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Football Confusion Keeps Growing

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The Canadian Football League doesn’t know whether it will operate this year. It may not operate ever again.

This nation’s top level of amateur football, which links top universities from coast to coast, has no idea whether to play four or five games this season. One step below the college guys is Canadian junior football, which now considers schedules of four, five, six or seven games in what would be the 2020 season.

Confusion is everywhere.

On all three of the major gridiron tiers, COVID-19 – what else? – dominates every imaginable picture of the future, both short- and long-term. The same applies throughout the sports universe, of course.

It can never be guaranteed that a league cancelling its 2020 season will return in 2021 or beyond, with the exception of the Big Four: NFL, NBA, MLB and NHL. Already, the American Hockey League, hockey’s top playpen for future big-timers, has been forced to back away from any prospect of completing the current season. Season-ending games, gone. Playoffs, gone.

It’s a simple scenario, written indelibly for all organizations without TV crowds or million-dollar sponsors: the AHL is a gate-centred league; playing before empty stands won’t come close to paying the bills. That scenario is written indelibly for amateur and minor-league entitles everywhere.

Too often overlooked in concern over sport’s billionaire owners and millionaire players is the group of youngsters just about to start their professional careers. Thomas Jack-Kurdyla, the University of Buffalo grad selected first by the Edmonton Eskimos in the recent CFL draft, has said several times that he’s anxious to get here from his Montreal home. Mentally, he’s ready to play.

In a similar situation is offensive tackle Theren Churchill, a Stettler product who starred for the Edmonton Huskies in the Prairie Junior Football Conference before becoming a Regina Ram and producing a three-year university career good enough to be grabbed as the Toronto Argos’ second pick in the first round. Churchill, too, wants to earn a living as a professional athlete.

John Belmont, the respected veteran junior, university and Eskimos assistant coach who watched Churchill closely as a Huskie, is confident for him.

“He came from a good program in Stettler. He’s tall (6-foot-5) and that helps a lot. He has long arms. That helps, too.

Most important was Belmont’s judgment of the young man’s talent. “He worked hard to get bigger (he’s listed at 295 these days) and he improved day after day and week after week.”

It’s equally important: Churchill is durable. He played 25 regular-season games in a row, plus a Rams’ semi-final loss to UBC.

Another possible area of comfort is that Canadian college teams play before tiny crowds. As an Argo, the rookie is sure to see empty seats when they play at home. As CFL boosters bided their time waiting for word on potential financial aid to this wonderful football tradition, there was good news in western amateur precincts. University teams have designed a program that could provide five-game schedules and the PJFC declared itself (mostly) confident that there will be a season this year.

The national picture remains cloudy; five provinces have junior teams. Will all lockdown procedures end in roughly the same way at roughly the same time?

“I don’t know,” said the veteran Belmont. “Nobody knows, but I think this league could be ready for almost a full schedule by the middle of July. I hope nobody rushes to make a decision (to reduce or eliminate games) before it’s necessary.”

“We’re doing our best to be prepared for anything”

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Alberta

Preparing for the Return of the Calgary Winter at the Mustard Seed

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As Calgary prepares for the descent back into winter, the reliance on nonprofit organizations throughout the city is set to increase as the most vulnerable members of the community turn to support programs and shelters to weather the cold months. 

The Mustard Seed is a Christian-faith based organization that values transparency, accountability, respect, communication and holistic innovation. As one of Calgary’s oldest homeless relief organizations, The Mustard Seed has been operating in the city for nearly 40 years. 

By offering a range of products and services to compromised community members in Calgary and across western Canada, The Mustard Seed’s ultimate vision is to eliminate factors that contribute to homelessness and poverty. The organization pursues this goal every day by “providing basic needs (food, clothing and hygiene items), education, employment programs, health and wellness services, spiritual care, housing, and emergency shelter.” 

Founded in 1984 by Pat Nixon, who had experienced homelessness himself as a teenager, The Mustard Seed began as a small drop-in coffee shop. From there, it expanded into a downtown house, and then officially opened as a shelter on 11 Ave SE in 1992. Beginning with just 80 mats and a single location in ‘92, The Mustard Seed now operates five different locations across Calgary, and has the capacity to house 370 adults every night at their Foothills Shelter location. According to Dave Conrad, Community Engagement Manager for the Mustard Seed, the shelter serves close to 315,000 meals every year, and often hits overnight capacity in the winter months, averaging 328 individuals per night in 2019.

