What was once a necessary and simple building located in downtown Vancouver for Canadian football has been transformed over the last few years into one of the crown jewels among international sports venues. Thanks to an ambitious plan to attract the 2010 Winter Olympics, Vancouver’s BC Lions football team and the Whitecaps soccer club remain chief beneficiaries in the Games’ aftermath.
As interest in Major League Soccer grew throughout the United States, interest from Canadian fans followed. In 2007, Toronto began play as the first MLS franchise outside the United States. Vancouver joined the League in 2011 and it was soon joined by Montreal in 2012.
Like Toronto, the Whitecaps needed a plan for an acceptable venue to host MLS matches before a franchise would be awarded. Vancouver fans were satisfied upon learning BC Place, home of the Canadian Football League’s Lions, would be further renovated after the Olympics with completion set for September 2011.
Until it was complete, though, the Whitecaps played most of their inaugural campaign in a makeshift venue on the site of the former Empire Stadium, the longtime home of the NASL Whitecaps from 1974-1983. They closed out play at this site on September 21st with a 3-1 loss to Seattle Sounders FC. On October 2nd of their first season, they opened their new, renovated home with a 1-0 defeat to the hands of their Cascadia rivals, the Portland Timbers.
Since the last month of their maiden season, the Whitecaps have been able to proudly call their home a magnificent venue, the details of which are sprinkled throughout this review. Modernized for pro soccer in ways which are truly clever, the Bell Pitch at BC Place, as it is known on game-day, possesses an intimate feel leaving new visitors awestruck the first time they see the venue from the outside, especially at night, and of course once they step inside the seating area.
In terms of history, BC Place served as the Olympic Stadium for the 2010 Winter Olympics and Paralympics. It has hosted eight CFL Grey Cup Championship games. Touting such a rich history, the BC Sports Hall of Fame is located within the stadium just inside Gate A. This is worth a visit, best made on non-game days, but still open on game days from 10 AM to 5 PM.
As for the future, team ownership originally hoped to build a soccer-specific venue known as Waterfront Stadium in nearby Gastown for the 2016 season. Due to public opposition to the plan, the club is committed to BC Place through at least the 2015 season. Who knows if this will remain their home after 2015? If you can make it there to see a game, you are in for a unique treat as BC Place is among the best MLS venues.
The FANFARE scale is our metric device for rating each stadium experience. It covers the following:
Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
While fans have certain minimum expectations for food and beverage offerings you can find anywhere, the concessionaire at BC Place has taken a different approach. In the 2013 season fans are seeing an upgrade not just regarding the type of offerings, but the quality of what you would expect. There are four special things worth eating.
Made famous more so in French Canada than Vancouver, the made-to-order Montreal Smoked Meat Sandwich served with kettle chips and kosher pickle for $9.75 is one of the best I have ever had and is offered at a fair price. Cooked just right with a generous portion of overlapping slices within a hearty ciabatta bun, this needs to be your first stop. In the main concourse, you can only get it at one place, a portable unit just across from the entrance to section 218. Ask for Jordan who oversees this area. He set things up nicely.
A little further down the concourse, try the bratwurst on a pretzel bun served with kettle chips at $10.50. A bacon-wrapped hot dog on a regular bun served with kettle chips is also available for $9.50. Beer battered fish (two-piece) with kettle chips is $11.50. While tasty, the latter seemed a little overpriced for the amount of food provided. Lastly are the poutine fries (French fries with cheese curds and gravy poured over them). The regular version is $7 with a short-rib version for $8.50.
As for the regular items, prices are a little higher than expected, but relatively in line with what you would expect for sports venues.
As for soft drinks, Pepsi products dominate with Dole, Dr. Pepper, Orange Crush and 7-Up also available. A 24oz. soft drink is $4.50 while a 32oz. drink in a collector's cup is $6.50. Bottled sodas and water are $4.50 while coffee and hot chocolate are $3.50.
