Saturday, October 29, 2011

Time running out for B.C. Place name?

A news conference is in the planning stages for Tuesday, Nov. 1 at B.C. Place Stadium for an announcement regarding the B.C. Lions and Vancouver Whitecaps, who are expected to be involved in the event because they're the primary tenants of the stadium.

The silence has been deafening. Neither Telus, Cisco nor B.C. Pavilion Corporation's public relations firm Pace Group have responded to my queries to confirm or deny the event or their involvement.

Telus is the telecommunications and technology provider at B.C. Place and Cisco's StadiumVision is the "video and digital content distribution solution" (read: the software that runs the multitude of video screens, large and small). Before the Sept. 30 reopening, the major Telus hardware and wiring installation at B.C. Place was cloaked in secrecy. So much so that it was even code-named "Project Frog."

Telus also has a 10-year, $1 billion contract to supply telecommunications services to the British Columbia government, Crown corporations BC Hydro, BC Lottery Corporation and ICBC and regional health authorities.

When I asked Oct. 14 if his company bought the naming rights, Telus chief financial officer Robert McFarlane would neither confirm nor deny. He would only say there would be a "coming out party" for Telus at B.C. Place in the near future.

There may be a reason for the secrecy. PavCo awaits the results of the B.C. Government and Service Employees' Union local 1703 vote on a new contract. The two sides reached a tentative deal on Oct. 24. Voting is supposed to end Nov. 1. There is no pay raise, but the workers apparently got the job security and anti-bullying provisions they wanted. The catch? The contract, if ratified, would expire May 31, 2012.

Nov. 1, coincidentally, was also the original date set by PavCo for the reopening of B.C. Place. PavCo chairman David Podmore moved the date forward by a month in February, despite problems installing roof-support cables. The domino effect meant crews didn't begin installing roof fabric until June. The roof opened and closed as advertised Sept. 30, but the sealing job was not complete and leaks continued well into October.

Read more about the controversial $563 million renovation of the 1983-opened stadium here.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Lu on the bubble?

For only the second time since joining the Vancouver Canucks, goaltender Roberto Luongo was on the bench and healthy to start a second consecutive home game.

Backup Cory Schneider started against the St. Louis Blues on Oct. 26 at Rogers Arena. It was the fifth time in 11 games this season that the Man from Marblehead, Mass. was featured between the pipes. He also backstopped the Canucks in their Oct. 22, 3-2 overtime matinee win at Rogers Arena against the Minnesota Wild.

Luongo returned to the net for the 3-2 Oct. 25 loss in Edmonton. Number 1 was pulled after giving up three goals in a four-minute span. So he will ride the pine on hump day.

The only other time Luongo has sat for a pair at home was when Schneider started, and won, two 5-1 games last year (Oct. 17, 2010 vs. Carolina Hurricanes and Oct. 22, 2010 vs. Minnesota).

When Luongo joined the Canucks in 2006 from the Florida Panthers after a blockbuster trade, he was the only member of the team that management could rely upon to sell tickets.

"Bobby Lu" was guaranteed to make one awe-inspiring save every game. Daniel and Henrik Sedin had yet to blossom and were known for cycling the puck; goals were neither a given nor would they be sparkling.

So Luongo -- who was marketed to Vancouver fans as the "world's best goalie" -- had a lock to start all home games and away pay-per-view and Hockey Night in Canada games. They desperately needed him for TV ratings and to inflate sponsorship and ticket tallies.

But not anymore. The Sedins and Ryan Kesler are as big as -- if not bigger -- than Luongo. They're the ones scoring goals and selling tickets. The Canucks can afford to start Schneider. It is also the path of least resistance because of an impatient, dare I say fickle, fan base that has booed and jeered the man it once revered. Not even the Olympic gold medal won on home ice on Feb. 28, 2010 (and celebrated in a new Rogers Arena display) is enough to give Luongo the benefit of the doubt. Too many fans remember too much about the 4-0, Stanley Cup final Game 7 loss to the Boston Bruins. Many understand that it's highly unlikely the Canucks will return to the final in 2012. History is not on their side.

If you think fans are getting anxious, how about the people who sign the paycheques? A source told me that Canucks Sports and Entertainment boss Francesco Aquilini privately expressed his frustration about Luongo in a meeting with general manager Mike Gillis. Aquilini even dangled the idea of a trade before the deadline if Luongo doesn't return to form.

Head coach Alain Vigneault doesn't want to gamble, so he went with Schneider against the Blues. Gillis already traded Marco Sturm and Mikael Samuelsson to the Florida Panthers Oct. 22 and may not be averse to making more changes if the Stanley Cup losers still need stimulating.

In six 2011-2012 appearances, Luongo has two wins and four losses, one of which was in a shootout. He allowed 19 goals in those games. He also lost four of the last five Stanley Cup finals games, allowing 18 goals.

Add it up and Luongo is 3-8 with 37 goals allowed in his last 11 games. A lousy start for Lu. No wonder fans are getting restless in a city known as the NHL's "goalie graveyard."

