There is something very cyclical about what needs to happen for the Kamloops Broncos to be financially successful.
Sponsors will find it easier to consider the Broncos a worthy investment when the team wins more football games.
In order to win more games, the British Columbia Football Conference (BCFC) squad must have a good team.
If they are going to have a consistently good team, the Broncos need to develop local talent.
Local talent will often first blossom in Kamloops Community Football (KCF), an organization created under the Broncos’ umbrella.
The players who make their way through the minor-football ranks will likely join Kamloops’ high-school teams.
After high school, the Broncos will look to recruit the best of the bunch.
Team president Dino Bernardo sat down with KTW to talk about the path to success.
The Broncos are not ready to go the way of the dodo — or the Kamloops Cowboys — just yet.
“We’re not in trouble, but we’re not in a financially stable position where we feel we’re comfortable,” Bernardo said.
“The last two years, we’ve had to have a line of credit, but we’re nowhere near where the Cowboys were when they folded,” he said in reference to the team that was a BCFC member from 2000 to 2003 before leaving the field under a gang tackle of debt.
In 2007 and 2008, years one and two of junior football’s return to Kamloops, the Broncos were an economically viable franchise.
“We were getting gaming grants and we were getting a ton of sponsors,” Bernardo said.
“In Year 3, I think we took a step back.
“We used to have five $5,000 sponsors. Now, we’re down to two [The Commodore Grand Café and Lounge, which Bernardo co-owns, and radio station CIFM].
“That’s a loss of $15,000 we just don’t have anymore. Also, we used to get provincial gaming grants. Well, the last two years, we’ve got nothing.”
Bernardo applied for a provincial grant this year, but won’t know how much the team will receive until August.
The Kamloops Blazers Sports Society (KBSS) Sports Legacy Fund is a big reason why the Broncos have been able to survive the gaming-grant cuts and sponsorship losses.
Bernardo said the Broncos have received about $50,000 from the Legacy Fund during the past four years.
“If we didn’t have the Blazers’ sports foundation, this program probably would have folded at the beginning of last year.”
The money from the KBSS has gone toward establishing a community football program in Kamloops, refurbishing the Broncos’ locker room and buying new helmets and jerseys.
When it comes to overall budget, Kamloops is on the lower end of the BCFC totem pole.
The Vancouver Island Raiders of Nanaimo are right at the top, along with the Okanagan Sun of Kelowna.
“Nanaimo has three times our budget,” Bernardo said.
“Nanaimo’s money came from one guy, [Atlas Group owner] Hadi Abassi, but I don’t think he’s funding it to where he was in the first few years.
“Once you start winning some national championships, business wants to jump on board and help the program.”
The Raiders have won three Canadian Junior Football League championships since moving to Nanaimo from Victoria in 2005.
Abassi’s money enabled the team to recruit high-end players from the get-go and pay a full-time coaching staff.
Kamloops head coach Duncan Olthuis is the only Bronco who gets paid.
He receives an honorarium that covers expenses like travel and phone-bill costs that result from recruiting.
The Sun, founded in 1980, have established their reputation over time and Kelowna has become an attractive place for elite high-school prospects to play.
Both the Raiders and the Sun have access to considerably more scholarship money than the Broncos.
“Nanaimo’s and Kelowna’s scholarship budgets are in the $30,000 range,” Bernardo said.
In 2011, the Broncos received a $2,000 donation from Morfco Supply, which was split three ways to recruit high-school prospects.
That $2,000 was the entire scholarship budget.
Starting them young
The Kamloops High Red Devils were a perennial provincial powerhouse, partly because of a once-healthy minor-football program in the River City.
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, minor football in the Tournament Capital all but disappeared.
In 2008, it returned when Kamloops Community Football (KCF) was established.
(Read story on Page A29 for more information on KCF).
Its existence now is of paramount importance, considering the state of local high-school football.
“When they changed the school district to make those three junior highs into senior highs, it just spread the wealth of the talent,” Bernardo said.
Multiple local high-school football programs — junior and senior teams included — were forced to fold last season due to a lack of players and coaches.
The braintrust behind both the Broncos and KCF wants kids to pick up the pigskin at a young age.
As a result, high-school programs should see an increase in numbers and return to prominence.
High-end local players could then be scooped up by the Broncos after high school and nourished on their way to the university, college or professional ranks.
“We’re just going to start seeing all of these kids who have played two or three years of minor going into Grade 9,” Bernardo said.
If everything proceeds as planned, Kamloops might be able to field a team filled with homegrown talent within the decade — one the business community can get behind.
The Broncos’ ultimate goal is not to win a national championship.
“Of course, we want to make playoffs, and we want to win, and we want to do well,” Bernardo said.
“But, we didn’t start this to win national championships.
“Our goal is that Kamloops kids can have a bridge between high school and Canadian Interuniversity Sports (CIS). That’s what I gauge my success on.”
Kamloops has already sent eight players to the CIS ranks.
Along with being a stepping stone, the Broncos have become a cash cow for Thompson Rivers University.
“We really try and sell the university. It’s a phenomenal facility and it offers great programs.”
Bernardo said the Broncos are also good for the city in general, as some graduating players decide to call Kamloops home.
Surviving these lean years might be considered a success story in itself.
The Broncos’ president thanked the fans who frequent Hillside Stadium on game nights for their support.
“When you talk to the presidents of the other teams, they’re shocked at our fan support,” Bernardo said.
“Outside of Kelowna, I think we have the best fan base in the entire league.”
The Broncos average about 600 spectators per home game, despite not having made the playoffs in franchise history.
“Once we start winning games, we’re going to sell out that stadium,” Bernardo said.
“Kamloops likes to support a winner.”
So does its business community, which Bernardo would like to see on board sooner than later.
“We’ve made a lot of mistakes that have held us back, but we’re on the right track now,” Bernardo said.
“Football in Kamloops is a phenomenal thing and there’s been a lot of different things that contributed to its downfall.
“We’re hoping the Broncos can help rebuild it back to what it was.”
— Anyone interested in sponsoring the Broncos can call Bernardo at 250-371-1748.
— The Broncos are always looking to contribute in the community. In the past, team members have taken part in activities such as serving lunch at the New Life Mission, Community Cleanup Day and the AIDS Walk for Life.
— Kamloops’ junior football players are often in need of summer employment. Call Bernardo to hire a Bronco.
— At least three members of the 2011 Broncos will play football at the college or university level next season. Linebacker Mitch Day will play at Concordia University in Montreal. Offensive lineman Matt Davidson will play at Acadia University in Nova Scotia. Offensive lineman Aaron Osczevski will play at Alberta.
— The B.C. Football Conference is entering its 65th season of play. Member teams in 2012 include the Broncos, the Nanaimo-based Vancouver Island Raiders, the Westshore Rebels (who play in the Victoria suburb), the Langley Rams, the Chilliwack Huskers and the Kelowna-based Okanagan Sun.
— The Raiders are defending BCFC champions and have won the league title for six straight years.
— There have been seven national champions crowned from the BCFC — the Vancouver Blue Bombers in 1947, the Vancouver Trojans in 1982, the Okanagan Sun in 1988 and 2000 and the Vancouver Island Raiders in 2006, 2008 and 2009.
— Kamloops will open the season at home at Hillside Stadium on Sunday, Aug. 5, when the Chilliwack Huskers pay a visit.
— Darryl Chow has taken over general-manager duties from Bernardo this season.