My friend is a sports writer and a fan of football, both the CFL and the NFL. He has connections and with them has invited me to a BC Lions game. I started watching “Ballers” on HBO so had enough interest in football to accept his offer, plus I was lured in by the promise of gourmet concession stand cuisine.
Game Day was Friday, July 24, 2015. The pregame BC Lions Tailgate Party started at 5pm. Plenty of time to eat, drink, and be merry before kickoff at 7pm. Reading up on the day we made plans to go early. There was a lot going on before and after the actual game. So much so that I stopped to ask if this was the first game of the season or a special occasion. 2nd home game, 4th overall. Apparently the itinerary doesn’t always play out like this. Tonight’s game sponsors were just pulling out all the stops.
Similarly to their neighbouring Rogers Arena, they too have begun bringing to fans more than just hot dogs and popcorn. BBQ chicken legs, honey lager sausages, beer battered fish, halibut burgers, calamari, Montreal smoked meat, smoked pork belly, steamed pork dumplings, bacon fried rice, short rib steamed buns; and even Vij’s Indian Curry. All available at different sections and different counters around the arena.
When we arrived we took the time to check out the Tail Gate party, open to the public: ticket and non ticket holders alike. Tented booths were set up and games were being played for prizes. And the “felions” dance squad were braving the cold in order to pitch their calendars. I learned that they don’t actually get paid to shake their pomp pomps during events. So most make a living through the merchandise they sell and any scheduled appearances they can land. Today the bash included a beer garden and menu stocked with barbeque favourites. Fans were be serenaded with live music courtesy of “Paul Luongo & The Digs” and entertained by a Felions’ performance. Though sadly the rain hindered the true party potential of the outdoor event. Barbecue isn’t the same in the rain, and not everyone enjoys dancing in the rain, “felions” included. We skipped all this because of the weather and the lack of specials. Plus this event is open for the public, where we were ticket holders, so should wanted to take advantage of the ability to enter where others could not.
We left our homes around 4pm, not only to take advantage of their happy hour menu, but because The first 5,000 fans through the gates over would receive “Save On Foods” gift cards ranging in value between $5 and $500. I shop there, I like free, I was sold. Though positive thinking still only got me $5.
Inside BC place they advertised early-bird food and beverage pricing between 6-6:30pm. A list of items from various stands at 25% off each. Lucky me, they were all the ones I wanted to try. Though unlucky us, the amount of time needed to travel from one side of the stadium to the other, then wait in line, took time. And realistically 30 minutes is not enough time to hit them all. And well after getting one or two things at 25% off before, it is hard to justify paying more minutes later. So we hustled, following the countdown clock for early bird specials, ticking down on every television screen. It told us how much more time we had left to get cheaper beer and cheaper snacks. Any everyone knows event food tends to be more expensive, so if and when you can save, you want to.
Our first stop was at “Vij’s” serving gluten free curries with basmati rice and naan, in section 220. Curry isn’t something you traditionally get at a sporting event. Just the transportation of it from counter to seat is troublesome. But in hopes of bringing fans in for dinner before the game, they have expanded in such a direction. Your choices are between only three options: “vegetarian navy beans and kale curry with garam masala”, “sirloin and spinach curry”, and “creamy chicken and chickpea curry with cilantro”. We had the latter.
The “creamy chicken and chickpea curry with cilantro” sounded like a safe bet. We ate it right away as we foreshadowed the troubles of carrying around a hot and liquid based plate, in an arena full of people prone to bumping in to one another. So we utilized one of their nearby eating stations, set up with high top tables.
The curry was a good portion, enough for a full meal. It was mild, with more peas than chicken. Both the rice and naan provided a good base to soak up all the warming curry. I would order this again, but preferably at a mall’s food court next time. We couldn’t imagine fans ordering from them much during half time.
