B.C.'s CFL team gets a new look on and off the field

Lions have a new vibe

The BC Lions have under-gone a major makeover on and off the field over the past year.

The Canadian Football League (CFL) team has gone from the third worst record in the league in 2021 to second best this year. The 2022 season was headlined by the team’s star quarterback, Victoria-born Nathan Rourke, who was having a record-setting season before he suffered a season-ending injury last month in a game against the Saskatchewan Roughriders.

Rourke had helped lead the Lions to the team’s first winning season in five years. That on-field success had begun to translate to increased attendance for a team whose profile in the local professional sports business landscape has suffered a series of hits ranging from an aging fan demographic to COVID 19-related CFL-wide shutdowns. This year, the team’s home opener sold out BC Place’s lower bowl, which required the venue to open rarely used sections in the stadium’s upper bowl for fans.

But, Rourke’s breakout season is not the only reason for the team’s box office success.

A winning record is also attracting more fans to the downtown stadium. The last time there were no attendance restrictions at BC Place was 2019, when the team had a losing season with five wins and 13 losses. Before Rourke’s injury, the Lions’ record was eight wins and one loss and, according to Duane Vienneau, BC Lions’ chief operating officer, ticket sales were 25 per cent higher than they were up to the same point in 2019.

Aside from the makeover of the team roster, the Lions organization has gone through a radical change. A little over a year ago, Amar Doman, chair of Doman Building Materials Group and founder and CEO of asset management firm Futura Corp., bought the team from the estate of David Braley, who had owned the team since the late 1990s.

Details of the deal were not disclosed, but the last offer for the team was in 2017 and in the range of $14 million.

Vienneau said the organization has made a conscious effort to revamp the in-game experience – an important strategy to attract fans regardless of the team’s winning percentage.

Vienneau, who joined the team recently, had previously watched the team from the sidelines as the CFL’s chief Grey Cup and events officer.

“From the outside looking in, you could just feel the excitement starting to generate,” said Vienneau. “You could start to feel the vibe change ... you just felt a real strong presence, that we’re making a statement.”

It’s not just younger energy that Doman brings to the team.

Vienneau said that his connection to the community and his desire to make BC Lions fandom a part of B.C.’s fabric is a significant contributor to the team’s newfound success.

He added that Doman’s vision statement is to have every child who plays football in B.C. wear- ing something with a BC Lions logo on it. He wants people in British Columbia to be proud of the team and have the BC Lions be a marquee franchise across the country. Achieving that means more than just fielding a winning team. It requires establishing the Lions as a contributing member to B.C.’s sports and overall community.

“You can try and build excitement all you want. But what takes it to the next level is that team winning on the field,” said Vienneau. “Everyone just wants to see a winner.“

He added that the on-field product and the game-day experience need to work hand-in-hand.

“If you’re not ready to be a winning club and capitalize on it, then you’re not [going to achieve financial success].”

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