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Coronavirus: Signs point to potential resurgence of sporting events in Saskatoon

Work in taking place to bring sport events back to SaskTel Centre after the shutdown from the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020. File / Global News

With current public health restrictions on gatherings still in place to fight the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, there have been some positive signs for a potential resurgence of sports events in Saskatoon.

It was announced on Thursday that tickets are expected to go on sale on April 9 for the 2021 Tim Hortons Curling Trials at SaskTel Centre, which are scheduled for Nov. 20-28.

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“The 2021 Tim Hortons Curling Trials will be the first major sport event that Saskatoon will host since the pandemic forced the closure of live, in-person events in 2020,” read a statement from Tourism Saskatoon CEO Stephanie Clovechok to Global News on Friday.

“The event is expected to generate $13 million in economic activity for our city, which is greatly needed at this time.”

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“Bringing important wages back to these individuals is of the utmost importance right now but also, hospitality employees serve their industry with pride and the return to sport with surely bring a revival of mental and emotional wellbeing for many.”

SaskTel Centre executive director Scott Ford said that it’s been tough weathering the storm brought on by the pandemic, but said there’s been a sense of hope and possibility lately.

“There has been some positive COVID news and, really, the event plans are all predicated around the vaccines and Saskatchewan Health (Authority) giving us the authorization to open up for events,” Ford said on Thursday.

“As (the province’s chief medical health officer) Dr. Saqib Shahab had mentioned that moving up the timetable, he thinks that May, June possibly to have everybody in Saskatchewan that wants a vaccine could be vaccinated that early so it’s exciting news for us, because we have a number of our sports teams that are biting at the bit to get going.”

Click to play video: 'Saskatchewan Rattlers planning for home games, possible fan attendance in 2021' Saskatchewan Rattlers planning for home games, possible fan attendance in 2021
Saskatchewan Rattlers planning for home games, possible fan attendance in 2021 – Mar 4, 2021

The Canadian Elite Basketball League (CEBL) announced its 2021 regular-season schedule on Feb. 25 and pushed back from a mid-May start to early June to accommodate the possibility of fans being able to attend. Players with the Saskatchewan Rattlers are expected to tip off at SaskTel Centre on June 7.

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Additionally, the National Lacrosse League (NLL) recently announced the start of the 2021-22 regular season on Dec. 3. Before the COVID-19 pandemic struck Saskatchewan, the last event held at SaskTel Centre with fans was the Saskatchewan Rush game on March 7, 2020.

“It is great news … the vaccine plans rolling out really well so we can get everybody vaccinated as quickly as possible and once that happens, then we get to have these events back, so very exciting,” Ford said.

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“We do not have the Rush’s schedule yet, but at least the season’s starting then and we’re excited to have lacrosse back in the building.”

The Saskatoon Blades are expected to begin their 2020-21 regular season in the Western Hockey League’s hub centre in Regina on Saturday.

“It’s the first time I’ve been with SaskTel Centre since the building opened … we weren’t able to actually host a single Blades game,” Ford said.

“It would be nice to have them in Saskatoon but it’s gone to Regina this time, but we’re looking forward to the live experience when we can actually have real fans sitting in the stands … but it’s exciting for the teams to get their season done and actually have the games and that’s important.

“(Next WHL) season will be starting around that Oct. 2nd weekend so it’s certainly good news for us and for sports fans in Saskatoon.”

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Clovechok said the sports tourism industry in Saskatoon was hit hard by the pandemic, with over $20 million in economic impact lost in 2020 with the cancellation of 25 sporting events.

“The return of the Saskatoon Blades, Saskatchewan Rattlers and the Saskatchewan Rush is welcomed by all who are employed in the tourism and hospitality industry and, elevate the community with the opportunity to support a team again,” Clovechok said.

“We are so proud of the efforts made by our facilities and sports organizations who continue to design their return to event plans for the utmost safety and security of their patrons.”

SaskTel Centre typically hosts around 150 events annually, according to Ford, who added there’s a lot of activity from event planners looking to make a resurgence since the shutdown.

“That’s a combination of our three sports tenants and then, of course, the concerts, the family shows and the other sporting events like the (Professional Bull Riders), the monster truck shows, the ice shows those types of events and then international sporting events,” he said.

“I probably have about 200 dates on hold right now. To give you an example of how it works is with the promoters, some of the concert holds, they might hold five or six dates and … once they finalize the tour, they’ll isolate it down to one date so that’s why there’s so many dates on hold.”

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When SaskTel Centre does finally welcome back its first crowded event, Ford said it will be a feeling of relief.

“It’s been a long wait and, I think, it will be a relief to finally be able to start hosting events again and start hosting crowds,” Ford said.

“We’ve attempted to do some outdoor events that provided some good physical distancing and some other things like that but it’s been a tough year so we’re weathering the storm. We’re preparing. We’re getting things ready and certainly looking forward to the days when we can start bringing fans back into the venue.”

“While spectatorship might not be possible this year, we must emphasize the enhanced quality of life that having sporting events in our city creates,” Clovechok said.

“Sport tourism and tourism at large play such important roles in Saskatoon for all of these reasons and when tourism works, we all work … As restrictions lift, we invite all Saskatchewan residents to experience our city and stand proud of this incredible destination that we call home.”

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