Bombers have no choice but to go deep

Paul Friesen, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 8:56 PM ET

Watching the Great Stadium Debate lurch towards its inevitable conclusion, one thing has become crystal clear.

These are no longer your grandfatherís Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

Heck, theyíre not even your dadís.

Just 20 years ago, the board of directors of this community owned institution didnít have the footballs to challenge its own head coach and GM.

Today, itís ready to commit tens of millions of dollars towards a new stadium.

Easily the ballsiest move this franchise has ever made, this step became necessary when the teamís supposed white knight, David Asper, fell off the horse he rode in on, unable to deliver the $115-million playpen heíd promised, either on budget or with a cheque.

That same stadium is now going to cost $180-$190 million.

The Bombersí share, an estimated $70 million, is about 12 times the debt that threatened to cripple this franchise a decade ago.

So how in the name of Jeff Reinebold can a mom-and-pop operation like this make a commitment like that?

Obviously, the rules of the game have changed. Mom and pop are long gone, replaced by bigger thinkers on a board thatís barging headfirst into a future of long-term community ownership in a community-owned facility.

ďTo protect the integrity and viability of the football club is a first priority,Ē board chairman Bill Watchorn said, Friday. ďAnd that we have done.Ē

The Bombers are expected to pay off the $70 million, plus interest, over a long period, probably 30 to 40 years. There should even be enough money to create a contingency fund to maintain and repair the new digs, a serious issue in the current stadium.

Itís all spelled out in a business plan some eight months in the making, which weíll get a peek at early next week, when this deal is unveiled.

A gamble?

Not as much as you might think.

New facilities are like blood transfusions for sports organizations, and you donít have to look outside Manitoba to see the evidence.

The Moose and Goldeyes have seen huge increases in revenue in their new buildings, and are making money hand over fist. The Bombers, with their history and deep-rooted following, will enjoy the same resurgence.

Of course, the community investment here is on a bigger scale.

Taxpayers picked up almost half the cost ($9 million) of the ball park and close to one-third of the price ($40 million) of the downtown rink.

The new stadium is getting a $15 million grant from the province and around $7 million from the city. The bulk of the funding (approximately $90 million) is being fronted by the province, which will recoup our dollars through taxes from any new development at the Polo Park site, which currently generates no revenue.

Cue the caterwauling from the far right, and those against taxpayer funded anything.

ďI saw that at the MTS Centre, I saw it with the Goldeyes, I saw it when they built the Provencher Bridge ó there are people who donít want to do anything,Ē Watchorn said. ďIf you accept the fact we need a new stadium, and the Bisons need a new stadium as well, killing two birds with one stone is a good idea. Itís going to be significantly used by the public at large, outside of the Bombers and Bisons.Ē

That debate will, no doubt, continue.

As for whether or not the Bombers are getting in too deep, it seems they donít really have a choice. The status quo wasnít an option.

Letís just hope this bold move turns out better than the one they made back in the 1990s, when the board finally challenged, and fired, its head coach and GM, Cal Murphy.

That decision brought us Jeff Reinebold.

Contact Paul at paul.friesen@sunmedia.ca.

Twitter@friesensunmedia


Photos