An MLB Team in Vancouver? Why Not?

Today one of our authors discusses the potential for MLB to relocate a team to Vancouver.

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Pregame Pepper

Did you know…

. . . Baseball in Vancouver can be traced back to 1905 when the Vancouver Veterans became a semi-professional team in the Northwestern League. The team benefited from the rising popularity at the time of traveling baseball teams but unfortunately folded after just one season.

. . . In 1908, Herbert Sylvester became the first British Columbia-born player to appear in the MLB. He pitched 4 2/3 innings for the Cincinnati Reds but made only one appearance in the Majors.

. . . There is some precedence behind an Oakland baseball team moving to Vancouver. In 1956, the Oakland Oaks relocated to Vancouver and were renamed the Mounties in the Pacific Coast League. That year, the Mounties manager, 59-year-old Lefty O’Doul, entered himself into the last inning of the last game of the season, scoring a triple in his “last” professional at-bat.


Leading Off

Canadian Eh? Major League Baseball Comes To Vancouver

By Ben Abel

If you live in Vancouver, Canada and you love baseball as I do, your eyes probably lit up when a recent survey dropped about the possibility of Major League Baseball coming to Vancouver.

The publication that started the ball rolling for me was written by local company Research and Co.’s Mario Canseco. According to Research and Co’s press release, the online survey of a representative provincial sample found that 61% of British Columbians think it is a “very good” or “good” idea to have an MLB team in Vancouver.

The online study was conducted from June 6 to June 8, 2021, among 800 adults in British Columbia.

The Oakland Athletics Are Coming To Vancouver?

The Oakland Athletics were one team linked to Vancouver because of the A’s recent issues in Oakland. The team is exploring new stadium options outside of continuing at the Oakland Coliseum, including looking at having a new stadium built at Howard Terminal. That vote goes to Oakland’s Council on Tuesday and a no vote on its financials would mean the Athletics would likely leave that city. It’s Las Vegas and not Vancouver though where the A’s likely will land given Major League Baseball has allowed the A’s to explore options with Las Vegas as a candidate. The National Football League’s Raiders left Oakland for Las Vegas as well. 

More broadly, Major League Baseball’s talk of expansion includes the likes of Las Vegas, Montreal (again), Portland, Charlotte, and Nashville, all of which have been mentioned by Commissioner Rob Manfred, and then Vancouver as a possible choice dating back to 2018.

Why Not Vancouver As A Major League City?

Again though, the challenges of not only bringing a team to Vancouver but also having it actually operate here and be successful are another theme to debate.

The above-mentioned expansion markets include a number of key things that Vancouver currently does not have. The cities of Nashville, Las Vegas, and Charlotte all have Triple-A affiliate teams that have been very successful.

Las Vegas already has the Triple-A Affiliate of the Athletics, the Aviators, which were the top draw in all of Minor League Baseball in 2019.

The stadium the Aviators currently play in can be converted to a Major League stadium should the need arise for the Athletics or another team from Major League Baseball. 

Vancouver has BC Place, which was renovated in 2011 though it has been seen as an unsuitable venue for Major League Baseball given its capacity of 54,500. The construction of a new stadium carries with it a minimum of $2 billion and a modified price tag that would be a stumbling block for Vancouver’s bid to obtain an MLB team. 

The lack of a Triple-A presence might hurt Vancouver too since the transition from a Triple-A to Major League Baseball city makes sense on a number of levels and is a serious upgrade from a marketing and branding perspective.

Sure, the Research and Co. survey said that 46% of British Columbians—and 52% of those who reside in Metro Vancouver—say they are “very likely” or “moderately likely” to attend at least one home game a year, but that simply isn’t enough when there are 81 home games for the Major League Baseball.

The Vancouver Canadians play a 76 game schedule that sees them host about half of those games at home. For context, they averaged around 6000 fans at Nat Bailey Stadium which has a capacity of 6500.

So What Does Vancouver Having Going For It?

Vancouver does have a lot going for it in terms of baseball history. So much so that on a recent IBWAA podcast in March Jason Takefman, one of the hosts of the podcast, elaborated on Vancouver’s baseball history. 

Nat Bailey Stadium, where the Northwest League Vancouver Canadians play, was built in 1951, and baseball itself has over a century of time here in the City. 

And in the Pacific Coast League days when I attended a lot of Triple-A Vancouver Canadians games, the team captured the Triple-A World Series in 1999.

The University of British Columbia has the number one baseball program in the country, which is another feather in Vancouver’s baseball cap.

The sport of baseball also received a serious shot in the arm when the Canadians became the Short-Season A affiliate of the Toronto Blue Jays following the 2010 season. The deal was for 10 years that was continued in the winter of 2020 despite no 2020 Minor League Baseball Season.

As Takefman noted in the previously mentioned IBWAA podcast, the Blue Jays themselves are seen as Canada’s team and the fit with the Canadians made perfect sense. 

That love for baseball then could translate into enough fan interest materializing should Major League Baseball come to Vancouver.

What Happens Now?

Fan interest alone won’t seal the deal as it will take $2-plus billion alone to build a suitable park and fans must be willing to attend much more than just one home game mentioned in the Research and Co. Survey.

The biggest stumbling block will, and always will be money at the end of the day despite the romantic history of baseball in Vancouver and the fans’ passion for it.

With the $2.2 billion cost and related fees for expansion from MLB (per Commissioner Rob Manfred) plus the cost of a new stadium, you are looking at over $4 billion to bring the MLB to Vancouver.

We shouldn’t close the door just yet on baseball taking this step towards Vancouver. We should however approach it with a serious plan and the right financial backing in place. If it is done very very well, it could turn out to be a huge win for the city and the game of baseball.

Ben Abel has been an avid sports fan since the 1980s. He has contributed to Sports Betting Dime and Overtime Heroics covering hockey, baseball, and football as well as other sports. He lives in Vancouver, Canada. You can contact him on Twitter @lebaneb or via email at info@abelmarketing.ca.


Extra Innings

“I’m a fan of the Phillies — they’ve been my favorite team since the 80’s. If we had a team that was based here [in Vancouver], I would root for it. We see that with people who root for the Mariners and travel all the time to watch the series when they could, all of the people who root for the Blue Jays because they are the only team from Canada … They are the ones who are saying, ‘If this happens, I’m becoming a fan of Vancouver.'”
- Mario Canseco with Research Co. on the potential for an MLB team to come to Vancouver

“You could relocate a team and that would bring the costs down, but you still have to build a new stadium. We’re talking about billions upon billions of dollars. As rich as Vancouver might be and have a lot of multi-millionaires, do they have enough billionaires who are willing to, say, invest in something like this?”
- Satiar Shah with Sportsnet 650 on moving an MLB team to Vancouver