Blue Bomber Report Record: 3–15–0

Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Brand-new ball game

Winnipeg Football Club spreading its entertainment wings under new CEO

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The name will remain what it has always been -- the Winnipeg Football Club.

But the days of the Blue Bombers being not much more than a CFL team that plays 10 -- and in a good year, 11 -- home dates a year appear to now be over.

The Bombers took another big step Thursday towards becoming a modern sports and entertainment company, instead of just a football team, with the announcement that they have hired local radio guru Garth Buchko as their new president and CEO.

Buchko -- the longtime general manager of local ratings powerhouse CJOB, as well as Power 97 and Groove FM -- takes over as the club's 39th president at a critical time in the history of the Blue Bombers, assuming the reins as the team prepares to move into a new stadium on the campus of the University of Manitoba for the coming season.

"This is the greatest opportunity an individual with my skill set could ever want," the longtime radio executive told a news conference Thursday morning.

"This is a tremendous brand and something we're all proud of, but there's a lot of work to be done."

Buchko was hired after an exhaustive continent-wide search that identified 75 candidates, including some with experience in the NFL.

But at the end of the day, the club found the man they wanted in their own backyard. And the fact the man they chose has no direct experience in sports management -- but heaps in sales and marketing -- should tell you all you need to know about where this venerable franchise is headed as it morphs into what sounds like will be a new era, as much as a new stadium.

In the same way True North is much more than its principal holding, the Winnipeg Jets, the Bombers executive is hoping to make the football team just one part of a much larger entertainment company, all of it revolving around their new state-of-the-art stadium.

"I come from the sports and entertainment business to some degree," said Buchko, whose flagship station, CJOB, is a longtime Bombers rights holder. "And I understand that running a stadium with 10 events, 11 events, 12 events a year probably isn't sufficient.

"Top of my head, we most certainly need to do a lot more things to make the stadium and the entertainment complex viable for sure."

And the stadium is being built with precisely that in mind. In addition to an expanded slate of outdoor concerts and entertainment events the Bombers are hoping will be attracted to a new stadium, they have also built into the complex large interior spaces they hope will attract year-round events to the facility.

Ossama AbouZeid, who is overseeing the stadium construction, said the completed facility will include an 8,000-square foot room that will serve as a bar/restaurant for club patrons on game days, but which will be marketed for everything from socials to weddings to conferences year-round.

The stadium also additionally includes three more large hospitality suites -- 1,500 square feet apiece -- that will also be rented out year-round and a series of smaller rooms that might also be attractive for small corporate outings.

AbouZeid said the stadium construction remains on budget. He said he will receive a detailed update from contractors next week, but the project also still appears to be on schedule for an opening in June.

Bombers board chairman Bill Watchorn believes Buchko is the man to lead the team into the future.

"He's a proven quantity," said Watchorn. "He's got extensive senior management experience. He's a customer-focused individual. He's (with) a very highly successful, results-based organization currently. And he's a great community guy."

 

BOMBER NOTES

The Bombers confirmed on Thursday that receivers coach Chris Wiesehan will not return to the club in 2012... There was no news out of Hamilton Thursday about who the Ticats have decided to hire as their new head coach. Bombers defensive co-ordinator Tim Burke is one of three candidates... The Eskimos abruptly announced Thursday that their defensive co-ordinator, Rich Stubler, won't return to Edmonton and there was a report Thursday night that he will now become the defensive co-ordinator for the B.C. Lions... Bombers cornerback Jovon Johnson worked out this week with the NFL's Jacksonville Jaguars and has another NFL workout scheduled for next Wednesday with the Cincinnati Bengals.

paul.wiecek@freepress.mb.ca

 

BUCHKO BIO

The Winnipeg Blue Bombers announced Thursday that they have hired Garth Buchko to be the club's new president and CEO. Buchko officially takes over on March 1. Stadium project manager Ossama AbouZeid will remain as interim CEO until that time. Here's a thumbnail sketch of Buchko:

 

Buchko has been the general manager of CJOB, Power 97 and Groove FM for the past 16 years and has a deep background in sales and marketing

Born and raised in Winnipeg and an alumnus of Red River College, he is married to Lesley and has three children; Matthew, 22, Riley, 15, and Connor, 12.

He is the founder and chair of the 'Hunger For Hope' campaign through Winnipeg Harvest and is currently on the board of the Health Sciences Centre Foundation.

He will answer to the Bombers' board of governors. GM Joe Mack will nominally answer to him, but the club made clear Thursday that Mack will remain in charge of football operations.

Buchko takes over a club that is expected to move into a new stadium in time for the start of the 2012 pre-season and which will soon announce it turned a record profit in 2011, thanks to eight straight sellouts and record merchandise sales fuelled by the Swaggerville phenomenon and a Grey Cup run.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 6, 2012 C1

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