The Canadian Football League is coming to Victoria.
Well…for one game at least.
On Wednesday, it was announced that the inaugural Touchdown Pacific game will take place on Aug. 31 when the B.C. Lions host the Ottawa Redblacks at Victoria’s Royal Athletic Park.
Lions Chief Operating Officer Duan Vienneau emphasizes that this will be more than just a football game, it’s going to be a festival.
He should know. Prior to joining the Lions organization, Vienneau was the Chief Grey Cup and Events officer for the CFL and was the point man for Touchdown Atlantic in 2019 and 2022 and saw firsthand all of the events leading up to the game.
“There are a lot of activations similar to what you would see at a Grey Cup but obviously to a smaller extent. Leading up to the game itself, there will be either several days (of activities) depending on the final programming. For example, there would be a festival in downtown Victoria where you’d have some music. You’d have some ‘team rooms’ similar to what you might see at a Grey Cup as well as some sponsor activation. Then we’d also take the teams into the community and do football camps and other kinds of community initiatives that the team might engage in,” Vienneau explained.
The Lions will shift practices to Victoria for at least a few days prior to the game. The possibility of training there for the entire week also under discussion. The Redblacks will also make the trip to the West Coast earlier than usual with a mid-week arrival so they can take part in the initiative as well.
According to Vienneau, the game itself will be unique given the smaller venue of Royal Athletic Park.
“The game will be in a setting of 12 to 14,000 people, which is a much smaller setting than a normal CFL game. The stadium is going to be very tight with a jam-packed atmosphere where the fans are really close to the players and it’s just going to provide great gameday experience,” Vienneau added.
And while the Touchdown Atlantic series was used to gauge the level of interest in the CFL in the Martimes for possible expansion, the Lions and the CFL have no such agenda with the game in Victoria.
Nor is the game going to be an additional revenue stream.
With average attendance at B.C. Place around 25,000, the Lions will lose almost 50% of their normal gate revenue, so clearly the organization isn’t in this for the money. The goal of the game and the activities surrounding it will be to increase awareness in the Lions’ brand and to acknowledge the team’s fans from Vancouver Island.
As Vienneau likes to point out, the team is called the B.C. Lions – not the Vancouver Lions.
“The number one focus for us from a B.C. Lions perspective is that we have we have close to 1,000 people who are seat holders from the island. We also have a lot of casual fans that come across to all of our home games. So being B.C.’s team, we want to do an outreach like we do in Kamloops with training camp and in other cities. This is a way to do that but it’s also going to build our fan base. It’s going to build momentum and keep going with what we’re trying to do as the provinces team,” Vienneau said.
And then there’s the fact that Lions owner Amar Doman is from Victoria and is extremely excited to have the CFL in his hometown.
“It’s very important to him. Obviously, he’s from Victoria — it’s his hometown — and the ability to bring the very first Touchdown Pacific game to Victoria is very special to him” stated Vienneau.
Lions season ticket holders will have the Victoria game as part of their package but for those who won’t make the trip from the Lower Mainland, Vienneau says the football club will be flexible when it comes to providing options to those individuals whether the compensation be tickets to a playoff game or something else.
If you listen to Vienneau however, this will be an event that you won’t want to miss.
“I know from my experience with Touchdown Atlantic that fans will come from all across the country. You’ll see people wearing jerseys from every single team in the league. You’re going to see people just having fun celebrating football, coming to a very beautiful destination and being a part of a unique experience.
“It’s kind of the CFL’s version — the B.C. Lions version — of MLB’s Field of Dreams game. It’s just a different setting and it’s fun,” said Vienneau.
Veteran B.C. sports personality Bob “the Moj” Marjanovich writes twice weekly for Black Press Media.
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