Their performance on the field in 2013 reached all-time lows, but ticket prices for the 2014 Winnipeg Blue Bombers season are going higher anyway.
The club confirmed on Tuesday ticket prices for next season at Investors Group Field are rising in five of seven seating categories. Four of those price increases are in the two to three per cent range, but prices for the fifth seating category -- 4,400 of the club's cheapest seats -- are going up a whopping 26 per cent next season, from $196.95 this year to $249 next year.
Prices in the other two ticket categories, the club's highest price premium seats and end zone seats, are unchanged in 2014.
News that ticket prices are increasing next season began to trickle out in the past week as the Bombers sent out season-ticket renewals to existing ticket holders. The reaction on fan message boards has been predictable, with many fans questioning how the club could have the audacity to raise prices after a season in which the team has mustered just a 3-13 regular-season record, won just once at home and will miss the playoffs for the fourth time in five years.
But club COO Jim Bell said Tuesday ticket prices have nothing to do with the team's performance on the field -- good or bad -- and the increases were the result instead of rising costs and a rethinking of the team's lowest-priced tickets.
"I understand the argument that some fans might say that there's frustration with (a price increase) coming off a season that right now is 3-13," said Bell. "But in the same breath, if we had the nice problem this season of being 13-3, it's not like we would be raising all the pricing categories by 30 per cent, either."
Bell said the majority of the increases for 2014 are simply "indexed" to inflation. He said the lone major increase -- the 26 per cent jump in the cheapest tickets -- was the result of a rethinking the club did after getting into Investors Group Field and seeing the vantage point afforded to those seats, which are located in the four corners of the upper decks but still provide an exceptional view of the playing surface.
"The 26 per cent increase, as high as that might seem, was simply us trying to get that seat to fair market value," said Bell.
"In hindsight, did we undervalue that seat? I don't know I can argue that point. But I try to look at it from the other side of the fence and suggest that it's really getting that seat to fair market value...
"Twenty-six per cent sounds like a very high percentage, but when you look at is as a chance to get into Investors Group Field for $25 a game, we think that's very, very fairly priced."
Bell noted that even with the big price increase, the lowest-price season ticket to a Bombers game will remain $86 less than the lowest price season ticket to a Saskatchewan Roughriders game at Mosaic Field.
Given the Bombers' struggles on the field all season in 2013 and the challenges they are already expected to face this off-season in trying to get their record base of season ticket holders -- just under 25,000 in 2013 -- to renew, Bell was asked if the club considered holding off making any new price increases until 2015.
Bell said the matter was never up for discussion.
"We didn't hesitate and it's fundamental to our business plan," said Bell. "Raising ticket prices is commonplace and the fact of the matter is costs of doing business in professional sport don't stand still."
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