The new BC Place has the world's largest cable supported retractable roof, including a 20.7-metre, four-sided HD video board. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)
BC Place opened in 1983, just prior to Expo 86, and at the time it was state of the art in North American stadium design. Twenty eight years later, I was one of the 50,000-plus fans that packed the renovated stadium on Friday, eager to get a glimpse of the $563-million facelift.
I was not disappointed.
Vancouver unveiled the world's largest cable supported retractable roof, including a 20.7-metre, four-sided HD video board that has a $6-million price tag. It's second in size only to the one at Cowboy Stadium in Dallas. The fact that you can have the roof open while keeping everyone dry in case of rain, combined with a water proof video board, is a pretty cool concept.
When the stadium first opened the team was doing well and continually packed more than 50,000 people, which generated an electric atmosphere that created an amazing experience. Over time, however, the crowds dwindled and BC Place became a venue that few wanted to spend their hot summer day in just to sweat through a football game.
As a player, and CFL fan, I have never enjoyed experiencing football at the old BC Place. Although I have love the excitement of sold out playoff and Grey Cup Games over the years, the echo, lighting and heat made it an uncomfortable and stale environment.
But the new B.C Place has changed all that for both players and CFL fans.
I was very interested in what my first impressions would be walking into the stadium. Immediately I recognized that it looked taller, or at least less confined. The nine-metre band of windows that wrap the roof of the stadium noticeably added a natural feel.
The sightlines were enhanced by a 360-degree group of video graphics similar to Rogers Centre. The focal point of the stadium was definitely the massive four-sided HD video board. The high definition details were crystal clear and often looked almost 3D.
As the roof opened, the fresh air was welcomed as the circulation kept the temperature at a comfortable level.
The annoying confusing echo that had become a trademark of BC Place was no longer evident. As a player, the positioning of the lighting in the old stadium often interfered with your ability to see the ball. Although I didn't get a chance to experience the game from field level on Friday, the lights have noticeably improved.
The Lions marketing department did a very nice job of making the unveiling a special experience. The theme of the day was to pass the game on from the past generation to the new one. I was one of several B.C. alumni that was invited to participate in a reception. It was great reconnecting with old teammates and rubbing shoulders with past Lion greats. After the reception, we were ushered through the crowd of people surrounding the newly designed Terry Fox monument, and down the orange carpet into the stadium to enjoy the game.
Canadian singing great Sarah McLachlan sang the national anthem, along with 50,000 proud Canadians, which gave me chills. Call me a sap, but I found the moment special. Following the anthem Lui Passaglia ran onto the field to pass the game ball to quarterback Travis Lulay and receiver Geroy Simon, signifying the beginning of a new era of football at BC Place.
Leading into the game the big video board was a novelty that I enjoyed as various footage enhanced the entertainment level of the football game. However, as the game progressed I found that the screen became a distraction for me. Sitting 40 rows up, my eyes would be drawn to the rolling graphics and replays, and by the time I realized that the next play had begun, I had missed most of the live action.
Although I feel the graphics were an amazing addition to the game, I believe that those managing the video board will need to be conscious of the effect it has on the crowd. More effort will need to be made to allow the giant screen to be a complement to the game rather than overshadow it.
The massive screen also magnified the images and it seemed to dwarf the play on the field for me.
Whether people packed the stadium because they were rabid Lions fans or simply curious, the end result was a full house. Hopefully, the event brought back some of those fans that once loved the CFL. And hopefully, the unveiling also reintroduced people to our great game.
Large crowds make BC Place a tough building to play in. The noise is confusing to players and it truly makes it difficult to concentrate. The crowd noise also makes it hard to communicate on the field.
I had the opportunity to be at a minor football fundraiser on Saturday night with Lions head coach Wally Buono. When he addressed the crowd he expressed his appreciation for having a true home field advantage once again. With the way that his team is currently playing (the Lions have won six straight) the timing of the opening couldn't have come at a better time. With a new stadium and the 2011 Grey Cup Game on the way, CFL excitement is at an all-time high in Vancouver.
Congratulations to the city of Vancouver and I look forward to taking my family to many games in this new stadium.
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