Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Surrey Stadium Interest Welcome, But Fraught with Risk

In today's Vancouver Province, Surrey Mayor Dianne Watts invited the Whitecaps to consider her city as an alternate site for the new stadium. She also suggested the Whitecaps could get swift passage of the stadium through council if they were to move.

It's good to see a mayor who understands the importance of having sports infrastructure and professional teams as part of a vibrant city. Mayor Watts is working hard to establish Surrey as an urban centre of its own, and its population should easily outstrip Vancouver's within a decade. It's only natural to believe that a stadium could play an important role in the urban renewal of Whalley. This should serve as a vital wakeup call to Vancouver City Council on what they stand to lose by standing on the sidelines in the stadium debate.

Surrey, no doubt, is growing. The city has great minor soccer associations and an excellent system of all-weather fields for players of all ages. On the participation front, it's a great soccer city. But before the Whitecaps look at a Surrey proposal, the City of Surrey needs to thoroughly understand the tremendous risk the Whitecaps would be taking with such a move. The perils are not inconsiderable.

Surrey has no history of supporting successful pro sports teams. It's only professional sports venture was in 1995 with the short-lived minor league pro baseball team, the Surrey Glaciers. They survived one season, and taxpayers were left on the hook for a $2 million renovation of the Stetson Bowl. While things may have changed since then, it's important to know that Surrey would be asking the Whitecaps to move to an untried, untested city. Most major league teams are granted to cities that have a long track record of supporting pro sports at a lower level. Surrey doesn't have this.

While the Province is quick to shrug off the lack of corporate support the Whitecaps would have in Surrey, it is in fact vital to operating a MLS team, or any professional franchise. While both the Canucks and the BC Lions have solid fan bases, both teams would not be able to compete or even be in danger of folding if they could not attract corporate support. Corporate support and television revenues are what allow the Canucks and the Lions to meet their payrolls and attract the talented players that fans are constantly demanding. MLS is no different than any other sports league in this respect. A MLS version of the Whitecaps would have higher player expenses than the BC Lions, but lower television revenues. To suggest that they could survive solely on gate receipts is naive at best. It's unreasonable to ask the Whitecaps to operate at this disadvantage.

The interest from Surrey's mayor is a refreshing change from the silence and inaction of Vancouver's politicians. But why should the Whitecaps have to purchase more land and carry the entire risks of building a stadium in an unproven city? I believe she needs to come up with with good answers to these questions before approaching the Whitecaps.

Bill Currie
Friends of Soccer

1 comment:

AP said...

I'm as big a soccer fan as any from Vancouver. Despite the fact that I no longer live in Vancouver, or Canada, for that matter, I would still be a season ticket holder for the Whitecaps playing at a purpose-built, downtown stadium. I highly doubt I'd ever go to a game if the 'Caps moved to Surry, even when I do return to Vancouver.