Beer and wine are plentiful in a variety of forms with 12 oz. Budweiser draught at $7.75 and both Premium (Stella Artois, Beck's, Alexander Keiths, and Stanley Park Brewery) draught and Belgian White draught are $8.25 each. Budweiser cans are $8.50 and Premium cans are $9. Specialty drinks such as Mike's Hard Cider, Okanagan Premium cider and Palm Bay Coolers are $9.50. Sonora Desert Ranch Pinot Grigio and Merlot are $8.50 per serving.
For regular eats, a hot dog is $5.50 while converting it to a combo with drink and chips is $10.50. Nachos with cheese are $6 while a house recipe chili bowl is $6.50. Chicken fingers with fries are $10.50, a cheeseburger is $8 and French fries are $5.50. A burger combo with fries and a drink are $16, a $2 savings off the individual purchase price. Texas-Style pulled pork, known as Southsliders, is $9.50.
As for snacks, one of the more unique items comes from Cin City Donuts, a portable kiosk on the main concourse. They offer bags of mini donuts for just $5.50 (cash only). Other more traditional items are bags of peanuts at $4 and Cracker Jacks at $6. An 85 oz. popcorn bucket is $5.50 while a 130 oz. refillable bucket is $9.50. Assorted candy is $4.50. Various ice creams and frozen treats at portable units range in price from $3 to $6.
It is pretty difficult to convert a 55,000-seat, multi-purpose stadium into an intimate 21,000-seat soccer pitch on game-day, but BC Place does a great job of achieving this very unique atmosphere.
Uniquely created with nearly 50 large white heavy-duty fabric pieces, these visual elements are hung from a cable which mirrors the encircling area which ends up being quite a bit smaller than the perimeter of the upper deck. These large pieces are draped and connected to the first row railing of the upper deck. The upper deck is pretty much put out of sight and mind in this process and interestingly is reminiscent of the upper awning commonly found as the top rim of many MLS soccer-specific stadiums.
In addition, perhaps the most significant renovation element involves the largest cable-supported retractable roof in the world. When opened, the opening measures 110 by 93 yards, nearly the same size as the field below. Even when opened, the seating area is covered by the permanent portion of the roof. Taking 20 minutes to open or close, the fabric roof retracts into a pod and is hidden in the center of the opening which is suspended above the videoboard.
Speaking of the videoboard, it is the second largest center-hung high definition scoreboard in North America, the largest being the one at AT&T Stadium (formerly Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas). This remarkable piece of technology measures 68 feet wide by 38 feet high and runs along the sideline and with slightly smaller screens attached and facing each goal. Live action and replays dominate with just a small area in the lower-right corner of each screen reserved for the score and running time.
Just as remarkable is the renovation work which helps to infuse natural light into the building. This is best enjoyed during afternoon matches. Even when the roof is closed, the space between the top of the upper deck and the permanent roof has been changed from the building's original brown glass to clear glazing with a subtle blue tint. This improves the outer appearance of the building while allowing a brighter more natural environment in ramps, concourses, seating areas and the playing field. The new glazing also helps to reduce the amount of energy used to light the concourses during the daytime.
The lower edge facing of the upper deck features a brightly displayed electronic ribbon board and is effective in cueing fans to cheer, announce substitutions and, of course, advertising. Just above sections 249 and 222, the time into the match and score are displayed, the only place other than the lower-right corner of the videoboard this information is shown.
The playing field is polytan artificial turf measuring 117 yards by 75 yards. The pitch is certified by FIFA, the international soccer governing body, with a 2-star rating, the highest rating possible.
You can enter BC Place as early as one hour before kick-off. When entering the facility, fans enter at the street level concourse known as Level 3. If deciding on which gate to enter, consider Gate A as it leads you right to the BC Sports Hall of Fame, open 10-5 and admission is half off with ticket to a game from two weeks prior. Regular adult price is $15 so that is quite a nice savings at $7.50.
