Big game hunting
The sports outlook was bright at the start of 2016, as Vancouver city council had recently voted in favour of spending $1 million over the next two years to fund the Sport Hosting Vancouver partnership. Another $2.15 million was announced from the Vancouver Hotel Destination Association, Tourism Vancouver, BC Pavilion Corp. and the University of British Columbia in hopes of drawing more big-name games, events and tournaments to the city.
Three key sports events held at BC Place stadium during March drew more than 110,000 fans, the equivalent of six playoff games at Rogers Arena. The two-day World Rugby Sevens and Canada’s 2018 FIFA World Cup soccer qualifier against Mexico were both successes at the ticket gates, building off impressive performances at BC Place stadium in 2015 that included multiple games for the FIFA Women’s World Cup, including the final between the U.S. and Japan.
Let it snow
After struggling through a warm, soggy winter in 2015, B.C. ski resorts enjoyed a banner season in 2016 as lower temperatures and a lower Canadian dollar wooed skiers back to the slopes. Many ski hills opened early, thanks to generous snowfalls. 2015-16 was a strong El Niño year. El Niño in the past has dumped snow on B.C. mountains, but warmer temperatures can turn that precipitation into rain and turn a good ski season bad. In 2015, an area of warm water in the Pacific Ocean nicknamed “the blob” contributed to unusually warm temperatures. Several ski hills closed early, including Mount Washington on Vancouver Island and Grouse Mountain, Mount Seymour and Cypress in Metro Vancouver. With recent low temperatures and snowfall allowing most resorts to open in late November, B.C. ski resort operators are expecting a better season in 2016-17.
Colorado-based mountain resort conglomerate Vail Resorts (NYSE:MTN) announced in August that it had acquired Whistler Blackcomb (TSX:WB) in a $1.4 billion deal that initially drove Whistler’s share price up 45%. The friendly takeover made Vail Resorts Whistler Blackcomb’s sole shareholder. Vail Resorts owns 11 ski resorts in the U.S. and one in Australia. Whistler Blackcomb shares were hovering at around $36.45 after the deal was announced. Shares had been hitting all-time highs in recent months, in part because the company had been posting record revenue growth.
Tickets for an October 1 National Basketball League pre-season game between the Toronto Raptors and the Golden State Warriors to be held at Rogers Arena sold out in minutes. The sellout renewed chatter about the potential that Vancouver could one day again host an NBA team, as the now-defunct Vancouver Grizzlies had called the city home from 1995 to 2001 before leaving for Memphis. Rumours have also circulated concerning the potential for a Major League Baseball team; however, plans or ownership potential for an NBA or MLB franchise have yet to be substantiated.
The British Columbia-incorporated company behind the iconic Bauer hockey skates and equipment brand announced in October it had filed for bankruptcy protection in Delaware and Ontario. Performance Sports Group (TSX, NYSE:PSG) stated it was seeking to reorganize under Chapter 11 in the U.S. and the Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act in Canada. Performance was hit earlier in 2016 by the bankruptcy of big-box sporting goods retailer Sports Authority, and it lost out to Adidas in becoming the National Hockey League’s uniform supplier.
At the gate
According to attendance figures obtained by Business in Vancouver, the Vancouver Whitecaps were the only B.C.-based major sports team to post an increase in ticket sales for 2015 and early 2016. The Vancouver Canucks, the BC Lions and the Vancouver Giants all posted nominal declines. The Canucks’ 2015-16 season average per-game attendance was 18,431 or about 6.8% less than in the 2013-14 season. BC Lions ticket sales have been declining since 2012, and the Vancouver Giants were forced to move to the Langley Events Centre partially due to low tickets sales at Pacific Coliseum. The Whitecaps averaged slightly higher attendance than the BC Lions, with 20,507 tickets sold per game in 2015 and more than 22,000 in 2016.
The International Ice Hockey Federation announced this month that Vancouver and Victoria will host the 2019 IIHF World Junior Championship, at Rogers Arena and Save-On-Foods Memorial Centre, respectively. It will be the 12th tournament held in Canada. This year’s event is slated to begin December 26 in Montreal and Toronto. The estimated financial spinoff for Vancouver and Victoria is expected to top $80 million. Vancouver previously hosted the World Junior Championship in 2006 along with Kamloops and Kelowna.