Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Bombers lose to Goldeyes in game of fan relations

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I'm trying to figure out why the Winnipeg Blue Bombers organization seems to have gone out of its way to take the fun out of the fan experience.

And make so many of its faithful fans so angry.

I've decided it comes down to a couple of issues.

The culture of the organization. Plus the culture of the game and a certain element in the Bombers audience. Obnoxious drunks.

To argue the point about the culture of organizations, and the fans they attract, a comparison might help. Take the Bombers organization versus the Goldeyes. Take football and its fans generally, versus baseball and the people who go to watch that sport. You don't necessarily have to go to a Bombers game and a Goldeyes game to make the comparison. Just check out the respective websites.

The Bombers' site has a full page devoted to warning fans to behave respectfully to each other and telling them what they can, and for the most part, what they can't take into the stadium.

The Goldeyes website has no warnings to its fans about behaviour, or anything else. And not even a mention of things you can't take into fan-friendly Shaw Park.

After you've searched the Goldeyes website and found nothing, go back to the Bombers' "event day policies," which lists more than two-dozen specific no-entry allowed items, from the obvious to the ridiculous and from the annoying to the dangerous.

Here's a sample of the no-noes at Canad Inns Stadium: illegal drugs, playing balls, pets, cans, flasks, Thermoses, coolers, picnic baskets, boom boxes, Frisbees, laser pointers, obscene/indecent signs or clothing, smoke bombs, homemade noisemakers, powered megaphones, musical instruments, Rollerblades and skateboards, anything that can be used as a projectile, weapons "or any item deemed hazardous by Winnipeg Blue Bomber Stadium management personnel."

Plus warning numero uno: "No outside food/beverage."

Then there's another advisory: "Authorities are allowed to inspect patrons, and their bags, upon entering Winnipeg Blue Bomber events for the purposes of spectator safety."

In other words, the frisk is in, and anything in your bag or purse that's prohibited is out. Including what has become the most irritating of all forbidden football-day contraband: bottled water.

So what about the Goldeyes?

Do they ban bottled water and outside food? I asked Dan Chase, the baseball team's director of sales and marketing. Chase said they have signs in the ballpark about no outside food, and they'd prefer fans adhered to it, but on a hot summer night at Shaw Park the Goldeyes aren't going to take away bottled water. "We're not checking bags and looking for water bottles," he said.

Chase suggested there may be the odd alcohol-related incident, but generally fans don't go to watch the game and get drunk. At least not the way they do in the larger football crowds.

"People are very respectful of each other in the ballpark," Chase said.

Or, as Scott Unger, the baseball team's manager of media relations said by way of comparing people who watch the Goldeyes and Bombers.

"We have a totally different crowd."

Baseball audiences tend to skew both older and younger and the sport attracts more women.

Baseball, with its pastoral setting and the timeless nature of a game with no clock -- and almost no contact except for ball on bat -- is meant to be watched in a relaxed, convivial way.

Football, is all about violent body contact, and a core group of fans who are all about the beer and acting as if they're back in Rome, cheering for the lions. Of course, there are about four times as many fans at a sold-out Bombers game as a Goldeyes full house.

It's not the size of the crowd that matters; it's how the fans are treated. The Goldeyes make their fans feel welcome; the Bombers make their fans feel like suspects.

That really has nothing to do with the difference between baseball and football and the crowds they attract. That's about the people who run the organizations, and their front-line workers, treating the fans with respect -- and not.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 21, 2012 B1

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