Buy week for Stamps

ERIC FRANCIS -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 7:52 AM ET

The Calgary Stampeders are gambling they have some of the most loyal fans in the CFL.

If not, Sunday's West semifinal at McMahon Stadium could cost the club upwards of $250,000.

In a move made largely by teams with domed stadiums in the past, the Stamps opted to "buy" the game against Edmonton as opposed to letting the league take it over and reap whatever financial rewards a solid gate, concession sales and parking take might produce.

The initial cost of taking over the game is $100,000 payable to the CFL. What makes it a risky proposition is the fact the team must also pay every dime in expenses associated with the event. That includes $2,800 playoff bonuses for each of the 54 players on either roster ($300,000), cost for Edmonton's transportation and hotel rooms, referees, advertising, security and stadium staff and everything else down to dressing room tape. If it snows, the huge cost of snow removal is on the Stamps, too.

"The cost is in the seven figures," said Stamps owner/president Ted Hellard, updated hourly on the ticket totals. "It's a fairly big risk."

As of yesterday afternoon, 20,000 tickets had been sold, which includes the assumption 2,300 Safeway and Sport Chek tickets will sell out at $15 apiece. (Safeway's don't go on sale until tomorrow). The league also gets an additional 1,700 tickets for free.

Hellard said the break-even attendance number rests somewhere around 24,000.

A big part of the reason playoff crowds pale in comparison to regular season gatherings of more than 30,000 is that playoff tickets aren't included in season ticket packages. Next year they will be, said Hellard.

Another challenge stems from the fact it's damn cold.

"You start from zero and have to get to 35,000 in a few weeks," said Hellard, pointing out many fans opt instead to watch in the warmth of their own home as local TV blackouts are lifted for playoffs.

"In Wally (Buono's) best days in the '90s, they were getting 15,000 to 18,000 fans a playoff game. We feel like we can get to 30,000. If we can do that, we can turn this into a mini golden pot. But there's no huge payoff here -- we could make or lose $250,000."

Hitting his ultimate goal would mean selling 2,000 tickets a day until Sunday's 4 p.m. kickoff, which would also give the team enough of a profit on the game to break even on the season. Two thousand tickets are also being sold out of Edmonton where it is hoped a large contingent of Eskimos fans will bundle up and head south for the weekend.

Most importantly, said Hellard, a large crowd is needed to support the players, who've made the surging Stamps the CFL's feel-good story of the year.

"Forget the money -- we need a loud crowd to give us home-field advantage and help us win the game," said Hellard. "That's what matters."

Another man checking Sunday's forecast (cloudy, high of 0, low minus-4) and ticket sales is Darrell Moir, v.p. of club operations.

"The city was good to us yesterday," said Moir.

"I asked Ted why he wanted to buy it and he said, 'I believe the city will support this.' "

We'll find out by kickoff if he's right.


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