The B.C. Lions will bring training camp to Kamloops in July if pandemic-related restrictions allow for it.
Sean Smith, business operations and events supervisor for the City of Kamloops, and Neil McEvoy, co-general manager and director of football operations for the Lions, confirmed plans on Thursday (April 22).
“It was a really great meeting,” Smith said. “They need to have their health plan approved for camp to happen. They would need to look at modified meetings. They might need to consider different accommodation logistics based on the requirement of the day. Other than that, they’re really planning on having as normal and full of a camp as possible.”
On Wednesday, the Canadian Football League announced its return-to-play plans, which would see regular season play begin on Aug. 5. Camp usually begins about one month before the campaign kicks off, so an early July start in 2021 seems likely.
The annual pre-season tune-up could not proceed under current government-imposed travel and gathering-size restrictions in place to guard against the spread of the virus, but that could change by early summer, when the Lions are aiming to arrive at sure-to-be scorching Hillside Stadium.
In July of 2017, the Lions signed a three-year contract extension with the City of Kamloops to continue holding camp at Hillside Stadium through 2020.
That deal — the city to pay the Leos $45,000 in 2018, $50,000 in 2019 and $55,000 in 2020 — did not account for the pandemic, which forced the cancellation of the entire CFL schedule in 2020. The city and the Lions agreed to roll over the final year of the contract to 2021.
“Definitely an extension is in talks and on all of our minds,” Smith said. “We’re hoping to pursue that further as soon as we get a chance.”
The Lions have been coming to Kamloops since 2010, with the city paying $40,000 annually until the new contract was signed in 2017.
There is an estimated economic spinoff of $300,000 per year into the community, according to the city. That number, of course, does not take into account the pandemic’s many possible affects on garnering revenue.
Jeff Putnam, the City of Kamloops’ parks and civic facilities, told KTW last year the Lions are traditionally here for nearly a month, spending money at restaurants, nightclubs, the movies and malls.
"You name it, there is a gamut of companies they do business with, rental companies for vehicles, scissor-lift companies for camera crews, photographers, that type of thing,” Putnam said.
The Lions also hosts FanFest at each training camp, attracting tourists to the city and its hotels and restaurants. Whether spectators will be allowed into Hillside Stadium in 2021 will depend on COVID-19 protocol.
“But what we get the best value from, in my opinion, is the national exposure we get from media that comes here to cover camp,” Putnam said. “A football camp is the best training camp you can host as a community. They’re here for so long. NHL camps are two-and-a-half days on the ice and they’re gone.”
TSN 1040 has in the past broadcast live during camp from Match Eatery and Public House inside Cascades Casino and on-air personalities were often heard singing the city’s praises.
On Feb. 9, TSN 1040, Vancouver’s longest-running sports radio station, was removed from the airwaves, among the latest victims of cuts by parent company Bell Canada.
Terms of the current training camp deal dictate Kamloops is promoted in game programs and on the Jumbotron at Lions’ home games at BC Place Stadium. The city also receives $10,000 in tickets, which are sold or given to charities for fundraising.
The Leos practise at Hillside Stadium, use the Tournament Capital Centre’s facilities and sleep and eat at Thompson Rivers University, a one-stop shop that has proved tough for other communities to beat.
Camp came to Kamloops in 2010 on a three-year deal, with an option for 2013, which was exercised. The Leos announced in February 2013 they would stay in Kamloops through 2014.
In May 2014, the city and the Lions confirmed camp would be held in the River City in 2015. The two sides continued to talk about a longer-term extension, the one announced in Sept. 2014 that kept the Lions here through 2017.
“We think the Lions’ camp is great for Kamloops to bring some professional football to town, for community pride and to give people a first-hand look at the B.C. Lions," Smith said.
“It brings a good deal of attention to our Tournament Capital Program and the facilities we have here and generates some added revenue in our economy.”