If You Build It, Will They Come?


I’d sing, but it would probably just deflate the team.

SFU’s women’s soccer team has been pretty good so far this season. Sporting a 5-3-1 record going into Saturday’s game, they’ve played well enough to hang with the top teams in GNAC. A particular stand-out has been the offensive play of freshman forward Emma Pringle, who currently has seven goals and one assist in eleven games played. I was hoping that this would be my chance to finally see the Clan win, as it’s been a dismal two months covering these teams so far. I’ve seen the Clan get smacked around by UBC, Trinity Western, Nowhere State, and Central Whocaresville University, but this time was going to be different. This time I was watching a good SFU team. And all they had to do was beat what I thought was a mediocre Montana State Billings Yellowjackets.

The Clan started strong, with Pringle getting a goal midway through the first half. But the Yellowjacket players appeared to be noticeably bigger than the SFU players.SFU dominated possession with their superior quickness and agility, but it didn’t matter, because MSUB just put a bunch of players in front of the net, daring the Clan to try and get past them. The Clan was essentially boxed out from attacking the net and forced to take their shots from further away. The Yellowjackets kept things defensive and conservative, which eventually paid off, as they weathered attack after attack until they had the opportunity to counter. They scored the tying goal early in the 2nd half, and then the winning goal only minutes into OT.1 The Yellowjackets went home with the surprise victory, while I was left standing in the rain wondering how I’ve become a jinx for the SFU Clan.2

In soccer, playing on your home field is usually a huge advantage. You get to play in a familiar setting, you get to rest at home, and when you’ve got a decent fanbase, you get to play in front of a loud and supportive crowd. The problem with the SFU Clan is that they don’t have much of a crowd to start with. The women’s soccer team, despite being the best team I’ve gone to see so far, also features the worst attendance. And I think it starts with the venue, because in order to watch the soccer teams play, you have to sit in the rain.

As far as I can tell, there has never been a permanent stadium on the SFU campus. When a game is held, temporary bleachers are erected for the fans. The unfortunate thing about this set up is that there is no overhang to put the bleachers under, so if it rains, it rains on the fans. And this is Vancouver, so it rains a lot. This does not a pleasant atmosphere make. You’d like to think that this would have occurred to the original designers and architects of SFU, but a quick walk around campus would reveal that practicality was clearly not high on their list of priorities.3

Recently, the Simon Fraser Student Society put forth a proposal to construct a permanent on-campus stadium along with a Student Union Building. Dubbed the “Build SFU” project, students voted to raise students fees for the next 30 years in order to pay for the construction costs. The proposal was finally approved in September of last year and construction on the SUB quickly began. Unfortunately, the SFSS has never been known for its competence.4 The initial quote of $10 million for the stadium ballooned into $30 million and the SFSS realized they had nowhere close to the necessary funds to build it. So they were forced to make the hard choice to drop the stadium from the project.5

Of course, being the pack of geniuses that they are, the SFSS decided to announce this decision to the rest of SFU in a tweet. Keep in mind that this is the same political institution that had to boot its most recent president because it came out that he was actually ineligible for election. As you can imagine, SFU’s athletics department was less than pleased.

The thing is, I’m not sure the SFSS made the wrong decision here. Sure, you can argue that they handled the situation like a bunch of nincompoops, but I’ll leave that to The Peak and its endless war against the SFSS. But why should we expect students to foot the bulk of a $30 million bill when the vast majority of them don’t care about SFU sports? And if SFU decides to step in and build the stadium themselves, would that be a wise investment for university funds when that money could be put towards something far more students would benefit from?

If you wanted to argue for the stadium, you could point out the obvious. The fans need shelter. It’s hard to build a loyal fanbase when all you can offer them at games is a cold metal bench with no rain-cover. The Clan football team fled to Swangard Stadium in Burnaby in order to provide spectators with more comfortable accommodations, but it would be much easier for students (and more fun for alumni) if football was played on campus. And if you actually do start gaining momentum with getting students to the games, then a permanent stadium would offer a much larger seating capacity than the temporary bleachers ever would.

But you could also make a strong argument against the stadium project. $30 million is a ton of money towards something the vast majority of students couldn’t care less about. If the football team is happy at Swangard, then really the only teams being hurt are the two soccer teams and track & field. Are they enough to justify that price tag? And even the superior facilities at Swangard haven’t exactly brought huge crowds to see SFU football, so you could argue that the stadium (or lack thereof) isn’t the issue when it comes to lagging interest in SFU sports.

It’s very much a “the chicken or the egg” situation. On the one hand, it’s difficult to justify spending so much money on a stadium when there is so little interest in watching the Clan. On the other, it’s difficult to generate interest in the Clan when there aren’t facilities in place to actually accommodate increased interest. SFU football’s current solution to the problem has not drawn many fans out to Swangard. But their special Homecoming game at Terry Fox Field actually did draw the largest crowd I’ve seen at a Clan event yet. So there clearly is a value in having these events on campus. The question is if that value is worth $30 million.

It all comes down to SFU’s priorities. If they decide to put all that money towards a permanent on-campus stadium, then they really need to commit to further developing their athletics department. Nobody wants to see a football team that routinely loses by 50 points, regardless of how nice the facilities are. Instead, it might be better for SFU to first put more money towards developing their programs and building competitive teams that are worth seeing. Then we can start talking about building a stadium.6

For now, it looks like I’ll just be sighing in the rain.

NEXT WEEK: I bring my losing curse upon the #3-nationally-ranked men’s soccer team. Sorry in advance, guys.

  1. I clearly need to brush up on the rules for women’s college soccer, because my previous assumptions were that: a) there’s only OT if it’s the knock-out round of a tournament; and b) OT sure ain’t sudden death. 
  2. You’re next, men’s soccer! I’m coming for YOU! 
  3. What was a priority, however, was using the maximum amount of concrete possible in the design. 
  4. Current BC Premier Christy Clark was once the president of the SFSS, which pretty much tells you everything you need to know about the SFSS. 
  5. You can find excellent coverage on this debacle on The Peak‘s website (www.the-peak.ca) as well as the August episodes of the CJSF Sports Report (https://soundcloud.com/cjsfradio/sets/cjsf-sports-report). 
  6. Which I will call “Terry World.” 

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