It was another 2-8 season for the Kamloops Broncos and attendance was down at home games.
But team president Dino Bernardo was still painting a rosy picture after the team wrapped up its B.C. Football Conference season with a 17-10 loss to the Huskers in Chilliwack on Saturday.
The Broncos missed the playoffs for the sixth straight season since joining the conference ahead of the 2007 season. In those six seasons, Kamloops has gone 12-48.
And although the team struggled consistently on the field through its first five seasons, attendance remained steady, at more than 500 per game.
But this year, Bernardo said, was the first time the Broncos have had a "drastic drop" in attendance. Average attendance was around 400 to 450 this year - something Bernardo partly attributed to having three home games in August, when games generally draw poorer crowds.
Bernardo also knows that fans are more likely to support a team that wins.
"I think having a competitive team . . . will turn (the attendance) around," Bernardo said. "If we ever have a winning program, it's going to be packed (at Hillside Stadium)."
The Broncos are somewhere in the middle of the pack attendance-wise in the six-team BCFC. The Kelowna-based Okanagan Sun and Nanaimo's Vancouver Island Raiders, according to Bernardo, lead the way, with Kamloops and the Victoria-Westshore Rebels drawing similar numbers to each other.
The Langley Rams, Bernardo figured, draw between 300 and 400 fans per game, while Chilliwack manages around 150.
As the Broncos program has evolved, however, the board of directors has discovered that ticket sales aren't so important to the program's health.
"We make most of our money from our great sponsors," Bernardo said, "and the gaming grants and the Kamloops Blazers Sports Society (Sports Legacy Fund) - without them, we don't have a program."
The KBSS, which provides grants to local sports organizations, has helped the Broncos with equipment upgrades throughout the years. The provincial gaming grants, which kicked in about $15,000 this year, helped cover travel costs. Twice, the Broncos had to travel to Vancouver Island for games, and the grants allowed Kamloops to take the players a day early and put them up in a hotel for a night.
Even with the grants, Bernardo feels the Broncos are "$50,000 to $80,000" from being competitive within the BCFC.
Kamloops' operating budget is under $100,000, whereas the top programs in the province have budgets "probably in excess of $200,000," Bernardo said.
With extra money in the budget, Bernardo figured the coaching staff could recruit across the country. The two top players in recent BCFC history - Vancouver Island running back Andrew Harris and Westshore running back Greg Morris - were recruited from outside the province. Harris, now a starter with the CFL's B.C. Lions, is from Winnipeg, while Morris is from Toronto.
Bernardo plans to beat the bushes looking for new sponsors starting on Nov. 1.
"With the gaming grants and our sponsors, we're probably up $20,000 this year," Bernardo said. "If we can improve on that another $20,000, maybe we can fly out to see some recruits."
On the field, it was much of the same from the Broncos. Both of their victories came against Chilliwack, which hadn't won a regular-season game in nearly three seasons before beating Kamloops on Saturday.
Bernardo said it was "one of the most heartbreaking losses we've had," but that the team is looking forward to next season.
"We all have the fire to come back and be better," Bernardo said. "We want to make that push and get into the playoffs."
Kamloops was in the playoff hunt until the second-last game, mostly due to the struggles of the Sun, but Bernardo was disappointed that the Broncos didn't take that step.
"It sucks to lose; we're not happy about that," he said. "But it comes down to, 'Why did we start this program?' We started so kids could play junior football in town and then move on.
"We sent seven kids off last year's team to the CIS or U.S. college football, and will probably send another five or six this year."
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