Bombers in the money

PAUL FRIESEN, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 10:51 AM ET

The Winnipeg Blue Bomber failed to live up to expectations on the field last season -- but did just fine off it.

The still community- owned team turned a profit of $761,000 last year, its largest in at least a dozen years, not counting the 2006 season when it hosted the Grey Cup.

"This is a very good one, considering the season we had, the ups and downs," club president/CEO Lyle Bauer said of the team's 2008 financial statement, released yesterday. "The financial part of it is very encouraging, very gratifying, as far as where the business has gone. But you know very well what needs to be done, yet."

Bauer was referring to the team's nine-year Grey Cup drought under his leadership, 18 years overall.

But not getting back to the Grey Cup in '08, after losing the big game to Saskatchewan the year before, actually paid off for the Bombers.

By hosting the East semifinal against Edmonton, the Bombers generated $247,000 in playoff profits, compared to nearly $300,000 in playoff losses in '07, which included a home playoff game that flopped and an expensive trip to the championship game.

The other areas that improved the team's bottom line last year: an increase in season ticket revenue (more than 20%), local corporate sponsorships (15%) and CFL revenue (32%).

Revenue from the league approached $2 million for the first time last year.

Overall, the profit represents a $1 million turnaround from 2007, when the Bombers lost $264,000.

"The credit has to go to the fans and our sponsors," Bauer said. "This is Blue Bomber country. And this community, private or community (owned), it loves its football team."

With David Asper poised to take over the team early next year, this will likely be the Bombers' last as a community-owned franchise.

Bauer says it'll be a challenge to repeat last year's profit in '09.

"The economy is somewhat concerning," he said. "We're close to pace as far as last year, about 14,500 season tickets. We are seeing a little bit of a decline on the sponsors side, but not anything significant."

The team hopes to make up the difference by hosting two large concerts at the stadium this summer.

Taking an estimated $200,000 bite out of profits this year will be the salary of former head coach Doug Berry, fired after last season's 8-10 campaign and home playoff loss to the Eskimos.

Berry had signed a three-year contract extension early last season, only to be replaced by Mike Kelly in December, a move spearheaded by Bauer.


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