They came up just one win short in the Grey Cup of completing a dream season on the field.
But off the field, the 2011 Winnipeg Blue Bombers season was an unmitigated success beyond even their wildest dreams.
Bombers chief operating officer Jim Bell told a news conference Monday morning that the Bombers turned a record profit of $3.014 million during a remarkable 2011 season that saw the club sell out Canad Inns Stadium a record eight consecutive times; sell a record number of season tickets; and generate record merchandise sales and reach the Grey Cup.
"Everything just came together," said Bell. "The way I like to sum it up is when you put an organization together with fans who care and you're joined at the hip, great things can happen."
The club's overall net profit in 2011 was $2.333 million after development costs for the new stadium -- mostly salaries and professional fees -- were subtracted.
It is the biggest profit the club has ever turned in a season in which they didn't host the Grey Cup. The club reported a $2.9 million profit when they hosted the Grey Cup in 2006, losing $300,000 on their season that year but turning a $3.2-million profit on the Grey Cup.
With the 2011 profits, the Bombers now have an accumulated surplus of $6.6 million as they prepare to move into their new stadium on the grounds of the University of Manitoba this summer. The club had an accumulated deficit of $5.5 million in 2000.
Bell enumerated a bottom line from 2011 that will be the envy of the CFL:
-- Ticket revenue rose 13 per cent from 2010 levels to $8.366 million;
-- League revenues were up 6 per cent to $2.067 million;
-- Team revenues from things like corporate sponsors, merchandise sales and concessions were up 33 per cent -- with merchandise sales alone skyrocketing 43 per cent;
-- Stadium management revenue, principally a wildly successful U2 concert in May 2011, topped $2 million for the second year in a row;
-- Total operating revenue jumped 15 per cent to $17.662 million.
-- Football operations expenses rose 2.7 per cent, but the club still came in "just under" the $4.35 million league salary cap;
-- Total operating expenses actually slightly declined in 2011 to $14.647 million.
Bombers CEO Garth Buchko said the club's expenses will rise significantly this year as the team makes the transition from the old stadium to the new one -- a transition that will be made even more costly because construction delays will force the team to play at least one pre-season game at the old stadium this season.
"We've done our due diligence and our planning. And we can absorb the cost of opening two stadiums," said Buchko.
Buchko said the uncertainty over when construction will be completed has also complicated the club's plans to hold concerts at the new stadium this summer -- a significant source of revenue for the club.
"We've struggled to make that commitment," said Buchko. "It's a significant commitment to set a date aside and not be able to hit that date."
Still, Buchko said discussions are ongoing right now about the continuing possibility of bringing "one or two" concerts to the new stadium this year.
Bell said the club is still hoping to open their regular-season home schedule on July 26 in the new stadium, but repeated no final decisions will be made until after a major review of construction progress is delivered on May 1.
Buchko said the club is prepared for any eventuality.
"Expect the worst," Buchko said, referring to what the club learned from its discussions with other teams who have opened new facilities, including True North. "When you open up a new stadium or facility, you have to prepare for everything and anything. And that's our strategy right now."
Bell was asked if it is realistic to expect the club to equal last year's financial performance this year, when they will have so many one-time costs associated with the transition to the new stadium.
"We have an opportunity to make money -- that's in our business plan," he said. "To make $3 million? That remains to be seen."
Bell said what isn't murky, however, is the club's ability to continue to make a profit even with all the ongoing new costs associated with the new stadium -- principally the mortgage payments the club will now have to make for the next 40 years to repay the province the $190 million cost of building the new stadium.
Bell said the public can have faith the Bombers have a business plan that will make the new stadium work.
"We went over it over and over -- I think 28 or 30 times -- to make sure we had it as bulletproof as possible." Bell said of the club's plan. "The new revenue streams, suites, premium seating, all those types of things, we feel very, very confident that when we get into the new building our debt service and obligation back to the province -- we will meet that comfortably."