Blue Bomber Report Record: 7–11–0

Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Insert in pipe and smoke, naysayers

Be silent, detractors, new stadium big plus

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They said it couldn't be done.

They were wrong. Again.

Sunday was a very bad day to be a member of that small, but irritatingly vocal, rump of Winnipeggers who do everything possible to undermine any attempt to make this city a better place by undertaking large civic works.

Under a gorgeous blue sky, about 2,000 Winnipeggers ventured out to the campus of the University of Manitoba on Sunday to see their Winnipeg Blue Bombers take to the field at Investors Group Field for the very first time as a full team.

And with that, the same people who dumped all over plans to put a ballpark at The Forks and an arena on the site of the old Eaton's building -- two of the best things to happen to this city in the last 15 years -- were once again forced to eat a large helping of the can-do attitude that gets things done in this city despite the very best efforts of a select few.

Right until the very end, of course, people said Investors Group Field wouldn't happen. Just last week, someone wrote me to tell me the roof wouldn't be done for another year. A few weeks before that, it was an email from someone else reporting the concrete was too watery and the whole thing would fall down.

And yet there it stood Sunday, tall and straight and with all the right curves in all the right places, basking in a warm spring sun and the presence of a couple thousand Winnipeggers who always believed this day would come.

Is it perfect? Not quite. The press box is, quite literally, a joke -- Did you hear the one about the hicks who built an outdoor press box in Winnipeg? They're installing a screen door in a submarine for an encore.

(As an aside, say what you want about Bombers GM Joe Mack -- I'm told he was one of the few who spotted the press box design flaw immediately and told the tall foreheads it would never work. They ignored him. And they will now have to renovate to host a Grey Cup.)

But that's all small potatoes for a project the naysayers first said would never happen at all and then, when it was clear it was happening, said it would be hopelessly flawed and never open in time, even for this season.

So they're going to shut up now, right? You're funny.

No, now that the stadium is done and beautiful and something to be proud of, the same bunch are going to complain that it's too expensive and the taxpayers are going to be on the hook for the $200-million price tag.

Actually, that's been a popular refrain throughout this entire process -- the Bombers are never in a million years going to be able to afford to pay the $4.5 million a year mortgage.

So what about that? Yeah, it's a nice place, but can the Bombers really afford it?

Well, with the 2013 regular season opener on June 27 now less than four weeks away and the numbers for this season coming into clearer focus, that answer also appears to be a resounding yes.

Consider:

--The Bombers will announce at some point this week that they have sold over 24,000 season tickets for 2013. With a few weeks still to go before the regular season, that number will in all likelihood hit somewhere just north of 25,000 by the time the Bombers kick off the regular season on June 27.

--During the last few seasons, the Bombers have consistently averaged about 7,000 single-game tickets sold per game. It was a little more in 2011 when the team went to the Grey Cup, a little less last year when the team went in the toilet, but basically 7,000 single tickets a game.

--Add 7,000 single game tickets to 25,000 season tickets and the Bombers should average around 32,000 per game in 2013. That will be, of course, a franchise attendance record by a mile and also represent over 95 per cent capacity in a stadium that holds 33,500.

And that doesn't take into account the single-game ticket sales bump every team gets when they play in a new venue for the first season. How much of a buzz do the Bombers have going right now? They sold 2,000 single-game tickets on Saturday alone, the first day the general public could buy single tickets.

And increased ticket revenue is just the start of the financial bonanza the Bombers will reap from the new stadium. Sold out luxury boxes? Check. A state of the art ribbon board to sell expensive advertising? Check. At least two major concerts this summer? Check.

And, oh yeah, there's also that new television deal with TSN worth close to triple the last deal which will pay the Bombers about $4 million per season over the next five years -- almost enough right there to pay the mortgage.

So, let's wrap it up. Yes, to be sure, there's lots of compelling questions still unanswered about this Bombers team -- Will Buck Pierce stay healthy? Will the defence play more like 2011 than 2012? Will the team respond to Tim Burke in his first full season as head coach?

But will the Bombers be able to pay their mortgage in that shiny new sports palace where they opened training camp Saturday? That's not even up for debate right now, or in the immediate future.

That place works, for the tenant and for all of us. Just like Shaw Park does. Just like the MTS Centre does.

And so I will leave you today with two questions of my own for all the naysayers out there -- Do you ever get tired of being wrong? Or do you just sort of get used to it after awhile?

paul.wiecek@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 3, 2013 D1

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