SUN Hockey Pool

50/50 ... a 100% hit

TERRY JONES -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 7:54 AM ET

The Edmonton Oilers may never win again. But even when they lose 7-1, one fan goes home happy.

It's 50-50 which Eskimos team will show up from week to week. But the 50-50 is going to make one fan thrilled no matter how they play.

The City of Champions has become the 50-50 capital of the world.

There was an announced regular-season record of $32,425 for the last Eskimo home game and an indoor record $24,970 for the Paul Coffey banner-raising Oiler game.

"We're getting calls from Calgary, Ottawa, Vancouver and even Montreal to find out how we do it,'' says Gillian Anderies, executive director of the Edmonton Oilers Community Foundation.

BUILDING AND BUILDING

It just keeps building and building to the point where it has become part of the sports culture of the city and a significant part of the game-day experience.

"It's got to the point where the winner virtually wins season tickets for life,'' says Eskimos COO Rick LeLacheur of the growing size of the payoffs.

Maybe it was the Heritage Classic that did it. Maybe it was before that when Rod Connop in his first game out of retirement went to the Eskimos game, bought a ticket and won $10,412 - almost as much as he made playing his entire first year with the CFL squad.

WELL INTO THE NIGHT

The legend of the Heritage Classic is of Edmonton's hardy Heartland of Hockey fans - 60,000 of them - sitting in -20C weather through the MegaStars game and well into the night for most of the only outdoor NHL game ever, as the temperature dropped dramatically.

The hushed-up story is that the major reason the fans didn't leave earlier was the 50-50. They were waiting to find out the winner. It was a $75,000 pot.

The Edmonton 2002 Grey Cup was a 50-50 sellout with a payout of $50,000. Including the Heritage Classic there have been 11 50-50 payouts hitting $25,000 or more. At the most recent Eskimos game, a regular-season 50-50 record was announced when Edmonton and Saskatchewan fans combined to push the pot to $32,425. It turns out they were wrong about that.

RECORD CAME IN 2003

The record was actually $33,500 Sept. 5, 2003 when the Eskimos set a CFL regular- season attendance record of 62,444 against Calgary. The 2003 Western Final against Saskatchewan hit $32,862. The 1997 Grey Cup was a $30,000 payout sellout.

"There has been a noticeable increase in the 50-50 all year,'' says LeLacheur.

And wait till next year.

All those numbers have been achieved on $1 ticket sales. Next year the tickets will likely go to a toonie from a loonie and payouts may be $40,000 to $50,000 every game.

The Oilers went to a toonie this year.

In their first five games the payouts have been $$24,429, $21,402, $18,405, $24,970 and $19,601 - virtually double from the last time the Oilers played hockey.

"There's been little resistance to going from a loonie to a toonie. Our fans like the higher payouts. I think we'll be up to $30,000 in no time,'' says Anderies.

Sales have been capped at 30,000 tickets, $1 to the charity and $1 to the winner.

If there was ever a win-win, it's what the 50-50 has become in this city.

"If the Eskimos did not allow the Huskies and Wildcats to run the 50-50, there would likely no longer be junior football in Edmonton,'' said Curtis Craig of the Huskies, who administers the Eskimos 50-50 program.

"Each team receives 25% of the sales. Without that money, both clubs would likely fold.

''But it goes beyond that. It would affect almost every area of football in the city. Most of the coaching staffs of minor football in the Edmonton area are comprised of Huskies and Wildcats alumni.''

The Oilers give 10 games to Edmonton minor hockey and 11 games to rural minor hockey. The other dates involve the 19 charities of the Edmonton Oilers Community Foundation.

The numbers have become so big, the reaction of the winners is an experience almost every night.

"We've seen grown men cry,'' says Anderies.

The hockey team can do that to you, too.


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