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By Daniel Fung, TSN Contributor - Archive - Email
Grey Cup champ Lions struggling at the gate
Vancouver, BC (Sports Network) - Vancouver sports fans are known for their fickle nature, but the seemingly low interest level in the defending Grey Cup champion BC Lions - at least at the gate - has to be considered particularly disappointing.

The Lions, who are off to their best start in five years after opening the 2012 campaign with back-to-back home victories, have not been able to translate last November's championship victory on home turf into more bums in seats through the first two weeks of the season despite all the buzz and hype the team had coming into the new season.

In fact, the Lions, who improved their record to 2-0 last Friday with a 39-36 victory over Hamilton, saw only 25,109 fans pass through the turnstiles for that contest.

Friday's crowd figure marked a new attendance low for the Lions - excluding the preseason - since they made their return to the newly renovated BC Place last September.

Their previous low came in their home opener a week earlier when they managed to attract just 29,351 for a game that not only featured a Grey Cup rematch against the Winnipeg Blue Bombers but also turned out to be a record-setting night with future Canadian football Hall of Famer Geroy Simon becoming the CFL's all-time receiving yardage leader.

In their four regular-season games at BC Place last year, they averaged slightly over 36,500 fans per contest.

In fairness, the CFL saw an overall drop in attendance figures in Week 2 compared to Week 1, although, other than the Lions, there aren't any direct comparables since BC is the only team to have played two home games. The Blue Bombers are the only team that has yet to play on home turf.

The Lions have traditionally had a tougher time trying to attract fans during the summer months at BC Place as the previously air-supported domed stadium made for a rather unpleasant atmosphere on warm nights.

Those concerns were supposed to be a thing of the past.

The provincial government spent over a half-billion dollars to refurbish BC Place following the 2010 Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver, with the highlight of the facelift being the new retractable roof.

However, Lions fans - BC Place is also home to the Vancouver Whitecaps of Major League Soccer - haven't had much of an opportunity to enjoy the merits of an open-air stadium.

The roof has only been opened on three occasions for Lions games - two regular- season games, including this past Friday's contest plus one preseason affair.

The Lions, in particular general manager Wally Buono, have made it known that their preference is for the roof to remain closed in order to give the team a controlled environment that would be more conducive to winning, although they did go through the process of announcing prior to Friday's contest that the roof would be open for the game thanks to a positive weather forecast.

Still, it would seem far too convenient to blame the stadium or weather concerns as reasons not to get on board the Lions' bandwagon.

There hasn't been this much promise to start a season for the Lions since the mid-2000s, when the team was routinely dominating the West Division standings and was considered a perennial contender for the Grey Cup.

The Lions have certainly lived up to their preseason billing as Grey Cup contenders, albeit just two games into the new season.

Despite the departures of several key members of their Grey Cup-winning team, including linebacker Solomon Elimimian, who inked a two-year pact with the Minnesota Vikings, and defensive lineman Brent Johnson, who retired in the offseason, the Lions still boast a star-studded lineup with several players who are worth the price of admission alone, including reigning CFL Most Outstanding Player and quarterback Travis Lulay and Winnipeg native and running back Andrew Harris, who appears well on his way to becoming a bona fide CFL superstar.

Perhaps it's a good thing then that from now until Labour Day, which marks the second half of the CFL schedule, the Lions will play just two of their next seven games on the road.

The lack of local football over the summer should give the Vancouver fans, particularly those of the fair-weather variety, plenty of time to whet their appetite for the stretch drive toward the playoffs. If the Lions can continue to do what they've been doing through two games, they just might start to come out in droves.

The Lions could very well be on the verge of something special once again this season. It would be a shame if the fans aren't there to fully embrace it.