Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Fans sticking with Blue

Ticket, merchandise sales remain healthy despite team's dismal play

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They're mad as hell, no question about that.

But if Winnipeg Blue Bombers fans also aren't going to take it anymore, you wouldn't know it from tickets and merchandise sales this season.

Bombers chief operating officer Jim Bell said Tuesday that just under 26,000 tickets have been already been sold for this coming Friday's home date with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats and sales have remained brisk even after last Friday's 44-3 loss to the Calgary Stampeders, the club's fourth straight loss and second by blowout in their last three games.

"My last number this morning was 25,750 tickets sold, so it's safe to say we're closing in on 26,000," said Bell. "On Monday alone, we sold between 250-300 seats. That's five days out (from game day) so that's a pretty good number, relative to what we normally do on a Monday. And things will normally heat up the closer you get to game day.

"So given our record and the fact that soon we'll be at 26,000 with Wednesday, Thursday and Friday still to go, my goodness. The fans have been sensational. They've done their part. We're at 97, 98 per cent capacity through the first six home games, including the exhibition game. The numbers just don't lie.

"There are franchises anywhere, let alone in the Canadian Football League, who would give their eye teeth to have that kind of loyal following."

And the loyalty of local fans, who have stuck by the Bombers through a championship drought now in its 22nd year, hasn't just been at the ticket window.

Despite an abysmal 2-9 record and a season that has already seen the head coach fired, Bell said merchandise sales this season are just a fraction under the record sales of 2011.

"Last year on game days, we were selling in terms of merchandise just over two bucks per capita -- the number of people in the seats times two bucks," said Bell.

"And this year, we're just under two bucks."

The fact their fans haven't abandoned them -- at least not yet -- is perhaps the only thing that has gone right for the Winnipeg Football Club in a season beset by difficulties on the field and off of it.

And it's precisely because of all those off-field difficulties the Bombers so desperately need that loyalty to continue through their final four regular-season home games -- this Friday against Hamilton, Sept. 29 against Toronto, Oct. 13 against Calgary and Nov. 3 against Montreal.

With the unexpected costs occurred this season by the delay in opening their new stadium -- not the least of which was the cost of reopening and operating Canad Inns Stadium -- and the cost of now carrying for the rest of this season and all of next the contract of fired head coach Paul LaPolice, the bottom line this season was already going to be carrying some extra costs.

But if attendance now also suddenly falls off a cliff, that becomes a double-whammy of additional costs and decreased revenues. The math is simple: the Bombers calculate their average ticket price to be almost exactly $30. That means for every 1,000 seats that go unsold, the Bombers lose $30,000. And that's just in ticket revenue, never mind all the merchandise and concession sales that would also be lost.

Now, with a season ticket base this season of 22,100 and a stadium capacity of 29,533, there is a floor to how low things can go and how much revenue the team could lose this season if the fans finally get fed up.

But even with that kind of cushion, there's an acknowledgment that this season -- which perhaps hit a new low last Friday with the televised images of Bombers players laughing on the bench while the club was getting drilled in Calgary -- is testing the patience of even the most loyal fans.

And that's a dangerous thing to do as the club prepares to take on a huge new debt load when it moves into its new stadium next season.

"I understand the anger, the frustration, the disappointment of the fans. I get it and I listen to it and I pay very close attention to it," said Bell. "I think all of us here understand, from pillar to post within the organization, that we need to put forth a better effort on field... These fans are not only loyal, but they're very, very fair. And they expect effort -- and they should expect it for the money they're putting forward."

And they're going to get it on Friday, promised one of the team's leaders.

"We're going to come out with a huge chip on our shoulders and redeem ourselves this week," said safety Ian Logan. "We've got to play better. It just hasn't been a good representation of what this football team means to this city and the way we want to represent ourselves."

paul.wiecek@freepress.mb.ca

today's bomber report c3

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 19, 2012 C1

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