A major highlight of the trip to date was the visit to BC Place, the home of the British Columbia Lions, to watch them play against the Edmonton Eskimos in a Friday night Canadian Football League showdown. As the Lions were last year’s defending champions the group was quite excited to watch what promised to be a high quality game in a sport that many had not experienced at all before, let alone experienced live.
BC Place has a retractable roof which was lucky as the weather had turned rather nasty that afternoon as we met outside the box office to collect our tickets. Thanks to some work behind the scenes by Jon Heshka from Thompson Rivers University the tour was allowed to observe the pre-game practice and warm-up of both teams from the field level. Sitting next to the turf and soaking in the atmosphere only two or three metres away from professional athletes going about their business was an experience that was simply unforgettable. In particular watching the punter put kick after kick into a small corner of the field less than five yards out from the endzone, from beyond the halfway line, gave us an appreciation for the skill and technique involved in playing at this level.
The Lions staff also provided tour members with team scarves which gained them a small but vocal cheering section for the rest of the night. This turned out to be quite handy for the start of the match as we were situated in the Lions “Cheering Section” behind the home endzone. The atmosphere of the game was electric at kick-off which maintained the high level of excitement from being on the field only minutes beforehand. The crowd interaction in CFL was completely different to audience participation in Australian sport with an in-game announcer exhorting the home crowd to “Make Some Noise” on every defensive play (in order to make it harder for the opposition to communicate) whilst asking them to stay quiet for offensive drives. This support was also influenced by the stop-start nature of the sport – leading to a much more static response reflected by the near eerie silence when the crowd was left unprompted. This can be compared to the traditional Australian crowd reaction which ebbs and flows as the play unfolds in a dynamic fashion. This said it was not a negative but rather a different perspective by which to view the spectacle of the sport in North America.
Speaking of spectacle, there was a lot going on in the stadium apart from the game itself. Guest Services organised giveaways, on-field competitions (including a Zorbing race) and the ever-present breaks in action led to the camera focussing on the crowd and encouraging dancing and other overt displays of support. The support structure of food and sponsorship facilities was quite comprehensive and if people did tire of the action they could browse multiple merchandising outlets or play various sideshow-style games for prizes. Crowd interaction was spiked by roving drummers and specific cheerleading performances which was also relatively novel for us as Australian observers. The marketing and entertainment aspects of the event showed a number of tour members that a vibrant environment can be built upon sport to cater to all-ages and interest levels – ranging for the hardcore fan to the casual observer.Despite the Lions losing 27-14 to the Eskimos an enjoyable night was had by all. Thanks must go to Jon for organising the field tour, which will surely stand as a massive incentive for future study tour groups, and also to Greg, who despite admitting that CFL was not exactly his sport of choice mustered an infectious level of enthusiasm for the game. The night definitely made a lasting impression upon the tour group and opened a lot of eyes to the possibilities that exist when looking at job opportunities within the sporting industry.
Post by Callum DaveyThe CFL team