The next cart located in Section 218 offered “Montreal Smoked Meat” at a discount. They also sold pull pork, but I guess “Montreal Smoked Meat” is a better name as it is appealing for more? I really appreciated how the dress code of the staff preparing the food attempted to reflect the calibre of the food. White coats and tall hats. And the sample dishes on display made ordering all the more easier as you eat with your eyes first.
The sandwich was decent, but I personally don’t like that much meat in a sandwich, so I may be biased. I prefer the bread to be the star of a sandwich. Here, the bun could have been crispier on the outside, as it was nice and soft on the inside. The smoked meat was a little fatty in some parts. Where I expected ribbons of tender, lean ham. If any one wants their meat fatty I would recommend going for the pork belly instead, after all such a sandwich you really eat for the meat.
After such a carb and meat heavy dish, I often seek out something more wholesome. This time the buns were Chinese style at the “Asian steamed buns” cart, located in section 250.
The “short rib steamed bun” showed so much promise, the display models sure looked good. Though what we got was a meaty mess dressed in soggy buns. The meat was too soft, the sauce was too runny, the bun became a dripping sponge. The vegetables added a nice crunch and some much needed texture, but offered nothing in terms of taste. Julienned raw, they would have been a huge improvement pickled and salted.
The “steamed pork dumplings” was a lot better. Though nothing different from that which you can get from any basic dim sum vendor. This is a small plate, Chinese cuisine staple, so I guess good to have it represented her. It tasted on point. You can’t go wrong with good dim sum.
I usually don’t find football too interesting. I have only been to one game, and only found it enjoyable because I was drinking heavily. I would be doing the same tonight. With our early bird $6 drink specials in hand we travelled towards our seats. All 12oz Domestic, Craft, and Premium Draught Beer were $6 and available at Taps, Beer Portables, Dawson Dogs, Poutine stands, Club Lounge, Edgewater. I double fisted. But if you are not a big beer fan they cater to all alcoholic appetites. They even offering wine and cheese. Glasses of wine, cheese plates, and gourmet salads are available at the “Oak and Vine” booth.
And If you are looking for a completely different vibe to game day, visit “Club Orange”. A unique space that allows you to enjoy your football in the comfort of a club? A space transformed from box seats. I am thinking white tee, bedazzled jeans, and sunglasses in doors for dress code? Tonight they were featuring a live DJ to ensure those looking get plenty of that club atmosphere. Entry is an additional $40 on top of your ticket price. Though if you paid for nose bleeds, watching the field from a window box instead would be an upgrade, and a price worth considering. This is the newest way to take in a BC Lions game and a way to bring in more youthful fans.
Unfortunately because of the rain (the one day out of the last two weeks it rains), the roof of BC place would be closed for this match up. This move would trap in three birds that fluttered from beam to beam, high above the field. The choice in roofing material was strategic. The angle allowed noise to bounce off the ceiling and the sails, in to stands. The perfect set ups for a concert, a concert I attended recently.
My expert host explained to me the nuances of the season and the league. With a decrease in ticket sales they closed off the upper bowl. In this new configuration there were less seats, they sold for less, and they were a lot closer to the action. And today most of the discount seats left un-sat. So this move to limit the number of empty chairs was a good call, especially considering that the lion’s first game only drew in limited number of patrons. And as you can see from above, they were trying to be creative, thinking outside the box to draw in a bigger crowds. The demographic here was not like those present at a Vancouver Canucks hockey game. This is a hockey city, you get a wide breadth a patrons: a cross between ages, ethnicities, and degree of fandom. However with BC Lions football and the CFL, the guests in attendance are those who grew up as fans. Loyal patrons now in their 50’s and 60’s made up the majority today. My expert host reckons it is because the CLF was not as heavily marketed to our age bracket, whereas the NFL is know as the “sexier league”.