Upon entry, you will travel down a wide ramp to Level 2 and reach the main concourse. Unless you have tickets to the special lower level club seats, this will be familiar territory for you on this day. The entire concourse is carefully filled with the right mix of permanent and temporary concession stands, tastefully erected merchandise areas for game-day only, restrooms and entrances to the seating area.
In understanding the seating arrangement for the sections, consider the appearance of the overhead seating signs, a sample image which is shown in the photo gallery of this review as section 218. Pay close attention to how the seats are conveyed on the sign and how they are arranged within a row. It is a little different than most venues and that is why I point out the details below. As you can see, the section is clearly listed, but when entering the seating area of a section, you can see rows to the right are seats 1-17 while rows to the left are seats 101-117. The number of seats within a row can change by section, but the way these are laid out is the main point here.
Regardless of which section you sit, as you face the field, the right of the aisle is seat #1, then seat #2 next to it and the numbers increase as the row extends to the right. To the left of the aisle, however, and still in the same section, seat #101 is the first seat, seat #102 next to it and so on as the row extends to the left. This is important so that you understand the layout and don't, for instance, get a ticket for a seat on the aisle which is also in your line of view to see the field as people walking up and down all game might lessen the enjoyment of your attendance at the match.
With this complicated part addressed, determine what section you want to sit. As a basis for determining your choice, consider viewing things as though you were sitting at the midfield line facing the benches. You would be sitting in section 242. Across the field, the Whitecaps bench is to your left in front of section 213 while the visiting team occupies the bench in front of section 215. Section 214 is on the center line directly across from you.
To your right and between section 227 and 228 is the north or east goal. To your left and between section 201 and section 254 is directly behind the south or west goal and where the teams enter the pitch. This is also the end of the field where the Whitecaps two supporter groups stand and yell all game.
From section 201-207 and section 249-254, all sections stand and chant. Unfortunately, many of the chants involve foul language causing me to question the intellect of these folks when they use some of these words, as they do not make sense in the first place. The lack of respect most fans in these sections have for those enjoying a match is a letdown. I expected better, especially having witnessed chanting at numerous MLS matches in the past which were certainly all above board. So it can be done right. The lesson is to avoid the south or west end if you do not want to stand during the match or hear foul language spewed in synchronicity.
As for the seating bowl, the sections closest to midfield are set back off the sidelines more than those near the end lines or corners. The pitch in the rows seems average, nothing special. Premium seating occupies the sideline area of the field opposite the benches. Not sure why these sections are pushed back further away from the field in the first place given the longtime tenant in the Lions football team also plays on a rectangular surface.
Wherever you sit, make sure it is lower than row "S" otherwise you might feel too suffocated by being too close to the artificial roof designed to make the venue intimate for soccer matches. Incidentally, the venue's private boxes are the highest leveled area you can reach for the soccer layout and really cause you to feel removed from the event you came to enjoy. There is something to be said for being too close to the action. You might be too low to the field and the view might be obstructed with too much player traffic if you are below row "F".
Overall, I like section 231, row "O" and anywhere from seat 104 through 110 as the ideal spot to view a Whitecaps match. Here you can view the players entering the field pretty much straight on, there is a good view of the activity in the bench area, you get views of two videoboards and, depending upon which way you turn your head, a view down the nearest sideline to your left or a view from just behind the goal line to your right. The aisle to your right is pretty much out of play relative to obstructing your view.
The club sells out nearly every match so buying tickets at the box office may be somewhat difficult to accomplish the day of a game. Should they be available, consider the seat mentioned above in section 231 (non-alcoholic zone) is $28.25 face value. Cross the aisle in 230 and you will be $38.25. A midfield seat in section 241 is $63.25.
Most of the activity is to the north of BC Place, a mix of eateries and places for a light snack before or after the game. I have several which should be considered and one that should be avoided. There is no shortage of places to enjoy a variety of good local beer and a few interesting foods.
