Bombers reap rewards in ledgers

PAUL FRIESEN, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:01 AM ET

WINNIPEG - The performance of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers may have tailed off on the field as the season went on, but off it the team is as hot as ever.

Even before the cash registers are emptied from hosting a lucrative playoff game, the Bombers will have shattered club records for profits this year.

President Jim Bell pegs a figure approaching a staggering $2 million, more than double the previous high on the books, which was $761,000 in 2008.

The figure does not include years in which Winnipeg hosted the Grey Cup.

Factor in the Nov. 20 East Final, the rights to which the Bombers have purchased from the CFL for $100,000, and the numbers could go even higher.

“It’s what can happen when the club, the team and the community combine as one,” Bell told the Sun, Tuesday. “That’s the synergy, on and off the field. Seven sellouts. Record season tickets. Merchandise sales.

“To me the story of the year... is the fans. The fans have just been the absolute wind at our back.”

And the breeze continues to blow, as ticket sales for the East Final passed the 27,000 mark, Tuesday, well on the way to the Bombers’ first playoff sellout in 10 years.

For the first time this year, teams have to “buy” the rights to their own playoff games, taking on the risk and reward themselves. Until now, they had a choice.

In 2007, for instance, Winnipeg chose not to put up the $100,000 guarantee for an East Semifinal, and drew less than 23,000 fans.

A year later, then-president Lyle Bauer took the gamble and the club turned a nifty, $247,000, one-game profit.

This time, there’s no gamble involved, as the magic number to break even is around 24,000 fans.

“We stand to make some money off this,” Bell said. “You should be able to do it. The risk should be minimal, especially in these parts, given our season-ticket base. Unless you really kind of fall off the wagon and don’t do your homework.”

The Bombers now include a playoff ticket in all their season-ticket packages, so sales for a playoff game actually “start” at between 17,000 and 18,000.

“I would have been staying up at night if we were starting at ticket No. 1,” Bell said. “That’s a lot of ground to make up. We’ve been there.”

Winnipeg’s only comparable profit to this year’s expected $2 million windfall came in 2006, when hosting the Grey Cup left the Bombers on the right side of a $2.9 million balance sheet.

To put all this in perspective, it was just two years ago the club lost $1.2 million, one of the worst financial baths in team history.

Even in 2001, the last time Winnipeg finished in first place, the profit was a relatively modest $452,000.

Bell credits three factors in the record-breaking year: an improved relationship with the community, the coming new stadium and the strong play of the team, right from the start of the season.

After selling mostly hope during last year’s 4-14 campaign, the Bombers have delivered.

“The relationships with the fans and the sponsors are solid,” Bell said. “They have supported us. They’re hungry for a winner. And we want to provide it.

“With their help on Nov. 20, we’re gonna find out if Cinderella fits the slipper.”

If not, she can certainly afford to buy another pair.


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