Neil McEvoy, co-general manager and director of football operations for the B.C. Lions, addressed a number of topics during an interview with KTW on Wednesday.
Here is the question-and-answer session, which has been edited for length.
KTW: Feb. 9 was a terrible day for Vancouver sports radio. TSN 1040 was, essentially, wiped out by Bell. What are your thoughts on what happened?
Neil McEvoy: To be quite honest, it’s a sad day. I have a lot of colleagues and people I’ve spoken to throughout the years, friends of mine on and off the field, that you always feel hurt for when someone loses their job, their passion and their career. I’m just hoping for the best for all of those people to get back in line. There is a lot of good media personalities that were on air that are still good media personalities. A decision that was made in Toronto certainly doesn’t reflect the passion of the people on the radio in Vancouver. That station was certainly complimentary to the B.C. Lions, three-down football and the CFL. It was a sad day and it has ramifications for all of us.
KTW: Among those ramifications for the Lions, is you had a deal with them through 2022, to be the official broadcaster. Now, they’re not there. What’s next for the Lions from a rights-holder standpoint?
NM: We just have to bunker down. This is such an early start of the process. We’re all shocked it happened. But I don’t necessarily know what the fine print is for the rights holders. TSN 1040 was a Bell Media corporation and, of course, Bell is still in existence. Again, I didn’t negotiate the contract, so I’m not really sure what the next step is, but I do know we are proud of our media property and we’re proud of what we give, so going forward we’ll have something, hopefully, so our fans can listen to us.
KTW: Would Sportsnet 650 be an option for the club if nothing works out with Bell?
NM: Again, I’m not sure. That’s a question for once we get closer to the starting date and a little bit further away from what happened yesterday. It’s all so fresh that it’s tough to speculate on what the next step is for everybody. (Commentator) Giulio Caravatta is an alumni of ours. He’s now out. So there are a lot of people who are still looking for jobs, I just don’t think … we don’t have the answers yet. That’s the easy answer, but we simply don’t. It’s just so early in the process.
KTW: What is the latest on the Lions’ hopes for hosting training camp in Kamloops this spring?
NM: We’ve been in constant contact with the city. We’re all hoping for the best, to get back to some normalcy. We realize that’s probably not going to be the case in 2021, but are hoping and planning on moving forward and being there. We’re supposed to start camp May 15 and we’re planning to do so, but we are waiting for health officials to give us the OK. We’ve talked to the city. We have the ability to change those plans on a different date, but we would like to start our season in Kamloops.
KTW: If camp can’t be held in Kamloops, what are the alternative plans?
NM: We have the ability to host it here at our facility in Surrey, but that’s not what our angle is. Last year, that was an option because camp was only going to be a shorter period and, ultimately, that camp was cancelled. Best-case scenario, we need to have a training camp where we have the ability to bring all our players in and Kamloops is the best option for that for many reasons, whether it’s the field availability or the infrastructure that is up there. It’s such a tremendous environment to build a football team. Kamloops is, hopefully, going to be a big part of that.
KTW: The deal between the Lions and the City of Kamloops is in its last year. Is the plan to keep camp in Kamloops in the future or are there plans to look elsewhere?
NM: That’s a question for our president [Rick LeLacheur], but for me, personally, I think Kamloops is an amazing place for us to go. Hence the reason we’ve been there for over 10 years. If you look at other teams in the states, their training camp is where it is. Baseball is the same thing. This is where training camp is and I, personally, think that’s a good environment. You know where it’s going to be every year. I understand in the past we’ve wanted to move it throughout the province because we are the B.C. Lions, but just from a football perspective, Kamloops gives us everything and more to build a team, which is what the ultimate goal is.
KTW: Have there been any talks with the league about a potential CFL bubble setup if the pandemic does not allow for a traditional season?
NM: I don’t know. That’s a conversation between our president and the commissioner [Randy Ambrosie]. They are in constant talks about playing in 2021. I don’t believe a bubble is something that they’re … I know they were talking about it last year, but I don’t know that it’s on the docket for this year. But again, I’m not a part of those meetings.
KTW: Have you heard anything about potential plans for virus testing across the league?
NM: It’s going to ultimately come down to the health-care officials. Whether that’s testing or not testing, we are just going to follow the lead of what Dr. Bonnie Henry is directing us to do. I know she’s someone that is a fan of three-down football and the CFL. We’re hoping she is going to help us out the best she can to get us on the field.
KTW: It looks a lot like single-event sports betting will be legalized in Canada in the near future. I read about a Conservative MP, Michael Kram, who suggested the provinces should combine to share revenue from all single-event betting on the CFL and use it to help prop up league teams, which may be without fans in the stands this season. What do you think about that?
NM: As a pro sports league and a pro sports team, we’re always looking for revenue steams. That’s not my job. My job is to put the best football team on the field and we do have a business operations group that’s looking for revenue streams, and we all have to collaborate to put the best team together, which opens up more revenue for our club. In this day and age, you have to do whatever it takes to bring in more revenue for the club. That’s just the way it is, whether that is with gambling or with whatever you can do. With technology opening up, more revenue streams are opening up for everybody and you have to have the ability to mine those streams to get the best revenue for the club to continue moving forward.
KTW: Any early conversation about honouring Solomon Elimimian this season?
NM: I consider Solomon Elimimian a career B.C. Lion and I am proud of what he’s done and his ability to retire on his own terms. I spoke to him yesterday. As a British Columbian, regardless of football, I’m also proud he’s decided to make B.C. and Vancouver his home. This is a young man who came up to Canada with zero ties, a guy from Southern California who played in Hawaii and, after all of that, he is going to make Canada and Vancouver home. I’m happy for him and for all of us, that we’re going to add a guy like him. He is a first-class individual on and of the field.