B.C. Lions hoping to make 2024 Grey Cup a ‘zip’ regardless of team qualification

Photo courtesy: Steven Chang/B.C. Lions

The B.C. Lions may be taking a ‘Grey Cup or bust’ approach to the 2024 season on the field, but the team’s organizing committee isn’t relying on a title run to ensure their success as hosts of the CFL championship game.

“Our business plan doesn’t have us in it,” Lions’ president Duane Vienneau told reporters following the unveiling of plans for the 2024 Grey Cup festival on Thursday.

“We don’t plan to be in the game. We want to be in the game, obviously; that’s the ultimate goal is to host a Grey Cup, be in the Grey Cup and that’s what you want. You plan for if you’re not in, how does this work? We go on sale before the season starts, we try to separate the Grey Cup from the team itself, and we just work really hard to put on a great event no matter what happens.”

Over 50 different activities and activations are planned in the lead-up to the 111th Grey Cup game at B.C. Place, with events taking place from Monday, November 11 until kickoff on Sunday, November 17. The province has provided $3.5 million in funding to support the festivities, which will also be funded by corporate sponsors like Save-On-Foods, RBC, Telus, and others.

Waterfront Road will be the hub for all the action with over 500,000 fans expected to take in some part of the street festival, which will include live music, food trucks and a pair of mini football fields. Both Vancouver Convention Centres will be stocked with activities, with an extensive family zone and all the annual team parties accessible under one roof.

The crown jewel of the festivities will be a pair of zip lines, with one allowing fans to race 530 feet above the street party and the other travelling five stories over open water in Vancouver Harbour to go from one Convention Centre to the other.

Graphic courtesy: B.C. Lions

Vienneau was the first to advocate for the introduction of zip lines to the Grey Cup festival back in 2010, after he experienced their success at the Winter Olympics in Vancouver. He believes that the Lions have truly upped the ante this time around.

“I’ve been around this for a long time and I’ve done a few Grey Cups in other markets, both from a team perspective and from a league perspective, and I have a pretty good idea of what works well in different markets,” Vienneau said. “We’ve taken sort of the best of the best of the best and we put that into our bid. That’s what we’re going to do here, we really want to make it the biggest, the best and we want to make it a hard act to follow.”

Mounting a winning Grey Cup bid was top on the list of priorities for B.C. Lions owner Amar Doman when he purchased the team in August 2021, a fact made all the more apparent when he brought Vienneau aboard the following year. The long-time CFL exec served as the league’s chief Grey Cup and events officer from 2019 until his hiring by the Leos in 2022 and previously helped execute successful festivals in 2010 and 2018 with Edmonton.

Vancouver has not hosted a Grey Cup since 2014, the second-longest drought of any CFL city behind only Montreal. 52,056 fans were in BC Place to witness the Calgary Stampeders defeat the Hamilton Tiger-Cats on that occasion, just under the 54,313 mark that were on hand three years earlier to witness the Lions win the trophy at home in 2011.

B.C. has gone through some dark days in the years since but attendance is finally back on the rise thanks to Doman’s leadership. That has given the CFL the confidence to bring its biggest event back to the West Coast.

“This is a Grey Cup city. You want to have Grey Cups here in Vancouver, for sure. BC Place is such a unique building and it’s got such a great history of hosting games,” commissioner Randy Ambrosie said. “A Grey Cup here with Amar as the owner, with Duane as the president of the Lions makes it really special. I don’t think you could ask for anything better.”

The Lions have a busy 2024 on tap with the CFL’s other premier annual showcase, the Touchdown series, scheduled to take place in Victoria in August. Unlike that event, the Grey Cup will happen during the typically wet coastal winter, but Vienneau is unconcerned about the climate.

“I’ve already predicted the weather. It’s going to be a plus-eight and sunny,” he joked.

“This is a rain or shine festival. It’s going no matter what and in other markets that’s very common. We’re just going to build it so that if it happens to rain one day, well, we’re going to have options for you if that happens.”

The Lions will get a chance to exceed their president’s current business projections when they open the 2024 season on Sunday, June 9 in Toronto against the Argonauts.

J.C. Abbott is a University of British Columbia graduate and high school football coach. He covers the CFL, B.C. Lions, CFL Draft and the three-down league's Global initiative.