In addition to the Foothills Shelter, the Mustard Seed also operates the Downtown Support Centre, the Wellness Centre, the Neighbour Centre, and the Resource Sorting Centre. Across these 5 locations, The Mustard Seed is able to provide a series of advocacy, health and wellness, transportation, employment and spiritual care services to those who need them most. 

The Mustard Seed is also responsible for the 1010 Centre, Canada’s largest permanent supportive housing facility, which provides affordable, sustainable housing options in the city of Calgary. They have a total of 285 affordable housing units among four locations: 224 units in the 1010 Centre, 30 units in the Downtown Support Centre, and 31 units in two external housing units. 

Providing aid and relief, and fulfilling the most basic human needs as well as educational, employment and social needs for those who require it most is no small task. Issues such as homelessness and poverty pay no attention to a pandemic, and COVID-19 has had a major impact on operations at the Mustard Seed and organizations similar. 

In order to maintain compliance with COVID-19 health and safety mandates, the capacity of the Mustard Seed to house individuals has been reduced from 370 at one location to 238 between two locations, which will pose a unique challenge heading into winter. However, Conrad says they are committed to making it work, whatever it takes. “As the winter comes, we tend to see our numbers go up, which will create some unique challenges with the pandemic this year” he says, “but we will continue to work with the community and collaborate with other organizations to ensure that everyone who needs a bed, has a bed.” 

Despite the new and ongoing challenges of 2020, the support from the public during the pandemic has been extraordinary, says Conrad. ““We have all been incredibly humbled by the public response over the course of all this,” he says, “we are so encouraged by the outpouring of support from our community.”

Heading back into winter, some of the most pressing needs for The Mustard Seed currently include warm clothes and new underwear, and the organization is also encouraging people to explore available opportunities to return to volunteering. 

For more information about The Mustard Seed, visit https://theseed.ca

To find out how you can contribute and for a comprehensive list of items urgently needed by the Mustard Seed, check https://theseed.ca/urgent-items/

For more stories, visit Todayville Calgary.

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Alberta

Your event has been CANCELLED

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Your Event Has Been Cancelled

By Ilan Cooley

The live event industry is in serious trouble. It was the first sector to go dark due to the pandemic, and it is expected to be the last to be allowed back to work.

The people behind the scenes of your favourite events are the mavericks and risk takers you likely don’t know about. They create the events that make you smile until your face hurts, cheer until you lose your voice, and dance until you can’t stand up. They make the magic that fills your social feeds, and the moments that live in your memories.

You may have gotten an email saying “your event has been cancelled” – they lost their livelihood.

“People don’t understand how bullseye targeted this virus was at our industry,” says Jon Beckett, owner of Production World. “It was a 100% bullseye. You couldn’t hit it more dead centre. It’s not like it hurt us – it took it away. People don’t understand that until you talk to them about your industry.”

Production World Staff

Beckett’s company used to employ 50 people. Having lost more than 200 events so far, they have laid off 35 people. Their 25,000 square foot warehouse contains almost seven million dollars worth of staging, lighting and other production equipment.

“We have to house that inventory,” he says. “It is not like we can sell it.”

Similarly, Fort Saskatchewan based Superior Show Service has two separate warehouses full of rental items nobody currently needs, plus tax bills and insurance due. As a 35-year-old family-run event rental company, they cater to tradeshows and large events. Some of the 35 staff they laid off in March have been hired back after accessing relief programs, but with more than 80 events already cancelled, owner Chris Sisson worries about the future.

“It feels like the carpet kicked out from under you,” he says. “I’ve always been able to provide for a great number of families, not just my own, and today I have no idea how to provide for my own. I have been in this industry my entire life, and now I have no idea what to do. It is truly humbling and dumbfounding.”

Chris Sisson of Superior Show Service

Event promoter Mike Andersson prefers not to dwell on what has been lost, instead focusing on building something consumers will want to come back to when it is over. He knows how to manage complex logistics and bring large groups of people together. Even when faced with severe restrictions for events, his company, Trixstar, was busy creating pandemic proof event manifestos, and blue-sky concepts for safe gatherings.

