Whitecaps kick off one-year countdown to join MLS - The Vancouver Sun

Team still dreaming of soccer-specific stadium, but excited to play at BC Place

By Bruce Constantineau

The Vancouver Whitecaps will spend at least the first five or 10 years of their Major League Soccer existence in a BC Place Stadium that reopens with a retractable roof next year after a $458-million upgrade.

But the team still dreams about one day playing in its own soccer-specific stadium along the downtown Vancouver waterfront near the SeaBus terminal.

Premier Gordon Campbell hopes the MLS-bound Whitecaps forget about that dream for a long, long time.

"If [BC Place] works for the Whitecaps, the Whitecaps won't want to move," he said after a Vancouver media event celebrating the team's one-year countdown to its MLS entry. "If the stadium doesn't work for the Whitecaps, they'll move."

Campbell feels the new BC Place will be a "phenomenal" sports and entertainment facility and noted the Whitecaps have not secured the land they need to build their own stadium.

"They would not have been able to get Major League Soccer if they didn't have a home at BC Place," he said. "They have one and we'll see if we can make that home so comfortable for them that they want to stay for a long time."

Whitecaps chief executive officer Paul Barber knows the waterfront stadium concept has been a hot topic in recent years but insists the club's immediate priority is to move to a temporary stadium at Empire Fields and then to BC Place -- both during its first MLS season next year.

The former Tottenham Hotspur executive director said his former England club didn't build one stadium over a 110-year span.

"To move to two in 12 months is a hell of a task," Barber said. " ... We don't want to look too far ahead into the future."

He feels the Whitecaps will be "lucky" to play in BC Place, which has gained worldwide recognition since the 2010 Olympics.

"I think it's going to be a great bowl for soccer -- I really do," Barber said. "I've been in stadiums all over the world for soccer and I get a good feel when I go in there and I think fans will really enjoy it."

The Whitecaps will soon launch the next phase of MLS season ticket sales as they push toward a target of 16,500 season ticket holders for their first year of MLS play.

The club -- with 2,500 season ticket holders this season -- sold 5,000 season ticket deposits last year and has a waiting list of about 3,000 people wanting to buy more so it is likely already more than halfway toward its goal.

Empire Fields can hold 27,500 people while the lower-bowl soccer configuration of BC Place is expected to hold 20,000 to 25,000 people. Barber said the Whitecaps will "optimize" the number of season-ticket holders with the size of the stadium.

"All I know is the demand [for tickets] out there is fantastic and we're going to try and satisfy that demand as best we can," he said.

The Seattle Sounders increased their MLS season ticket base from 22,000 last year to 32,000 this season by opening up more seating in Qwest Field but Barber isn't sure if the Whitecaps will have that flexibility at BC Place.

"That's the challenge -- to work with BC Place to get the optimum configuration," he said.

"It's a combination of proximity to the pitch, the atmosphere that we can build and making sure that everyone that wants to see the team can see the team."

MLS president Mark Abbott said the league has been impressed with the strong support the Whitecaps have received in Vancouver since announcing a year ago it would join MLS in 2011. He said the city will likely host a league championship game or all-star game in the future.

"It's going to be a tremendous market and we look forward to being able to do that," Abbott said.

bconstantineau@vancouversun.com
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