WINNIPEG - Just how popular are the Winnipeg Blue Bombers?
Well, they’ve never been as popular as they are right now.
Not in 1984 when they won the Grey Cup. Not in 1990 when they won the Grey Cup. Not in 2001 when they went 14-4 and lost the Grey Cup
The Winnipeg Blue Bombers are riding a wave they’ve never experienced in their 81-year history.
Granted, they were no doubt the talk of the town in the late 1950s and early 1960s, when they won four of their 10 Grey Cups, but never before have so many people put their money where their support is.
The Bombers have sold out four games in a row, including this Friday’s match against Hamilton and the Banjo Bowl against Saskatchewan on Sept. 11. They are even adding temporary seating to accommodate more fans. Four consecutive sellouts at Canad Inns Stadium has happened just once since at least 1979.
Last week, between Monday and Friday, the Bombers sold 5,700 tickets for games after the Banjo Bowl, which vice-president of marketing Jerry Maslowsky said is unheard of on Maroons Road.
After the Banjo Bowl, the Bombers will be on pace to shatter their season attendance record of 252,802, which was set in 2001. They will also be on target to set the highest average attendance mark in franchise history, even though the Stadium’s capacity in the 1980s was 3,000 more than it is today.
Not only are the crowds coming at an unprecedented pace, but merchandise sales are on target to break records as well. They also sold all 8,100 Bomber-themed licence plates, and you can’t drive more than a few blocks in Winnipeg without seeing one.
Simply put, these are heady times for a franchise that hasn’t won a Grey Cup since 1990.
“We’re having phenomenal success to date, but we’re riding the momentum and the record of the team,” said Jeffrey Bannon, the franchise’s manager of brand development. “I know that we’ve always had very supportive fans. This is my first time being in a position where the sales are just as strong as the record.”
The sellouts are no doubt the result of the team’s league-leading 6-1 record, but the franchise still produced its largest season-ticket base — more than 21,000 — before the season even started. And they were 4-14 last year.
There are several reasons why the Bombers had such strong season-ticket sales. They are moving into their new stadium at the University of Manitoba next season, and people want to be able to keep their seats in the new park. The Bombers also made a concerted off-season effort to visit towns all over the province.
There is also the belief that the return of the NHL’s Winnipeg Jets has ignited everyone’s passion for sports in the province.
Maslowsky doesn’t discount any of these theories.
“The entire province has engaged with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, and we’re seeing that,” he said, noting more busloads of fans from out of town are coming to games. “That was part of our strategy in the off-season, where we wanted to reach out.”
General good feelings about Manitoba, including the return of the Jets, has played a role as well, according to Maslowsky.
“There is something magical going on in this city and province,” he said. “People are feeling good about themselves, saying they’re proud to be Winnipeggers and Manitobans, and they want a place where they can go out and celebrate.
“And I think coming to our stadium and being a part of it has been a major role in what’s going on.”