Back Forty at 118 Robson Street is just north and across the street from BC Place. It is a convenient and good choice for being close to the venue and offers great food. Consider the bucket of buttermilk fried chicken or the St. Louis Style Pork Ribs.
Doolin's Irish Pub at 654 Nelson Street at Glanville is just north and west of BC Place. You will enjoy the atmosphere with live music frequently, soccer on the tele and 23 beers on tap. To eat, choose Shepherd's Pie or Guinness Beef Pie and don't even look at the menu. Just pick one of those two choices.
The Pint Public House & Sports Bar at 455 Abbott Street just a little north and east of BC Place is another fine choice. Any of their burgers or the Pale Ale Fish & Chips is worth ordering. I have enjoyed a visit to their downtown Edmonton location a few years back and the Vancouver location is equally worth visiting.
You might want to avoid Rosie's on Robson. There is something wrong when you order a simple appetizer with plenty of time to eat it, but then it takes 30 minutes to get it. I didn't really get a warm feeling when I walked in there either. I left after the disrespect. Avoid this place as there are too many other options which clearly want your business more than Rosie's.
As for as things to do and see, my guess is most any trip to Vancouver will involve more than just soccer. So while you plan your trip to this magnificent city, consider visits to the following places in or around downtown Vancouver; Granville Island and Granville Market, Stanley Park and the seawall, Grouse Mountain, Capilano Suspension Bridge Park, shopping and sightseeing in North Vancouver and West Vancouver and finally, Horseshoe Bay.
There is a nice mix of fans at Whitecaps games as their following continues to grow in their third season. Soccer fans are passionate by nature and Whitecaps' supporters follow suit. They come in all shapes and sizes from young to old as the club is making an effort to generate a family commitment among its fans.
Each pre-game begins with a March to the Match beginning at the corner of Robson and Granville. Originated by the Southsiders, the longest serving supporters club, the group marches down Robson about a ½ mile toward BC Place. The march involves a chanting of songs, waving of flags and carrying of banners all the way to the game.
Rain City Brigade is the newest of the two supporters groups having begun their organized support of the Whitecaps in 2010. Both supporter groups call the southwest end behind the goal as their home seating area.
Parking is available throughout the downtown area around BC Place, but you will pay a hefty price of $20-$30. I would avoid it at all costs, especially when you think of what the savings could buy you in the way of food and drink before or during the game. I chose a downtown hotel, Residence Inn by Marriott, and walked to the game. The next best option is to take light rail.
If you choose Skytrain, Vancouver's fully-automated light rail system, you will enjoy an easy, inexpensive option. Free from downtown traffic, there are three lines (Expo Line-navy, Millenium Line-yellow and Canada line-teal). Fares vary based upon distance travelled, but typically are $2.75 each way for reasonable distances. You will not pay more than $5.00 each way and that involves the furthest distances. The lines are laid out a little strangely so check the website for the details and map out your trip.
From wherever you travel, the closest stations to BC Place are Stadium-Chinatown (Expo Line-navy and Millennium Line-yellow only), just two blocks northeast and Vancouver-City Centre Station (along the Canada line-teal only), just six "short" blocks northwest.
Buses and streetcars run through the downtown area and are also a nice option to the game. If you are making it a full day of using mass transit, consider a day-pass which covers all travel on buses, street cars, Seabus and Skytrain for $9.75.
Vancouver tends to be a bit more expensive than most cities for anything, but all in all, the prices are decent for a Whitecaps game. Ticket prices in the upper tier of seating are a little over the top, but you can find a good seat for $30. Food and beverage prices are on par with most sports venues and while there are some which are over the top, there are also others that are better than expected. Mass transit is always the way to go, particularly if there is no tailgating involved.
MASCOT - Spike the mascot is very active during games and even during the pre-game where he plays soccer with fans outside before the gates open. At the game I attended, he defended the northeast goal during a penalty-kick promotion (see image in photo gallery). Unlike some mascots, Spike is not an afterthought, but an integral part of the club branding strategy.
