Bombers pleased with numbers

Winnipeg Blue Bombers GM Lyle Bauer is pleased with the number of season ticket holders who decided...

Winnipeg Blue Bombers GM Lyle Bauer is pleased with the number of season ticket holders who decided to shell out to reserve their seats for the 2006 Grey Cup. (Winnipeg Sun File/John Woods)

PAUL FRIESEN -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 7:15 AM ET

I've heard a couple of gripes about the price of tickets for the 2006 Grey Cup game, right here in River City. And I can't say I'm surprised.

One came from loyal Blue Bomber season ticket holder Keiko Saito Hanssen, who wrote:

In the last 8 years we've only made it to the Grey Cup once, yet here we are unwavering in our commitment to supporting our team. And for that they expect $258.85, almost as much as I pay for the entire season, for me to probably end up sitting next to someone who gets in for free... well I can guarantee I won't be buying anytime soon!

A legitimate beef, it seems to me, particularly when the top ticket price is actually a little higher than it was in Vancouver this year.

Apparently, that opinion is in the minority, though.

The Bombers have been pleasantly surprised by the number of season-ticket holders who decided to shell out to reserve their seats for the big game.

The deadline for season ticket holders to renew, and pay for their Cup seats, was Saturday.

"Our response has been extremely good," Bomber president/CEO Lyle Bauer was saying yesterday.

"As a matter of fact, it's better than expected. Probably 90% of the tickets we are selling are in that top price category.

"Our (season ticket) renewals are way ahead of last year. And over 60% of our people purchasing season tickets are also taking their Grey Cup tickets. That's a very good number."

Of course, that means something less than 40% of season ticket holders aren't buying a Cup ticket right now. But, apparently, the number of skeptics is smaller than anticipated.

Things got so backed up at the Bomber office -- we are last-minute Larrys in this town, after all -- that Bauer has extended the deadline until this Friday.

"I made a proclamation today," Bauer said. "That we are going to continue to sell them and hold people's Grey Cup tickets this week, because it has been very hectic. The phones have been very busy, and some people probably weren't able to get through."

The early response has to be encouraging for Bauer and Co., considering what happened back in 1998, the last time the 'Peg hosted The Cup.

BARELY BROKE EVEN

The team barely broke even when the game drew the smallest Cup crowd in the last 30 years (34,157), and even that number was inflated by last-minute discounts.

Of course, the Bombers had little lead time in '98, having taken on the game as a favour to the league, and less hope of reaching the playoffs.

Bauer says anybody waiting to see what happens to ticket prices in '06 will be disappointed.

"If you've noticed in the last five or six years, there's been a marked change in the discount or freebie strategies associated with our football club," Bauer said. "The interest in the Grey Cup game has changed measurably in the last number of years. I guess people can wait if they want. The indicators we have is they aren't going to wait."

If you're not a season ticket holder, though, you'll have to wait.

Cup tickets won't be available to the general public until March or April, after season ticket holders from other CFL teams get a crack at them.

If all goes according to plan, all 45,000 seats will be sold well before the weather turns cold next fall.

Bauer doesn't even want to think about the alternative.

It'll cost more than $6 million to host the Cup, including a $3 million guarantee to the CFL.

"It's too much risk for a break-even proposition," Bauer said.

Particularly for a community-owned franchise that's on the verge of being out of debt for the first time since the 1980s.


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