Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Enemy stadiums far more welcoming

Fan made to feel at home at competitors' fields

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It was last year around Grey Cup time, when Owen Preston, a Winnipeg Blue Bombers season-ticket holder and fan since childhood, dreamed up an idea to celebrate what he called an "unusual" upcoming season.

During the 2012 season, he would attend at least one Bombers away game in every Canadian Football League stadium, from Vancouver to Montreal.

It would be his way of commemorating what he saw as a season that was unusual in a special way.

The Bombers were supposed to be moving into a long-awaited new stadium and it would be the 100th anniversary of the Grey Cup game.

Of course, the Bombers season turned out to be unusual, all right, but for all the wrong reasons. Foremost among them is the distrustful and disrespectful way fans were treated by club management and security staff when fans had to return to Canad Inns Stadium for another year. Body pat-downs were at the top of the list of indignities.

Which is why Preston's odyssey, and his report on what he experienced, is so illuminating. He sent his findings via email Wednesday night to both the Free Press and the Bombers. Perhaps not coincidentally, Preston's report arrived prior to the team's final home game in their creaky, leaky old park. We hope.

So here, if you will, is the executive summary of one Bomber fan's time behind "enemy" lines. Beginning with the basic finding.

"Game days at Canad Inns Stadium have been in stark contrast to my experiences at every other stadium within the CFL during the 2012 season. The management of all our rivals seem to understand that the fans come out to games looking to enjoy themselves and they strive to provide this wherever they can."

Preston detailed some of the differences, from food, to just plain fun.

"In most stadiums, fans are welcomed with additional entertainment before entering the front gates. In B.C., Calgary and Hamilton, live bands played to people walking up to the game. In Edmonton, a play area complete with face-painting and a bounce pit was provided for children's enjoyment. The management team of the Calgary Stampeders not only set up an autograph alley for the fans, but went so far as to provide porta-potties in the parking lot for those who like to tailgate."

And here's something Preston discovered that you might find surprising, but I didn't.

"Pat-downs are an exclusive feature to Canad Inns Stadium, as I was not frisked at any other field in Canada."

Once inside the other stadiums, Preston found a feeling of unfettered flag-flying fun.

And fabulous food.

"Inside our opponents' house, I was treated to a wide variety of foods far beyond that of the standard hamburgers and hotdogs. Perogies were sold in Saskatchewan, a mock farmers market was set up in Toronto and freshly cooked corn on the cob was available in Hamilton."

And he could also buy a Slurpee from his seat in Toronto, hotdogs in the stands in B.C. and freshly squeezed lemonade and mini-doughnuts in Calgary.


What stood out most though for Preston was the suds service. Beer being sold in cans made lines move faster.

It was even available in the stands of every other stadium in the CFL.

Ultimately, Preston focused his conclusion on his contempt for Winnipeg Blue Bombers management.

"After seeing how much better every other fan has it in the CFL, not to mention fans of the Goldeyes and Jets, I have begun to question why I would spend my hard-earned wages on a game-day experience that is so abusive toward the fans."

In Preston's view, Bombers management should be sacked.

He ended with this zinger.

"If the board of directors feel that the management of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers has done such a good job in this past season, then I would simply share with them this one thought:

"In 2012, I felt more welcome in the seven stadiums of our opponents while wearing the Blue and Gold than I did when sitting in the stands of my home team."

-- -- --

Blue Bombers management wasn't available for comment Thursday.

Too busy.

All I wanted to know is how they plan to improve the fan experience next year, aside from the obvious change of venue and improved concession choices.

It's sadly symbolic, isn't it?

I mean, how a single Bombers fan is willing to go the extra mile and even miles for the team. And Bombers management can't even make a little extra time to answer a simple question about improving the fan experience.

What the Bombers really need, I regret to say, is a private owner with "footballs" to change the club's culture. Someone whose passion for the team and understanding of what it means to Winnipeg would return our iconic team to the community that is supposed to own it.

How ironic is that?

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 2, 2012 B1

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