Blue nearing black

Blue Bombers president and CEO Lyle Bauer gestures during yesterday's state of the team's finances...

Blue Bombers president and CEO Lyle Bauer gestures during yesterday's state of the team's finances announcement. The team wants to wipe out its debt this year. (Winnipeg Sun/Brian Donogh)

JIM BENDER -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 7:32 AM ET

Poor weather and a pathetic on-field performance prevented the club from erasing its accumulated deficit last season.

Yet, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers still managed to turn a modest profit, as The Sun reported last week. The local CFL club announced a plus of $75,041 yesterday, reducing its overall debt to $217,788.

"We would have liked it to have been better but we thought we did very well considering all of the rain days," said out-going board chairman Gene Dunn. "The weather certainly affected the walkup crowd. Perhaps our on-field performance affected the desire for a walkup crowd."

'Difficult to catch up'

Inclement weather plagued six or seven home games last season and the team's performance on the way to posting a 7-11 record, which wasn't good enough to advance to the playoffs, also hurt attendance.

"So, we were probably down $400,000-$500,000 in that respect over the prior year, as far as the ticket revenue is concerned," said Bomber president/CEO Lyle Bauer. "And once you get behind, it's very, very difficult to catch up."

The club's game revenue was reduced to $3,675,078 from $4,174,222 in 2003.

"And sometimes, we didn't play inspired football early in the year," Bauer admitted. "We were 2-5 until we made some changes and closed out the season around .500."

But those changes were costly, starting with replacing head coach Dave Ritchie with Jim Daley and the airlift that followed. Plus, injuries cut into the budget's bottom line once again.

However, the Bombers posted a profit for a fourth straight year, thanks to increased corporate support and a major hike in shared CFL revenues.

"Our corporate revenues were up and we have to give the CFL credit because the CFL distributions were up significantly -- by more than $400,000 over the prior year at $1.16 million," Bauer said.

That revenue increased to $1,162,724 from $729,687 in 2003 and includes repayment of the money the Bombers pitched in to keep both the Toronto and Hamilton franchises afloat in 2003. Yet, that still left the club $144,590 short on football operations.

"Offsetting that is the great support we get from the community in respect for our annual dinner, our golf tournament and our first annual lottery," Bauer said.

That off-field revenue was $219,631, which spelled the difference between making or losing money.

Although the Bombers failed to retire the debt, they have whittled it down from the $5.5 million it was just five short years ago. Not only that but the value of the community-owned franchise has increased from nil to $6-$8 million since that time, Bauer said.

Bauer is determined to eliminate that debt before the Bombers embark on the 2006 season when they host the Grey Cup for the third time.

"We would really like to go into the Grey Cup with a clean slate," he said. "Then, we can focus on making some money for the football team for future years to make sure that we can compete with all of the big boys. That will be absolutely huge for us. We want to eradicate that debt and build a significant stabilization fund so that we can compete in the future."

Bauer is hoping that club can make somewhere between the $2 million and $4 1/2 million that Saskatchewan and Edmonton made, respectively, hosting recent CFL championships.


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