Blue, Gold & red all over

PAUL FRIESEN, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:21 PM ET

Even without buyouts to head coach Mike Kelly and his staff, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers went backwards, financially, in 2009.

The team’s financial statement, made public Wednesday, shows a loss of more than $200,000 before severance payments to Kelly, director of player personnel John Murphy and several assistant coaches.

Factor in a year of payments, at least $200,000, to former football boss Doug Berry, fired after the 2008 season, and the Bombers would have taken a bath of more than $400,000 even if they’d kept the controversial Kelly.

Overall, the loss of $1.2 million in 2009 compares to a profit of $761,000 in 2008.

“Obviously, 2009, from every perspective, was a disaster,” was Bomber board chairman Ken Hildahl’s blunt assessment. “On the field, the competitiveness simply wasn’t there, the fan experience wasn’t there and the financial statements speak for themselves.”

Bomber revenue shrunk in almost all areas — season tickets, walkup tickets, CFL revenue — but the biggest hit came in non-game income. Corporate sponsorship, concessions and especially merchandise sales fell off, all to the tune of $600,000.

The Bomber store may as well have closed its doors after the team’s humiliating 55-10 loss to Saskatchewan in September’s Banjo Bowl.

“Our retail operation took a fairly sizable hit last year. We started to feel the pinch on that after Banjo Bowl,” president Jim Bell said. “Everything took a tumble after the Banjo Bowl.”

Crowds, too.

Less than 23,000 turned out for the next two home games, including the worst crowd in a decade, just under 22,000, for the Edmonton game, Oct. 2.

That contributed to a slight decrease (around $73,000) in overall game revenue from the year before, despite increases in ticket prices.

Not only was the team on its way to a losing record, it was turning fans off with a head coach who insulted them on the radio and clashed with the media on a regular basis.

“There’s no question the brand took a hit,” Hildahl said. “Are we back to where we need to be? Not by a long shot. But we’ll see throughout 2010 a lot of attention being paid to the fans, the fan experience and rebuilding that brand. And reestablishing the overall credibility of the team.”

To that end, the Bomber board is in the process of establishing a code of conduct for all members of the organization.

“Last year proved the need for it, quite frankly,” Hildahl said. “The timing is no coincidence. A lot of us were disappointed with a lot of the things that transpired.

“We have certain expectations of all of our staff ... to conduct themselves in a professional manner throughout the community in their dealings with the fans, with the media. That’s a big part of the expectation. We’re always enjoyed a very good relationship with the media in this town. That took a bit of a hit last year. We’ve got some work to do there.”

As for getting the fans back, Bell says season ticket sales and corporate sponsorships are slightly up from this time last year.

But he knows much depends on the team fielded by new GM Joe Mack and rookie head coach Paul LaPolice.

“What has happened in the past has happened,” Bell said. “It was unfortunate. We’re going to get back on track. We are certainly planning on giving our loyal fan base the product they deserve.

“If there’s any silver lining at all, it’s the fact we are in a surplus. We are able to absorb this loss. We don’t want to absorb too many of them.”

The team’s surplus, which includes cash reserves of some $2.6 million, is at approximately $3.9 million, down from $5.1 million going into 2009.

paul.friesen@sunmedia.ca


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