CFL turns up heat on 'Peg's Cup organizers

PAUL FRIESEN -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 7:55 AM ET

That sound you heard yesterday was the pressure being ratcheted up a notch or two on the 2006 Grey Cup game, here in the 'Peg.

With this year's game already a sellout in Vancouver, and the '07 game awarded to Toronto yesterday, next year's finds itself bookended by potentially huge success stories in two of the country's biggest markets.

B.C. Place will be jammed with 60,000 fans in 10 days, and the football renaissance in Toronto -- the Argonauts expect a crowd of 45,000 to 50,000 for this Sunday's East Final against Montreal -- makes a Cup sellout at the building formerly known as SkyDome a virtual slam dunk.

The question is: How will the Winnipeg Grey Cup look in comparison?

The Blue Bombers plan a slightly scaled-down version of the big game, offering some 45,000 seats.

And while club president Lyle Bauer says early sales are "very encouraging," he might want to keep this in mind: the best seats, usual scooped up by season-ticket holders with the first right of refusal, are never difficult to sell.

It's the last 10,000-15,000 fans that make or break the thing.

You only have to look back to '98 and the embarrassing turnout (34,157) at Winnipeg Stadium that remains the smallest Grey Cup crowd in the last 30 years.

It was also one that barely broke even.

The ingredients for that mess: A Bomber team that couldn't string together more than seven wins in the previous two seasons combined, and a $100 price tag for the worst seats in the house.

Well, the Bombers are coming off a five-win season, their second straight out of the playoffs, and tickets for next year's game start at close to $100.

For a team that so desperately needs to hit a financial home run, it would appear there is much work to be done -- and not much time to do it.

FAMINE ON THE PRAIRIES: So, Saskatchewan (16 years) and Winnipeg (15) are now in a combined 31-year Grey Cup famine, the two longest current and continuous droughts in the CFL.

Think it's a coincidence that these are two of the lowest-spending teams, too?

Sure, and it's a coincidence the teams that seem to spend the most every year -- B.C., Montreal, Edmonton and Toronto -- are the ones still playing this weekend.

No, throwing money around is no guarantee (hello, Bernie and Lonie Glieberman), but combine it with football smarts, and chances are you'll be playing deep into November.

I mean, the Eskimos spent well over $600,000 on quarterbacks Ricky Ray ($400,000-plus) and Jason Maas (a reported 200 Gs) -- nearly 25% of the per-team spending limit, on two players!

Whatever happened to the salary cap?

Oh, yeah, Lions owner David Braley mistook it for a floor and stepped all over it.

IN A CASH CORNER: I'd bet on the Roughriders retaining shoot-from-the-hip GM Roy Shivers, who, in turn, will keep Danny Barrett and his underwhelming career record (48-59-1) as head coach. In part, because of the money it would take to buy them out.

With a year left on both men's contracts, reports out of Regina indicate the 'Riders would have to eat $400,000 to let them go early, no small amount in the world of the community-owned team.

AND FINALLY: Can't help but wonder how much interest the Bombers would have if the B.C. Lions were to put quarterback Casey Printers on the market.

Let's fact it, the way Printers has handled the quarterback controversy in Vancouver this season, taking turns sulking and doing a slow burn whenever he didn't play, calls into question his character and leadership qualities.

Especially when you put him next to someone like Edmonton's Jason Maas.

Can't help but wonder, too, how Bomber fans would react, should their team go after Printers by, say, offering an established star or two in trade.


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