The game began with the welcoming of the players. Video introductions and themed music was broadcasted over the jumbo-tron. It sounded off stats, shared impressive achievements, and helped to grow the faith Vancouverites had in a win for our home team. An inflatable lion’s head was the only thing standing between the players and the artificial turf. Each player would inevitably be taking a trip through the lion’s gaping maw. A trip that including running past rising streams of steam and through a tunnel of cheer leaders shuffling pom poms on either side. The televised request to cheer and “make some noise” got the crowd going. And would appear every so often to keep the enthusiastic vibe strong. On top of that, the attempt at doing the “Mexican wave” (long story, you had to be there) and the die hard fans pounding on drums really egged this all on.
I am not even going to begin to describe what I saw during actual game minutes. To this day I am still not quite sure how football is played. Heck I can’t even distinguish between the CFL or the NFL. What I do know is about yards, scrimmages, and penalties. And learned how don’t make any noise when your team has possession the ball. This is because you want them to be able to hear the plays from the quarter back, and distracting them from the task at hand doesn’t help. So instead you scream and shout, and attempt to drown out the ability for the away team to hear their plays. I am loss when to the new rules, how they are enforced, and how there can be a flagged dropped at every play. Though I did get really excited and in to it when everyone else cheered or screamed. I joined in to belong, and in doing so felt like one of the many, all rallying behind the same one, a similar interest, a common goal. So now I absolutely get the allure of attending a live game. I prefer it live as apposed to watching an edited and forced perspective version on television or off any screen. The “you have to be there” is definitely a feeling not worth missing out on.
In between sets they kept the crowd going with free tee shirts launched out of a cannon, mini foot balls hurled towards the stands, player trivia, and prize giveaways. They suggested staying around for the first set as they would be giving away lots of cool prizes including Lions merchandise and even tickets to a future game. Tonight, BC Lions alumni Nick Hebeler and Gerald Roper will be on hand signing autographs during halftime. There were many things were going on, it was like the game wasn’t the only thing to come for.
Instead we bought ourselves 50/50 tickets. For those who don’t know, Google lists the definition of “50/50” as “A raffle lottery in which the prize is one half the value of all the tickets sold during the event. You get 50% the company running the lottery gets the other 50%. Sporting matches are the only time I have ever seen this draw and/or participated in it. Sadly our contribution saw on return. And like us, the lions didn’t win this night.
As a half time snack we indulged in mini doughnuts, the classic event snack. We walked up to a booth that was a large scale operation. Two conveyor belts carry raw rounds of dough through a pool of oil. They get fried a golden brown on one side, and then flipped to have the process repeated again on its back.
Considering our ability to see the doughnuts being made from behind the sneeze proof plexiglass, we assumed each bag would be fresh. We assumed we would have that melt in your mouth warm spongy bite of doughnut, coupled with a gritty dusting of sugar and cinnamon. Both indicative and necessary in a satisfying carnival-style mini doughnut. Instead we got a room temperature bag. There was no salvaging when this happens. In hindsight I wish we returned the left standing paper bag and got ourselves a fresh batch of doughnuts, one that we would actual finish and enjoy. Very disappointing.
Our night ended in a loss and the slow exiting for fans with heads lowered. I would like to return to experience a winning game, I am sure the vibe and atmosphere are completely different.
Would I come back? – Yes.
Would I line up for it? – No.
Would I recommend it? – No.
Would I suggest this for someone visiting from out of town? – Yes.
I might not be the best to judge this event as a whole, as I was mostly interested in the food. I came wanting to try all the unique cuisine that BC place had to offer, and I wasn’t even able to do that fully. With the need to rush from one vendor to the next then eat, time flew. But as a not really fan, I found that I enjoyed myself this night, to the point where I wondered why such games are not more heavily attended. I no nothing of the game and I was having fun. Where else do you get to sit down and drink, and interact as little or as much as you want with your neighbours in a common interest? At the end of the day, I guess it’s the price of a ticket.
777 Pacific Boulevard, Vancouver BC, V6B 4Y8