Bauer bullish on Blue

GERRY PRINCE -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 7:24 AM ET

If you believe Kermit the Frog, it isn't easy being green. Clearly, it's even tougher being blue when all you're seeing is red.

Five years ago, that's the boat the Winnipeg Blue Bombers found themselves in.

With an accumulated debt of $5.5 million, the CFL franchise was taking on water at an alarming rate and in danger of sinking.

That's when president and CEO Lyle Bauer stepped in and began bailing.

Despite a 2-5-0 start and some horrendous weather, the Bombers still managed to turn a modest $75,000 profit last season.

As a consequence, the club - marking its 75th anniversary this season - has all but eradicated its debt.

"Our cumulative deficit is now down to $200,000, and that is without any additional activities such as the Grey Cup," said Bauer during a league conference call yesterday.

"We've been very prudent in how we've run our business but we also believe we have put a competitive product, for the most part, on the field and will continue to do so."

With a projected season-ticket base of 18,500 for this season and the 2006 Grey Cup looming, the Bombers anticipate being debt- free in a little more than 18 months.

"Our corporate revenues are on a record pace," said Bauer. "We've continually exceeded our previous years' goals and expectations in each of the last four to five years. It's been a fabulous run."

After calling Canad Inns (nee Winnipeg) Stadium home for the past 51 seasons, the Bombers, along with the Canad Inns hotel chain and Red River Exhibition Association, are studying the construction of a multi-use venue. The 30,000-seat stadium would be part of a $165-million complex on the city's western outskirts.

Bauer and Co. are also weighing the possibility of refurbishing Canad Inns Stadium at a cost of roughly $20 million.

Pouring money into upgrades of the stadium's washroom, concession, locker-rooms and seating areas may not be a prudent move, considering its age.

"We're in the middle of a feasibility study to see if it will actually work," said Bauer. "We're just going through the potential revenue numbers and the feasibility program.

"We should have preliminary reports on that back in late June and be able to make some assessments and further decisions based on a go-forward basis."

The knock by many on the proposed new facility is its location.

However the upside, says Bauer, is that there's an obvious need for the facility, which would also feature a hotel and water park.

"There's a need in this city and marketplace for a larger venue and larger exhibition space," he reasoned. "If you tie that in with a major hotelier, it can become quite a unique destination point.

"We believe it would attract many other acts, businesses, trade shows and things along those lines to Winnipeg and would be of benefit to the football club."

The stadium would feature a roof to cover seats in the upper deck.

Given his druthers, Bauer would prefer a domed structure rather than one that is partially covered.

"The economics of it would probably have to drive a covered-in or retractable type of situation," Bauer said. "You have to get a certain number of usage dates and you just cannot get that with an open-air facility."


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