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Most British Columbians thirsty for the NBA's return to Vancouver, says polling

About 60 per cent of respondents believe bringing back pro basketball is a good idea, according to a Research Co. survey.
Five per cent of Metro Vancouverites say they are “very likely” to purchase season tickets to watch a Vancouver-based NBA team, according to Research Co. polling.

For Canadian sports fans, the holidays provide an opportunity to sit in front of the television and enjoy games.

College football in the United States provides a steady dose of “bowls”, and those interested in the national sport can count on both the National Hockey League (NHL) and the World Junior Championships, while soccer fans turn their attention to the English Premier League (EPL), which carries on even on Boxing Day.

The National Basketball Association (NBA) has spent the last few years heavily marketing its Christmas contests. The tradition has not reached the same level as the renowned Thanksgiving games of the National Football League (NFL) and has barely provided a chance for Canadian fans to root for the Toronto Raptors, who have only played twice on this day — the last time in 2019.

In the summer, Research Co. and Glacier Media reviewed the feelings of British Columbians on the notion of Vancouver hosting a Major League Baseball (MLB) franchise.

At the time, the chances of this happening were remote. Now, they are practically non-existent, as the Oakland Athletics are bound to move to Las Vegas.

Last month, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver commented on the possibility of adding new franchises, mentioning that Vancouver and Montreal had expressed interest in eventually hosting teams. Vancouver had an NBA team from 1995 to 2001, the Grizzlies, who have since moved to Memphis, Tennessee.

In our most recent survey, just under a quarter of British Columbians (23 per cent) recall attending a Vancouver Grizzlies game when the franchise was active in the NBA — a proportion that rises to 28 per cent among Metro Vancouverites.

At this moment, almost three in five British Columbians (59 per cent) lack a favourite NBA team — the same proportion who do not root for any MLB franchise. The Raptors are the choice of one-in-four residents of the province (25 per cent), followed by the Los Angeles Lakers (nine per cent), the Golden State Warriors (four per cent), the Boston Celtics (two per cent) and other teams (also two per cent).

The two Toronto-based sports franchises fare differently in British Columbia, with the Raptors cornering a quarter of the potential fan base and the MLB’s Toronto Blue Jays reaching about a third (32 per cent).

Only 14 per cent of British Columbians currently possess merchandise or apparel from the Raptors, a proportion that rises to 26 per cent among those aged 18 to 34. Ownership of something featuring the logo of the Lakers, Warriors, Celtics or another team is in single digits.

More than two decades after the team left the province, 12 per cent of British Columbians still own merchandise or apparel from the Vancouver Grizzlies.

Nostalgia for the Grizzlies may have risen because of the documentary Finding Big Country, released in 2018 by filmmaker Kathleen Jayme. In any case, many British Columbians — including Vancouver’s current mayor — would be happy with the return of professional basketball.

Almost three in five of the province’s residents (59 per cent) think it would be a “very good” or “good” idea to have an NBA team in Vancouver, while just six per cent reject the notion and 34 per cent are undecided.

Appetite for an NBA franchise in Vancouver is very similar to what was observed for an MLB team earlier this year (60 per cent). Five per cent of Metro Vancouverites say they are “very likely” to purchase season tickets to watch a Vancouver-based NBA team — exactly the same result we had for the potential MLB franchise earlier this year.

High propensity to acquire merchandise with the new team’s logo is similar for both baseball (14 per cent) and basketball (12 per cent). Strong likelihood of watching professional games at a bar or a pub is also comparable (13 per cent for the NBA and 11 per cent for MLB).

There are some differences when it comes to other actions. Almost one in four Metro Vancouverites (24 per cent) are “very likely” to attend at least one professional NBA game if a franchise is based in Vancouver, six points higher than what we were told about an MLB team (18 per cent). Watching games at home is more attractive for baseball (21 per cent) than basketball (13 per cent).

When British Columbians who already root for a team are asked if they would switch their allegiance to the Vancouver-based one, the differences are larger: 23 per cent would do this in professional baseball, while 32 per cent would change in professional basketball.

It is clear that British Columbians would welcome additional professional sports in the Lower Mainland.

Season ticket and merchandise purchases trend roughly at the same level in baseball and basketball, but residents would have a tougher time abandoning their current MLB franchise than their preferred NBA team if the Vancouver “Somethings” were to take the field or the court.

Mario Canseco is president of Research Co.

Results are based on an online study conducted from December 8 to December 10, 2023, among 800 adults in British Columbia. The data has been statistically weighted according to Canadian census figures for age, gender and region in British Columbia. The margin of error—which measures sample variability—is +/- 3.5 percentage points, nineteen times out of twenty.