British Columbia

Canucks, Lions say little about Surrey mayor's election promise to build huge stadium

With the civic election looming, one pundit wonders if the 60,000 seat stadium proposed by Doug McCallum is meant to distract attention from his legal troubles.

Doug McCallum said the clubs are being approached about his idea to put a 60,000 seat stadium in Surrey

Doug McCallum talks at a podium marked 'State of the City 202'. He is wearing a suit with a red tie.
Mayor Doug McCallum is pledging to build a 60,000 seat stadium in Surrey if re-elected. (Justine Boulin/CBC News)

The Vancouver Canucks and B.C. Lions are staying mum about a 60,000-seat stadium in Surrey promised by Mayor Doug McCallum in his re-election platform.

On CBC's The Early Edition, McCallum told host Stephen Quinn he was talking to both clubs "... to see whether there's a possibility that we could run some games or some farm teams or work with them as far as both hockey and football."

When asked if they had discussed the stadium with McCallum, the Vancouver Canucks responded with "no comment." 

B.C. Lions communications manager Matt Baker said, "I can't confirm that, although I did hear the mayor say it, so do with it as you will."

McCallum told CBC that a Surrey stadium makes sense for those teams because most spectators attending Lions and Canucks games "are actually from Surrey." Both clubs declined to comment on his statement. 

The notion of building such a huge stadium in suburban Surrey has been met with criticism, jokes, and a lot of head-scratching.

Although McCallum is pitching it as a multi-use facility for sports, cultural events and film production, it's hard to find merit in the idea.

For one, the region already has B.C. Place Stadium in Vancouver with 54,500 seats that are rarely filled.

Average home game attendance for the Lions and Vancouver Whitecaps at B.C. Place is hovering around 20,000 and 16,000 respectively in 2022, and large curtains shroud thousands of empty upper bowl seats to try to make the stadium smaller and more visually appealing for television.

Watch | An analysis of the feasibility of building a 60,000 seat stadium in Surrey:

Slam dunk or hail mary? Analyzing Doug McCallum's Surrey stadium promise

3 months ago
Duration 3:07
Reporter Justin McElroy looks into the feasibility of Mayor Doug McCallum's promise of a new 60,000 seat stadium in Surrey.

Large stadiums usually have a strong anchor tenant to make the economics work and often rely on government subsidies and tax breaks for construction and operation.

As owners of the Vancouver Canucks and Rogers Arena, the Aquilini family has a nicely integrated business that's not going anywhere.

B.C. Place is owned and operated by the province under the company PavCo. One assumes the province won't be lining up to subsidize a competitor. 

"During the municipal election cycle, there are many ideas and debates generated, and we can't speak to those," said PavCo senior director Meaghan Benmore.

And then there's the cost. By comparison, the estimated price tag for the new 60,000-seat stadium being built for the NFL's  Buffalo Bills is $1.4 billion US.  McCallum said he has yet to start on a business plan for the Surrey stadium. 

"We've done some reviews. We've talked to different sports organizations, and once we get elected, then we will start the next day and develop a business case," he said.

'Trying to change the channel'

McCallum is sure to face questions about the stadium, which might be the real point of the stadium exercise, some believe, with his public mischief trial set for late October, two weeks after the municipal election.

McCallum is facing the charge in relation to a claim he made that someone ran over his foot in a grocery store parking lot.

Alphonso Davies is seen in silhouette in a large stadium with a giant screen hanging from the roof.
Former Vancouver Whitecaps midfielder Alphonso Davies is silhouetted at B.C. Place stadium in 2018. B.C. Place has 54,500 seats, but curtains are often used to obscure the empty upper bowl. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press)

"I think he's clearly trying to change the channel here. He's trying to get people to talk about something else other than his foot," said University of the Fraser Valley political scientist Hamish Telford. 

Telford thinks the stadium concept appeals to civic pride and harkens back to McCallum's previous and successful campaign, where he promised to replace the RCMP with a municipal police force and expand SkyTrain.

"You know, big cities have these things. Big cities have their own police forces. Big cities have subways and train lines and ... big cities have stadiums."

However, without a realistic plan, Telford says there's a risk the stadium gambit is too "pie in the sky."

"It's got people talking about something else. But in the longer term, he's going to have to back up the idea if he wants it to work for him," said Telford.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Karin Larsen

@CBCLarsen

Karin Larsen is a former Olympian and award winning sports broadcaster who covers news and sports for CBC Vancouver.

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