Blue 'treading water'

PAUL FRIESEN -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 11:32 AM ET

It's about all this talk of the CFL being healthier than it's been in years.

You know, the "attendance is as good as it's ever been and TV ratings are at an all-time high" shtick we've been hearing for the last while.

If this garden really is so full of roses, then why do the Winnipeg Blue Bombers look like a weed coming up right in the middle of it all?

This is a team that had great growing conditions much of last season -- super weather, five consecutive sellouts out of the gate and its first trip to the Grey Cup in six years.

The reward for all that sunshine: yesterday's gloomy news the club lost $264,000.

Even when you factor in what it cost to put together the new stadium proposal, all the Bombers could do was basically break even.

"That's treading water," president/CEO Lyle Bauer acknowledged yesterday. "And you can only tread water so long before you drown."

Not exactly a comment that fits alongside the proclamations of prosperity from the league, is it?

That's why Bauer keeps harping about a new stadium, and there's no doubt a new playpen would boost revenue. Private suites, better concessions, more frills like electronic gizmos that boost advertising opportunities and generally better comfort would all bring in additional dollars.

But there are plenty of CFL teams that don't play in a state-of-the-art stadium. Many more play in facilities in varying states of decay, similar to the one here.

So do we presume everybody except the Edmonton Eskimos and B.C. Lions are bleeding from the noses, too?

"There are losses that are being incurred by some teams that would stagger you," Bauer said.

Had it not been for Milt Stegall's chase of the career touchdown record, and the resulting capacity crowds, the Bombers might have been one of those teams.

We can only imagine the bottom line in Hamilton last year. Of course, the Ticats have a wealthy private owner to handle it.

Of course, some clubs are making money hand over fist, whether they admit it or not. Two happen to be the other community owned teams in the loop: the Roughriders and Eskimos.

Edmonton made a whack of cash (they pretend it's only a few hundred thousand) because it averages better than 35,000 fans per game.

And the little old Riders are reporting a record $1.7 million profit, thanks to huge playoff revenue, Grey Cup merchandise sales and their usual stellar off-field fundraising efforts.

We presume the Stampeders and Lions, thanks to good crowds, and the Alouettes, due to huge corporate dough and big-time ticket prices, are doing OK.

So what has to change here?

Either the fan support gets closer to what they enjoy in Saskatchewan, or the Bombers get their new digs. Or both.

"It's a challenge," Bauer said. "This is a business that you may make a few dollars, but there are significant risks."

One risk comes in running an old stadium.

The old girl on Maroons Road is beginning to cost this franchise, big-time. Every year she remains standing, she becomes more high-maintenance.

So that's three straight years of losses, now, not including the 2006 Grey Cup profits.

Makes you wonder: is the salary cap too high? Are rosters too big? Is Winnipeg the worst market in the league?

And finally, something I haven't considered before: is private ownership the only way this thing can make it?

BLUE IN THE RED

2007 Blue Bomber Numbers

- Operating Revenue: approx. $13 million (up from $11.6 million in '06)

- Off-field revenue: $241,000

- Operating Expenses: $13.3 million (up from $12.2 million)

- Stadium Proposal: $262,000

- Net loss: $264,000


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