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Why Pay $500 Million for a Stadium If You Can't Use Half of It?

Not shown, ever: more than half the seats in the stadium. Not even for Mr. Posh Spice.
Not shown, ever: more than half the seats in the stadium. Not even for Mr. Posh Spice.

As the entire world knows by now, tonight's game between the Vancouver Whitecaps and the Los Angeles Galaxy has sold out.

Well, of course it hasn't really. The lower bowl has sold out; the upper bowl has not been opened for an MLS Whitecaps match yet and won't be tonight, so in fact less than half of BC Place's 54,320 capacity will be used. Not for lack of demand; at StubHub, tickets are fetching easily double face value. Scalpers are probably treating today as an occasion to make up the losses they take most of the rest of the year.

The Whitecaps are keeping the sheets around the upper bowl to create scarcity. The logic is that next year, fans who only care about David Beckham will buy season tickets to make sure they get into these games rather than spending a much smaller amount of money buying two tickets off a guy in Terry Fox Square. I don't know, people much smarter than me make these decisions. That part isn't what annoys me.

What annoys me is that, over the past few years, the taxpayers of British Columbia spent over half a billion dollars renovating BC Place. That's more than a third of the cost of the oh-so-contentious Evergreen Line, which would serve more British Columbians in a day than BC Place does in a week, spent on painting some walls and throwing an enormous tarp over the concrete so that, on the five sunny days Vancouver gets every year, we could see the sky if there wasn't a massive scoreboard in the way.

Much of the justification of this hugely expensive plastic surgery was that the Whitecaps would get to move into Major League Soccer and we'd get to see all the big stars: David Beckham, Thierry Henry, and so on. When Beckham visited a pre-renovation BC Place to take on the Whitecaps in a 2007 friendly, 48,127 fans packed in just to catch a glimpse of him. Now, the biggest name in global soccer is making his first visit in half a decade, demand is high, the Whitecaps could put a fair few bums in those seats if they wanted to... and they aren't. For marketing reasons.

The people of British Columbia spent a vast sum of money to renovate a building that deliberately isn't being used to its full capacity by its second-biggest tenant when there's demand from those same people to justify it. For marketing reasons.

I'm not sure who I'm mad at here. I would be horrified if PavCo stepped in and commanded the Whitecaps on how to run their business; likewise, I can't tell the Whitecaps "go make less money, please; after all, you guys got screwed out of the Waterfront Stadium by the port and the government so now you have to deal with the consequences." I don't think I'm mad at anyone, just at the concept: the 99% of British Columbians that don't care about the Whitecaps were asked to pay for this, and now that they might actually want to get some use out of this enormous expense they're being told "sorry, buy season tickets next time." It's a ridiculous, insoluble conflict that would never come up if we treated professional sports clubs like the businesses they insist they are and told them to build their own damned workplaces at their own damned expense.

I wonder how much those sheets blocking out the lower bowl tonight cost to have installed. Taxpayers might want to think about how much they're paying to not see stars next time they're asked to buy a billionaire's sports team a playground.