The B.C. Lions are under contract to host training camp in Kamloops this spring, but COVID-19’s affect on the CFL schedule and pandemic-related restrictions in the province are keeping an audible in play.
“At this point, we’re in the planning process with the anticipation that they will be here in the middle of May for camp in 2021 and we’re keeping our fingers crossed,” said Sean Smith, business operations and events supervisor for the City of Kamloops. “We’re waiting to hear what the CFL does with the season — if it’s going to start on time or not.”
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 COVID-19 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.
“The timing of the camp will need to coincide with the start of the season, so us and the Lions are waiting to hear what decisions the CFL will be making for the 2021 season,” Smith said.
Under current restrictions, neither training camp in Kamloops nor the CFL season is possible, but Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry hinted last week at the relaxation of sports guidelines in the spring if there are encouraging signs on the virus-containment front.
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 how camp is operated.
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.
“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 Tuesday (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 and the city 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.