Four of the previous goaltenders the Canucks acquired from the Sunshine State contributed to that reputation. Alex Auld and Kevin Weekes were once property of the Panthers. Corey Schwab and Dan Cloutier were Tampa Bay Lightning netminders. Will Luongo be the fifth futility from Florida?

Part-time poker player Luongo has another gig this year, endorsing the British Columbia Lottery Corporation's legal, but controversial, poker and sports gambling website (despite his appeal to children and youths who emulate him on school playgrounds and community ice rinks).

Money shouldn't be any problem for him. He was paid $10 million in 2010-2011, the first of a 12-year, $64 million contract. He is due to be paid $6.714 million this season. And the next season. And the next. And the next. And so on. And on. The same sum through 2017-2018, to be exact.

No wonder the shrewd businessman who calls the shots on Griffiths Way is getting antsy. His return on investment is diminishing before his eyes.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Labour peace at The Bundle

Game on!

The B.C. Lions game against the Edmonton Eskimos on Oct. 29, a battle to be the best in the west, is a go. There is labour peace at B.C. Place Stadium, where members of local 1703 of the B.C. Government and Service Employees' Union were in a position to strike to gain a new contract. A deal was reached late Oct. 24. Pending a vote by the workers, all events, including the Nov. 25 Vanier Cup and Nov. 27 Grey Cup, will go ahead as scheduled.

And maybe we'll finally have a news conference where Telus will tell us about the Cisco StadiumVision technology at B.C. Place and the stadium's new corporate name.

Here is the announcement from B.C. Pavilion Corporation and the union:



Vancouver, BC (October 25, 2011): BC Place, operated by the BC Pavilion Corporation (PavCo), and the BC Government and Service Employees Union (BCGEU) are very pleased to announce that a tentative agreement was reached late last night, after both parties resumed collective bargaining.

The BCGEU is recommending acceptance of the tentative agreement to its membership belonging to BCGEU Local 1703, and is scheduling a ratification vote to take place this weekend.

The tentative agreement also ensures there will be no disruption of the BC Lions vs. Edmonton Eskimos game scheduled for this Saturday, October 29th at BC Place.

“We’re glad this tentative agreement could be reached without any disruption to operations at BC Place,” said BCGEU President Darryl Walker. “Our members were seeking a fair collective agreement and they got it.”

“With this tentative agreement, we’re now able to finalize plans to host the BC Lions game this weekend,” said Howard Crosley, General Manager of BC Place. “We are pleased that we have reached a tentative collective agreement satisfactory to both parties, and we look forward to moving ahead together with all of the events planned for BC Place in the future”.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Breakin' the law, breakin' the law?

B.C. Place Stadium went a week-and-a-half without any event before the Vancouver Whitecaps hosted the Colorado Rapids in the local Major League Soccer season finale. Apparently plastic beer cups were in short supply on Oct. 22! That's why you saw fans in public seating areas and the level 2 concourse drinking straight out of cans of Budweiser.

In fact, they were being served unopened cans. A reader of this blog who was at the game reported to me that fans were also observed buying unopened bottles and departed the stadium with said containers, both opened and unopened. B.C. Place essentially became the biggest off-sales retailer of booze in B.C. on Oct. 22.

"They can't let people take beer out of the venue," said the reader. "When they sell it, they're supposed to open it."

True. It says so in the Liquor Control and Licensing Regulation.

49 If a liquor primary licence is issued in respect of a stadium, the following terms and conditions apply:
(a) beverages must be served in plastic, paper or other disposable containers, unless otherwise authorized by the general manager;
(b) liquor must not be sold at an activity or event without the written consent of the organizer or promoter sponsoring the activity or event;
(c) the licensee must designate areas of the stadium's tiered seating area as areas where the possession and consumption of liquor is not allowed and must, unless otherwise authorized by the general manager, ensure that those areas
(i)  consist of a reasonable choice of seats within the range of ticket prices offered at the stadium, and
(ii)  are each of a size appropriate to the level of demand for seats in those areas of the stadium.

The general manager is Karen Ayers of the LCLB. Would she have authorized the sale of unopened cans and bottles? I'll endeavour to find out and update this blog.

At Rogers Arena and Nat Bailey Stadium, staff diligently open all containers and pour them into plastic cups. I have never seen it any other way. Some sports venues in the United States will sell an aluminum can or aluminum bottle, but I have never been provided an unopened container in such a setting.

There are good reasons why laws exist that mandate stadiums and arenas to pour booze into cups. Full, sealed cans and bottles can be used as projectiles and seriously injure other fans, players or staff. Empty cans and bottles can be broken and transformed into deadly weapons.

In this post-Stanley Cup riot 2.0 era, it's essential that both venues and fans be on their best behaviour.

B.C. Place officials can't forget history. On Aug. 15, 1998, the San Francisco 49ers beat the Seattle Seahawks 24-21 before 45,202 in the American Bowl. It was a muggy, Bud-sponsored and Bud-fuelled afternoon of violence in the grandstands.

Some fans were tailgating for three hours before the game. Beer sales were so brisk that purchase limits and age identification were often ignored. Two brawls broke out, including one near the secondary press box. Security guards ejected 37 fans from the stadium. One fan was arrested.

There has not been another NFL exhibition game at B.C. Place since that day.

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