MERCHANDISE - Despite the renovations, the facility relies on temporary merchandise kiosks spread through the main concourse. There is no main team store in the entire venue. Still, the club does a good job of merchandising a display of products in a wide range of price points. Although I found a stylish shirt to wear to the game while at Granville Island marketplace, prices are just slightly above what you would pay outside the facility.
PROGRAM - Earlier in the 2013 season, the club provided the typical 5x7 size program filled with stories, rosters, statistics and all of the pertinent information soccer fans want to follow the match. On the date I attended and presumably beginning in early August, the team stopped producing the more content-based program in favor of inserts. Upon entry, I was handed the insert which served to promote a push for 2014 season ticket sales more than anything along with roster and statistics. No word on if the team will return to the traditional game program, but if they do, you can also find them in the Whitecaps website for download under the Match Programs tab below the Fans heading.
To witness a match inside a venue like this is truly special. The view from the seats across the field with the gigantic videoboard hanging from the cleverly constructed roof structure and the hanging material which make the atmosphere spectacular are a real unique experience.
The March to the Match led by the Southsiders supporters is a neat way to spark the excitement leading up to the match. An hour before game time, meet the group at Robson and Granville for the ½ mile March to the Match. This is a widely-embraced way to get ready for the match.
An extra mark for the significant place that Vancouver has given Terry Fox. With the plaza named after him, and a fantastic bronze statue (four actually), Vancouver and BC Place has shown the importance of this Canadian icon, who arguably did more for cancer research than any other person, ever!
A bit of research will tell you BC Place Stadium was built in 1983 and was, for the last couple years of the team's life, home of the original Vancouver Whitecaps of the North American Soccer League. There aren't any other NASL-vintage stadiums in Major League Soccer so the first-time visitor to Vancouver might expect to visit an old but character-filled building, a place that could tell stories of the hallowed footsteps of Carl Valentine, Peter Beardsley, and Bob Lenarduzzi.
Not quite so. Starting in 2010 BC Place underwent a billion-dollar refit which included a $500-million retractable fabric roof and countless interior and infrastructure improvements. Today's BC Place bears almost no resemblance to the old stadium, with twenty-eight years of history hidden behind a brand new modern faÃ§ade.
It's a real improvement. While the Vancouver Whitecaps played only a handful of games at BC Place in 2011, that handful was enough to impress almost every fan making the trek from their temporary home at Empire Field. It doesn't stand at the top of the world but BC Place today is probably the best facility for soccer in Canada.
Don't let the claims of being established in 1974 fool you, the Vancouver Whitecaps FC are a relatively young endeavor. Playing in their 2nd year in Major League Soccer (MLS), the Whitecaps are claiming lineage back to the days of the Whitecaps in the old North American Soccer league (NASL). With the increased prominence of soccer in North America, specifically the successes of Toronto FC and Seattle Sounders FC, expansion to the Canadian West Coast seemed natural. In only their second year, the Whitecaps have not disappointed. Calling BC Place home, the Whitecaps are riding over $1 billion in renovations, and success on the field to bring in strong crowds.
The changes to BC Place are quite significant. Formerly an inflated roof dome comparable to the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome, the Silverdome, or Hoosierdome, BC Place has replaced the roof with a retractable vinyl, giant scoreboard, and numerous interior improvements to alleviate the harsh concrete look.
Getting out to see a Whitecaps game should be something that any soccer aficionado strives for. You won't be disappointed as the Vancouver Whitecaps are a soccer experience that rivals the rest of the MLS, with the opportunity to get even bigger and better.
180 W Georgia St
Vancouver, BC V6B 4P4
118 Robson St
Vancouver, BC V6B 2M1
654 Nelson St
Vancouver, BC V6B 6K4
145 Quebec St
Vancouver, BC V6A 3Z7
750 Pacific Blvd
Vancouver, BC V6B 5E7
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