Blue back in the red

KIRK PENTON -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 7:37 AM ET

The Winnipeg Football Club lost money last year for the first time since 2000.

However, that doesn't mean it is about to put the reins on spending when it comes to football operations.

The WFC yesterday announced a 2005 operating loss of $480,094, which represents its biggest financial setback since losing $1.5 million in 1999. The team's overall debt, which had been reduced to $217,788 after four consecutive years of profits, now sits at $697,882.

President and CEO Lyle Bauer placed much of the blame for the loss on the Bombers' 5-13 record last season, which, not coincidentally, was the worst since 1999.

"A .500 season probably would have put us close (to breaking even)," said Bauer. "... In the grand scheme of things, it's not a big setback."

Sponsorship and season-ticket revenues were up from 2004, when the club made $75,000, while the $1.1 million it got from the CFL was down slightly. The club spent almost $250,000 more on football operations in 2005 than in 2004.

SHOULD BE OBLITERATED

The debt should be obliterated in November when Winnipeg hosts the Grey Cup, an event that is expected to raise between $2 million and $4 million. More than 25,000 tickets have already been sold for the big game.

"The Grey Cup is going to be a one-time cash injection that will get us to a stable position for several years," said Bauer, "but we have to be able to break even or make money off of other initiatives and develop those initiatives so that we can fuel the beast."

The initiatives of which Bauer speaks will come from the club renting out Canad Inns Stadium for private events and corporate functions.

In its first full year of operating the Maroons Road facility in 2005, the Bombers nearly doubled their revenue stream through rentals.

Yet the big question looms: How much more can the Bombers milk out of the Stadium before the cost of running a CFL team becomes too much?

"We need to move to more of a 12-month sports and entertainment entity that can meet the needs of a variety of users," said Bauer.

A feasibility study examining a new stadium has been plodding along for 16 months now, and the results of that investigation could go a long way in determining how viable the Bombers will be.

For now, however, it's up to the current Bombers' marketing group to extract as much revenue as possible.

And, since the team's poor start and overall dismal 2005 campaign hindered the bottom line, Bauer noted it's imperative the Bombers start strongly this year and keep it going.

"We have to be entertaining, and we've got a coaching staff that will change the aura of our football team, the attitude," said Bauer. "And we've made some good acquisitions and moves in the off-season."

In addition, GM Brendan Taman will be allowed to spend approximately $500,000 more on salaries alone in 2006, now that the league has a $3.8-million salary cap.

"We're going to put the best football team on the field that we possibly can," said Bauer.


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