“When everything came crashing down we were putting up material about what events look like after this, and showing some optimism,” he says. “It is important to get people together and to celebrate.” He admits there are good days and bad days. “It is a rollercoaster of emotions,” he says. “Obviously we feel terrible. It affects us, but it affects so many companies. From the security companies, to the ticketing companies, to the tent company, to the production company – all those people are affected.”

Event photographer Dale MacMillan also worries about the people behind the scenes. He has lost more than 100 days of shooting for professional sporting events, large music events, festivals and fairs, which makes up about 60% of his income, and he knows others are in the same situation.

Dale MacMilon takes event photos like this shot of Trixstar

“There’s a guy sitting out there with probably a quarter section of land and he’s probably got 5500 porta potties that are out at ten to 20 events throughout the month, and he is affected tremendously,” says MacMillan. “I see some of the guys that are usually in the business of trucking the machinery to set up the fairs and festivals that are delivering for Amazon now. I look at all of those people who work the booths to break plates. They are not working at all. How else is a guy who owns a plate breaking booth going to get any other business?”

Even artists like Clayton Bellamy are wondering how to pay their bills. As a successful singer/songwriter and member of Canada’s top country band, The Road Hammers, he wishes the gold records on his wall represented a decent living, but admits there is no money to be made without touring. With up to 90% of his income derived from live shows, and almost no revenue from music streaming, he says he will do whatever it takes to feed his family.

“Obviously I have kids and that comes first before anything,” he says. “The main thing to do is to find work.” He also knows lack of touring impacts others. “Our band employs a lot of people. It is not just me on the stage – it is the tour manager, and the person in the office answering the phones at the management company, and the manager. We help employ 50 people. If you think about the industry as a whole, there are a lot of people relying on that trickle-down.”

Clayton Bellamy

Beckett says the model for live events has changed forever.

“If we are going to collapse, then we are going to give it all we can. Right now, we are optimistic that we can somehow find ways to juggle.”

Production World is streaming virtual events to online audiences, and delivering reimagined AHS compliant live events with a mobile stage, video wall, and in-car audio for things like graduations, weddings, movies, drive in music events, and even funerals. They are retrofitting churches for virtual services, and recording content to deliver music and sermons to parishioners.

Sisson suggests his industry should collaborate with government and other industry professionals to develop a plan, like doing events by the hour to control occupancy counts, disinfecting surfaces, contact tracing and testing, and utilizing existing technologies like temperature checks and facial recognition.

“I will be ashamed of our industry if we cannot have something that is approved and a way to conduct ourselves by October,” he says. “At the end of the day there are a lot of livelihoods that need to get looked after.”

MacMillan says the advice his parents gave him to plan for a rainy day was valid. He will get creative with other revenue sources and try to take advantage of programs and subsidies.

“If it helps you along one more month, it is one more month that you can make it until things open up again.”

Bellamy tries to keep his mental health in check by maintaining a rigorous schedule of practicing, writing, and working on existing projects. He plans to finish a new record so he can hit the ground running when touring resumes.

“Right now, I have no income,” he says. “I don’t have a safety net. I don’t have a plan B.”

He says if people want to support their favourite artists they should buy music and merchandise directly, like and share posts and music on social media, and send a letter to the government to help change laws that impact fair pay for artists’ streaming rights.

A return to “normal” is a long way off, and no matter when life starts to feel unrestricted again the world will be altered, and things will be different. Behind the scenes, the event industry not just trying to reinvent itself, it is fighting for survival.

“People don’t think about the human side of it and all that goes into it and all the different companies that come together to produce an event,” says Anderson. “Nobody in the entertainment industry is making a dollar right now. Everyone has to figure out how to survive this, and survive it together. So, my optimism is, I think a lot of companies are going to survive this because they are working together. They are going to support each other once we come out the other side.”

On September 22nd Canadian event industry technicians, suppliers and venues from across the country will Light Up Live events in red to raise awareness for the live event industry – which is still dark.

www.ilancooley.com

Read more on Todayville.

 

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