Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Bombers' free water refreshes the faithful

But reactions still mixed to team's food, drink bans

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Winnipeg Blue Bombers fans drank up the news that free water would be available at all home games, beginning tonight.

"It's a move in the right direction. I think the free water move is an excellent idea," Jeff Reder said Thursday outside Canad Inns Stadium, moments after picking up tickets for tonight's home date against the B.C. Lions.

The team announced Wednesday it would offer free water to fans from 10 purified-water coolers stationed throughout the stadium. Fans can fill their own bottles or use cups provided by the team.

There are no water fountains at the stadium and no city code that requires it to have any, a city spokesman said.

The decision to offer free water followed an outcry from some fans against a new policy that bans bottled water from being brought into the stadium for football games. The policy was implemented at the beginning of the 2012 season in preparation for the team's move to Investors Group Field in 2013.

A survey of fans found all were in favour of the free-water plan, even if it came a bit late for some who thought security personnel were being overzealous when checking fans' bags and purses on game day.

Sally St. Germain has been a season-ticket holder since the 1970s and had a bottle of frozen water taken away by security at the first home game. She used to bring fruit to games as a healthy option, but hasn't this year, fearing it would be seized, too.

"I'm annoyed because they changed the policy after we already sent in our money. To say you can't bring in your own apple or plum is ridiculous. I'm considering bringing an apple in and telling them it's baby food and I'll bring the (permitted) list because it doesn't say you have to have a baby with you to bring in baby food," she said.

Fellow season-ticket holder Sheila Babaian said she would have been fine with the new rules if the Bombers had better communicated the changes to fans prior to the start of the season.

"I can live with coming back here and paying more for tickets, but they decide this year, of all years, to enforce the no-food policy without telling anyone. That was the straw that broke the camel's back," said Babaian, who had a small bag of candy taken from her purse at the first home game of the season after being allowed to bring it into a pre-season game. "I understand the no-alcohol policy, but they should have let everything else go this year."

But the Bombers refuse to back down on their no-food policy, Winnipeg Football Club CEO Garth Buchko said Wednesday.

William McKenzie has no problem with the policy and understands the organization has to make money on food and beverages.

"I think it's fine. It costs money to run sporting events, so I don't blame them for trying to make money," he said, adding he would take the organization up on a free cup of water.

The free-water announcement sparked a huge debate on the Free Press website Thursday, with more than 350 comments posted as of Thursday afternoon.

The debate centred on fan treatment, the no-food-or-beverage policy and searches by security. Some fans vowed not to spend any money at games or attend any home dates at all, while others said good riddance to people not willing to support their team by paying $3 for a bottle of water.

"I think it would be cheaper to let people bring in their own water rather than supply it," St. Germain said.

Outside the stadium, Andrea Kozuska said the free-water idea was a good public relations move by the organization.

"As long as they're giving away free water, it's good, especially after the game," she said.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 24, 2012 A11


Updated on Friday, August 24, 2012 at 9:53 AM CDT: Adds link to game day policies.

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