Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

'Exciting year'? Is Buchko joking?

Bombers president avoids answering tough questions

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Winnipeg Blue Bombers president and CEO Garth Buchko is on the local trade association lunch circuit these days, apparently trying to focus on the positive about a stadium project that's inexplicably a year behind schedule, and to repair the deeply bruised reputation of the Blue and Gold's management.

Plus, most important of all, pitch season-ticket sales.

Buchko's speech focuses on hyping the finished product that will be the $200-million Investors Group Field, a facility he says is comparable to a National Football League stadium, from the texture of the artificial turf to the size of the video screens.

Specifically, Buchko likens its design to Seattle's CenturyLink Field, although, there are a couple of differences. Seattle's stadium is bigger. It seats about twice as many: 67,000 compared with Winnipeg's just over 34,000 all-in. What's more, when Seattle's $430-million football stadium was completed in 2002, it was on budget and on time. In fact, it was finished a month ahead of its two-year construction schedule, despite having to demolish the Kingdome to make way for the stadium footprint.

And despite an earthquake.

Buchko bears none of the responsibility for the construction delay on Investors Group Field, other that making a rookie mistake by guaranteeing the stadium would be finished for the start of last season. That's one thing Buchko has learned from. He now quotes the general contractor's assurances that the stadium will be ready on time this year, instead of giving a personal guarantee.

But I still wondered what else he and Bomber management have learned from last year. Which is why I came to accept a friend's invitation to listen to Buchko speak to the Manitoba Electrical League at the Victoria Inn on Wednesday.

Buchko has an impressive resumé in radio sales and broadcast management. Unfortunately, his initial year of fronting a football team in the ultimate of rebuilding years was dismal, bordering on disastrous. But not according to Buchko.

"And what an exciting year it's been," Buchko gushed about his first year in the job.

If he was joking -- and there wasn't a hint of self-deprecating humour in his tone or the rest of the sis boom bah, rah, rah, rah, that came later -- it was a bad joke.

Exciting?

Unless the Bomber boss thinks corporate chaos is synonymous with exciting, there was nothing remotely exciting about the bumbling Bombers in 2012. I don't know what there is to cheer about after a year in which Investors Group Field wasn't finished on time, the Bombers No. 1 quarterback had trouble finishing a game, and the only thing that was finally finished was Canad Inns Stadium. And that old park was officially "finished" twice.

I almost forgot: The Bombers team finished, too -- out of the playoffs.

In the Q&A that followed his sales pitch for season tickets, I asked Buchko how many season tickets the team has sold for the upcoming year.

"We have lots of good seats available," he said.

I gathered that the Bombers will announce the actual number some time later, when it suits them, but why the CEO of a community-owned team wouldn't answer it directly, right then, is a mystery to me. Buchko and the Bombers still haven't learned that this is our team, at least in name and in theory, and we deserve accountability.

With just over two months until the first scheduled event at Investors Group Field, Buchko wouldn't say what percentage of the stadium is yet to be completed.

What he would talk about is how much more choice fans will have for food and how much more room they'll have to drink.

"So we have listened to our fans," he said at one point during his speech. "And we are soon to announce a massive-size rum hut."

Good to know Garth Buchko and the Bombers have learned to listen to the drinkers in the crowd.

What about the other fans who just want security to keep their hands off their bodies? I asked Buchko about the frisky business last year that outraged so many season-ticket holders of long and faithful standing, and whether the Bombers had considered buying some metal-detecting wands instead of patting people down. In other words, had they listened to their sober-minded fans?

"Our security strategy is being released very soon," Buchko responded, again deflecting the question.

Then he added this: "But those considerations are being taken into account, for sure."

We live in hope, Bombers fans.

More rum, less hands-on, and who knows, maybe Investors Group Field will open on time.

A year late.

gordon.sinclair@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 16, 2013 B1

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