Everyone’s focus on the Major League Baseball Expansion Into Canada front has been entirely on bringing the Montreal Expos back to life. But, thanks to executives from Major League Baseball going on two separate trips to B.C. Place in Vancouver in the last two years, attention is shifting west.
As Sean Fitz-Gerald reported in The Athletic on Wednesday, delegates from the Arizona Diamondbacks have visited Vancouver two times now. In 2018, members of the organization visited to get an idea as to whether B.C. Place would be a feasible temporary replacement for the Diamondbacks if Chase Field wasn’t available during renovations. The Diamondbacks are one of a few Major League teams seeking public funding for stadium renovations and have used relocation (to Vegas) as a lobbying technique.
A point of contact throughout the Diamondbacks’ visit through Vancouver was Bart Given of marketing firm TORQUE Strategies. Given, who served as a member of the Blue Jays’ front office back during the J.P. Riccardi days, has been an advocate for Major League Baseball to venture in Vancouver.
“We’re ready for Major League Baseball in Vancouver,” Given said. “I think it’s time to start that conversation and to be loud and proud about it.”
A couple of years ago, MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred spoke about the goal of the league expanding to 32 teams. The NFL has been there for years and the NHL is headed there with the Seattle franchise set to join the league in 2021-22. He mentioned Vancouver, along with Mexico City, Montreal, Nashville, Portland, Vegas, and Charlotte as some feasible locations for future expansion.
"We think there are places in Mexico we could go for the long haul."
MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred on the league's expansion pic.twitter.com/aezGxAs5mS
— First Things First (@FTFonFS1) July 17, 2018
Of course, these tours through B.C. Place by the Diamondbacks really don’t mean much. This is even less of a big deal that what we have going on right now in Tampa between the Rays and Montreal’s Stephen Bronfman. But, still, it’s the start of something that really could become bigger.
Vancouver really does make plenty of sense for Major League Baseball, perhaps even more so than Montreal. B.C. Place, which houses the CFL’s B.C. Lions and MLS’s Vancouver Whitecaps, can accommodate roughly 55,000 spectators. Building a new stadium anywhere in Vancouver, where land is at such a premium, wouldn’t be a realistic ask, but renovating B.C. Place to get up to MLB standards isn’t unreasonable.
The thing with Vancouver that makes it such an attractive option is the size and strength of the baseball community that already exists in the city and surrounding area.
The Blue Jays’ rookie league affiliate, the Vancouver Canadians, averaged 6,210 fans per game last season, which is incredibly impressive given their stadium’s 6,400 person capacity. You also see many of these fans invading Seattle when the Blue Jays make their annual trip out west to play the Mariners. Vancouver also houses Canada’s best university-level baseball program at the University of British Columbia.
“The population [of Vancouver] is already following baseball at a high level,” Given said. “About 43 percent of the province is already engaging with Major League Baseball on an annual basis. A large portion of those are Jays fans, but there are some others following teams across Major League Baseball.”
One thing going against Vancouver is the proximity to Seattle. Hard-core baseball fans could easily travel across the border to watch the Mariners, so getting a new MLB team off the ground would be difficult because you’re competing with an already-established travelling fanbase.
But, I mean, how many people in Vancouver really give a shit about the Mariners? A good chunk of baseball fans in Vancouver are fans of the Blue Jays, as you can see every single year when Safeco is loaded with blue. Beyond Vancouver, I can say from experience you would have plenty of Jays fans from all across Alberta making the trek into Vancouver to watch this hypothetical MLB team. It’s a lot easier to make that drive than it is to get a flight to Toronto to watch the Blue Jays.
As I said earlier, this is nowhere near happening, but it’s nice to see Vancouver starting to work its way into the conversation. Vancouver makes all kinds of sense for Major League Baseball. They deserve another chance to venture into another major sport after the NBA gave the city blue balls with the Grizzlies.