Van­cou­ver’s sports teams in trou­ble

The Prince George Citizen - - Opinion - KIRK LAPOINTE

If a lo­cal me­dia out­let is a busi­ness with a com­mu­nity’s soul, a lo­cal sports franchise is a busi­ness with a com­mu­nity’s mood. The joys and sor­rows at­tached to their ac­com­plish­ments serve as ther­mome­ters and barom­e­ters, a vast swath of a city’s talk­ing points, and even an eco­nomic in­dex for bars, restau­rants, sport­ing goods sales – for that mat­ter, for in­spir­ing sport par­tic­i­pa­tion.

Which is why 2019 is the Sum­mer Hor­ri­bilis in Van­cou­ver. The B.C. Lions, Van­cou­ver Whitecaps and Van­cou­ver Cana­di­ans have es­tab­lished dis­tress­ing new lows for their fran­chises and, in the case of the Lions and Whitecaps, es­tab­lished new chal­lenges to their busi­ness mod­els.

To be fair, it is far less of an is­sue for the Cana­di­ans, the en­try-level pro­fes­sional sin­gle-A base­ball franchise that is the envy of the mi­nor leagues.

The team’s ter­ri­ble start gets a do-over mid-sea­son be­cause of the pe­cu­liar league rules that pro­vide a fresh set of stand­ings for the sea­son’s sec­ond half. Fin­ish first in the sec­ond half and they’re in the play­offs, and in the last three weeks the team has shown signs of life. Let’s not worry.

The fans are still happy be­cause the vibe at the Sco­tia­bank Field at Nat Bai­ley Sta­dium is the town’s best. Fam­i­lies come for the sushi, mas­cot races, the danc­ing field crew, the cozy con­fines and, sure, base­ball.

With that good news out of the way, though, there are truly trou­bling signs for Cana­dian foot­ball and global foot­ball in this city, and for dif­fer­ent rea­sons.

The Lions’ in­her­ent dif­fi­cul­ties are prin­ci­pally de­mo­graphic – an el­derly fan base in­suf­fi­ciently rejuvenati­ng – but its ef­fort to re­gen­er­ate is im­peded by an un­ex­pected fal­ter­ing on the field.

The team’s bold off-sea­son move to sign quar­ter­back Mike Reilly, ar­guably the league’s best and high­est-paid player, was ex­pected to pay quick div­i­dends.

But the changeover in the team and its coach­ing staff has yielded only one win in seven starts, and there are only so many times you can play the Toronto Arg­onauts.

The crowd Satur­day was mid­dling for its an­nual Fam­ily Day

– an an­nounced 20,950 was gen­er­ous to the pock-marked sta­dium of ac­tual at­ten­dance – and the game it­self was dread­ful for the home side. Its week off had bet­ter in­volve a reboot or the sea­son will be lost by the half­way mark.

At least the Lions are try­ing this sea­son to bring, as they say, bums back to the seats.

The Whitecaps are in a whole other state of siege and are at risk of sev­er­ing a large part of the fan base they so smartly de­vel­oped in re­cent times.

The team is win­less since May and at the bot­tom of the stand­ings.

Last week it lost to a non-Ma­jor League Soc­cer franchise from Calgary in the play­offs for Cana­dian

cham­pi­onships – it­self a con­so­la­tion prize in soc­cer, some­thing that Van­cou­ver, Mon­treal and Toronto clubs ought to win by di­al­ing it in. The loss was the equiv­a­lent of the Lions los­ing to a col­lege team, and only in­creased the call for big changes.

Trou­ble is, it’s the big changes that ap­pear to have stripped the team of any suc­cess. The Whitecaps sold their bud­ding star, Alphonso Davies, to Bay­ern Mu­nich, for $22 mil­lion, traded their two high­est-paid play­ers, their dis­grun­tled cap­tain and some sig­nif­i­cant sup­port­ing play­ers to take the team down to the studs – only with no studs re­main­ing.

The funds ought to have in turn se­cured a cou­ple of mar­quee play­ers to pro­pel the team, but new coach Marc Dos San­tos has done noth­ing of the sort. In­stead he and the front of­fice have built a team with­out any­thing ap­proach­ing a fan at­trac­tion, some­how posit­ing that the coach’s force ma­jeure would cre­ate an ex­cit­ing and com­pet­i­tive squad. It worked a lit­tle at first, but as other teams have de­vel­oped mid-sea­son chemistry, the Whitecaps have de­vel­oped mid-sea­son chaos.

Any busi­ness knows it makes sense to level with cus­tomers about what can and can­not be de­liv­ered, but the Whitecaps have been guilty of claim­ing they’d be spend­ing funds to grow the team, not sav­ing funds to har­vest the fan base. A con­ser­va­tive in­vest­ment strat­egy will not win a cham­pi­onship, and this is not a city that will en­dure a loser when there were rea­sons to ex­pect it would be a win­ner.

Worse, the team de­fied the text­book when abuse al­le­ga­tions sur­faced ear­lier this year in­volv­ing a coach of its women’s team a decade ago, say­ing noth­ing for weeks then fi­nally ex­press­ing re­gret and em­pa­thy – but not apol­o­giz­ing – as it launched an in­de­pen­dent re­view of its work­place prac­tices.

For a busi­ness at­tempt­ing to reach out across gen­der and age lines, this was a self-in­flicted wound of con­se­quence.

That both the Whitecaps and Lions play in a vac­u­ous white elephant of a building is of lit­tle help in their at­tempts to cre­ate a lively at­mos­phere.

They need a smaller out­door fa­cil­ity of in­ti­macy, not an in­door fa­cil­ity of grandios­ity. The cur­tained up­per bowl is a metaphor for cloaked un­der­per­for­mance by teams that can’t punch through a self-im­posed ceil­ing.

It’s hard to be­lieve that hopes for the lo­cal sports fan ap­pear to re­side in the Van­cou­ver Canucks, a team that hasn’t been in the post­sea­son since Stephen Harper was prime min­is­ter.

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