Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Why game day just got better

Bombers hope changes will become fan favourites

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Wade Miller has seen to it that Winnipeg Blue Bombers fans will have more fun this season.

How the on-field product pans out remains to be seen, but the football club has made a number of subtle -- but significant -- moves this off-season to improve the fan experience at Investors Group Field.

For starters, tailgating will start 21/2 hours prior to kickoff in the plaza outside Gate 2 and will feature a DJ, giant inflatables for the kids and Bombers' alumni signing autographs.

Once the game gets going, fans on the 200 level will be able to pick up their favourite beverages at one of two additional bars while still being able to see the game on the big screen. (If you want to sit down, a few seats from Canad Inns Stadium have been installed.)

'The football game is a big part of it, but we want to improve the whole experience of coming to Investors Group Field'

-- Bombers president and CEO Wade Miller (below), at Investors Group Field

Menus at each concession now offer healthy and gluten-free options, such as grilled chicken ranch salad, vegetables and fruit trays, in addition to traditional football game fare.

There are also several loges (raised level of seats) throughout the stadium's north and south ends that come complete with bar-level counter space for groups of 12 to 16 people.

Fans who find their smartphones don't have enough juice for all the selfies they're planning to take during the game can recharge them at one of five charging stations throughout the stadium. Fans might be able to see their tweets on the Bombers' Twitter account on the big screen, too.

"The football game is a big part of it, but we want to improve the whole experience of coming to Investors Group Field. You can start 21/2 hours before kickoff, then enjoy an amazing game, and we have activities after the game as well," he said.

Once the final whistle has blown, kids and other fans who have always wondered what it's like to run around on the football field will get that chance. They can take pictures while they're down there, too.

(The team will, of course, keep the numbers at a manageable level.) Mascots Buzz and Boomer and the cheer team will be on the field and some players will come out and sign autographs.

For adults looking to enjoy another beverage, the food and liquor outlets in the north end, including the Rum Hut, will remain open for an hour after the game has ended. In the past, liquor sales ended after the third quarter.

"We have families that want to come to the games, and we have guys who want to come with their buddies. That's what the north end zone is for," Miller said.

The Bombers will promote the responsible consumption of alcohol through their new designated-driver program, run in conjunction with Manitoba Public Insurance and Manitoba Liquor & Lotteries. The park-and-ride and bus services will be available for these fans, too.

Other changes include more Mini-Donut stands for fans in search of some dessert after their Shawarma Khan sandwiches, Burrito Splendido tacos or Salisbury House Nips and smokers will be able to take drinks outside while they have a cigarette.

The Bombers have also partnered with Red River Co-op for a special section in the south end. Red River will sell game-day merchandise and tickets.

"These are really small things that we're doing and they don't come at a big price tag. We believe it will increase the fan experience when people come to Investors Group Field," Miller said.

geoff.kirbyson@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 21, 2014 B1

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