market as teams like the Canucks and Whitecaps are seemingly going through valleys. “We wish all the teams in the market nothing but success. I’m a firm believer that if all teams in the market are winning, it’s better for everyone,” he says. “It’s better for fans and customers. That being said, with the soccer team being inconsistent—and we wish them the very best—it’s definitely an opportunity in this market to win some games, capture some attention for the long haul here.”

The Lions will be chasing a younger demographic, from the grassroots level on up. “We have to start them young,” says Baker. “The demographics of the Lower Mainland have changed—there’s not a lot of people whose parents necessarily grew up with Canadian football. Diversity is a great pillar of Vancouver.”

It’s no surprise, then, that the team’s next home contest (June 25) will be dubbed its Diversity Is Strength game as the organization tries to engage with its fans on every possible level.

That engagement will also involve tons of content, both on and off the field. “We have to win and keep selling football,” says Baker, who notes that the team recently released a behind-the-scenes documentary called Arrow Up and has a podcast hosted by Baker himself and Nick Kowalski (1st and Now). We’re big into storytelling—videos, articles, podcasts. This is one game so far and we’re definitely doing everything we can to make all nine home games the best possible events we can.”