Step One – Parking
It is not as bad as you might think. All we had heard about the first game for the BC Lions at Empire Field was bad news about the parking; that it was $30 and hard to come by. In fact the regular parking spaces for Empire Stadium are $25 with some up front parking (about 200 spots) available for $30. However, with a plan in mind and a call to the PNE we found out that PNE parking is only $10. So we decided to plan to arrive at the PNE parking lot (off of Renfrew) at 3:00 and see if we could get in. We did get into the lot, paid our $10 and were told we could stay all night but would have no in and out privileges. When we arrived at 3:00 the PNE lot was about 80% full. So if this news does get out you may have to arrive earlier than 3:00.
Step Two – Betting
With the $15 or $20 that we did not need to spend on parking we went to Hastings Racecourse and placed a few bets. We arrived in time to see race #5 and bet on the last three races of the day. Knowing very little about horse betting we bet wins, places and shows which apparently have very low payouts as we ended up winning $14.40 on the $16 we bet with a few winners. But the day was sunny and the management had obviously expected the traffic outside because a band played in-between races and there were various booths selling beer, pop, hotdogs and other snacks. The prices were not bad either – cans of pop for $2 and Corona for $6.50.
Step Three – Dinner
Being too early for dinner when the last race was over we headed into the Eclipse Lounge adjacent to the casino in the upper part of the Hastings Racecourse building in search of a snack. Here is where things fell apart. While management had ample staff outside to meet the demand the lounge had only one server and one bartender and since every table was full it took a long time to even place an order. The server was clearly overwhelmed and apologized both when she took the order and brought the drinks. We saw several groups of people leave after waiting for 10 minutes without any contact. Hopefully they will be prepared the next time the Lions are at home. In the end the nachos that we ordered were very good, full of toppings and cheese and were only $12 for a portion that could have been shared by more than two. The prices on the entire menu, both food and drinks, were very reasonable.
Step Four – Game Time
At 6:15 we headed from the race track and through the Empire Stadium gates. A concourse has been constructed around three sides of the stadium to accommodate beer and food tents, merchandise tents, washrooms and even ATM’s. While it is obvious that a lot of effort has been made to make this year’s Lions experience as positive as possible the concourse area is still too small to hold the 27,000 spectators without a lot of bumping and pushing. Also, the in-trailer washrooms, erected in addition to the line of portable toilets, were super busy and because of that quite disgusting. However, the enthusiasm of the crowd was amazing and we only saw one fight! Inside the stadium the same attention to detail expended for this season was obvious, with the banners and flags from BC Place all moved in and a sound system that was terrific. The only problems were the poles from the grandstand covering which provide obstructed views from a very large number of seats and the very uncomfortable plastic seats themselves. Although we had a somewhat obstructed view we were happy we were not also on the west side of the stadium as we avoided the glare from the setting sun. If you go keep in mind that the end zones have bleachers and not seats and the west side is in the sun most of the game.
All in all it was a good experience but being downtowner’s we will be happy when the Lions move back so we can walk to the game, enjoy inside washroom facilities, not worry about the sun in our eyes and have enough room to move. In 2009 we attended six games, this year it will likely be one or two.