Convention Center Hoops It Up

Teamwork helps Vancouver center bring in inaugural basketball event

  • by Brad Weissberg
  • Published: December 5, 2018

Portable seating and a borrowed court helped turn the Vancouver Convention Centre into a big-time college basketball venue for a week. (Courtesy Vancouver Convention Centre)

Instead of choosing a conventional arena such as Rogers Arena or the Langley Events Centre as the site for its Vancouver-area basketball event, organizer BD Global picked the Vancouver Convention Centre to host the inaugural TCL Vancouver Showcase, played Nov. 18-24. The weeklong event turned into a slam dunk for the venue, which reported higher-than-usual attendance and concession sales for the event.

Turned into an intimate 3,200-seat basketball arena for the week, the venue played host to a round robin competition featuring men's teams Notre Dame, Minnesota, Oregon State and Santa Clara, and an eight-team women's tournament won by Notre Dame, the top-ranked team in the country at the time.

Typically used for trade shows and corporate galas, the East Exhibition Hall B multipurpose space was turned into a pop-up basketball court. The convention center hadn’t been used for a sporting event of this magnitude since 1990, when it hosted Davis Cup play.

"It has been years in the making and it was both exciting and rewarding to have hosted this event successfully," said Craig Lehto, Vancouver Convention Centre general manager. "The TCL Vancouver Showcase was a result of a number of local contributing partners, including government and hospitality, coming together to bring the event to Vancouver."

The makeshift arena, constructed with portable bleachers and a borrowed floor, took seven days to install and three days to move out, Lehto said.

"This was the first time we’ve done this type of installation," he said. "The event design, technical requirements and overall guest experience were unlike most events that we host at our facility. While we have some experience hosting sporting events at the Vancouver Convention Centre, there was still a learning curve for our team."

Lehto said that preparation was the key, along with some guidance from the convention center's sister venue, BC Place stadium.

The venue relied on BC Place's expertise in a number of areas, including guest flow, procedures and deployment, he said. 

"We also utilized some of the BC Place’s physical assets, including F&B equipment and bag size check boxes. We also conducted numerous site visits to learn from BC Place as well as the other local venue partners, including Rogers Arena and the University of British Columbia."

Centerplate is the convention center's concessionaire. Jennifer Rafuse has been with the convention center for 10 years and was recently promoted to general manager for the F&B provider.

"This was an exciting event and very different from what we normally do," Rafuse said. "We had to shift our focus to a retail event, which is nothing like the banquets and trade shows we usually service."

Rafuse said having the BC Place team onboard to help made the switch a whole lot easier.

"Centerplate is also the hospitality provider at the stadium, and we were able to draw from their expertise," she said.

Seven pop-up concession stands were built for the event and borrowed point-of-sale systems were installed.

"We brought in stadium-style food and a lot of grab-and-go items," Rafuse said. "And local craft beers."

"Sales were strong," Rafuse said. "The per caps were higher than usual (for the room). We were very happy with the results."

Lehto said that being quick to address any issues that stemmed from hosting the event was another big part of its success.

"We learned and modified as the event went on and drew on our strength in teamwork," he said. "We had a big team working on every facet of the event, and each was leaned on quite heavily for specific aspects. We spent a lot of time gathering feedback and recalibrating as the tournament went on."

The basketball court was borrowed from the University of British Columbia. The bleachers were custom-built for the exhibition hall and paid for by tournament co-sponsor Sport Hosting Vancouver. They will be reused for other city events.

"We had to communicate directly with the manufacturer regarding dimensions and safety," Lehto said. "We also had to schedule a basketball court installation test to ensure a smooth execution for the actual event."

Other challenges the team faced included having to create new building fixtures to accommodate LED screens and audio towers; attaching TV broadcast light fixtures along the sides of room; facilitating network and broadcast capabilities for ESPN, TSN, Big Ten Network, and various radio streams; and bringing in equipment to stream games online.

Tickets ranged from $32 to $213; all-session passes ranged from $110 to $616.

Lehto said the event was not just a one-time event but did not go into the specifics of the contract.

"We expect to make improvements next year," he added.

  • by Brad Weissberg
  • Published: December 5, 2018