WATCH: The B.C. Lions and the Vancouver Whitecaps don’t compete in the same sport, but they do compete for fans. Barry Deley looks at who is winning.
The Vancouver Whitecaps and B.C. Lions share a stadium and attract roughly the same number of fans to their home games, but the two teams appear to be heading in opposite directions.
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The Whitecaps, who currently sit atop MLS standings after a 2-0 win over the Colorado Rapids on Wednesday, have developed a young, diverse fan base that brings an undeniable buzz and energy to B.C. Place.
“You only need to look out at the crowd or watch the crowd coming in on a game day and it’s families, it’s ethnic groups, hipsters–I think that’s what they call them–so from that perspective we feel like we’ve got a fan base that can grow with us,” said Whitecaps President Bob Lenarduzzi.
The Lions are struggling to attract a younger, more diverse demographic and their 4-5 record isn’t helping matters. The Leos have reduced seating capacity, but still have 6,000 to 7,000 empty seats per game.
“We have an older demographic, but one that continues to trend in the right way with younger people, but I’d say not to the same ratio as the aging demographic is,” said Lions President and CEO Dennis Skulsky.
Youth sports may be a factor. Around 130,000 kids play soccer in B.C. compared to just a few thousand who play football. The Whitecaps work with BC Soccer and the Canadian Soccer Association to get young players in the stands.
“Every game day we have a youth soccer group in and that number can be anywhere from 1,000 up to 2,500,” said Lenarduzzi.
Geography may also be an issue. Many Lions fans are based in the Fraser Valley, which translates into a long drive into downtown Vancouver to watch a losing team.
Skulsky admits the team has to get back to its winning ways if it wants to attract fans of all ages.
“The best marketing is winning, the second best marketing is winning. The third best marketing in this marketplace is playing an exciting brand of football. You need that to attract people and to keep them here,” said Skulsky.
-With files from Barry Deley