There is no bigger message to the stewards of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers than empty seats.
Saturday, on a gorgeous fall afternoon, the Blue Bombers announced an attendance of 25,462. That's 4,000 empty chairs.
For a franchise that regularly sells out, it is a damning indictment and should send a strong message to management.
With a new stadium on the horizon this is a bad time to alienate the fan base.
The people of Winnipeg and Manitoba, now more than ever, have a say in how their football team is operated. The Bombers need fans to buy tickets and jerseys and beer. They can speak with their wallets. This isn't the NFL or even the NHL, where customers can be ignored. In the CFL, and in Winnipeg in particular, the fans have a hand on the wheel. Gate receipts are the most important revenue line.
Putting a half-baked product on the field just won't wash. People won't go. We're seeing it unfold at this moment.
Next season, the allure of a new stadium will go a long way towards guaranteeing sellouts.
But with 33,000 seats to fill and the higher ticket prices that go along with a new building, it won't be enough to rely on that new stadium smell for long.
No, the product on the field will drive the economic engine at the new stadium just as it does at the old. Empty seats will damage the bottom line at Investors Group Field, but with a new wrinkle.
Previously, middling financial results have been a big deal. The club has been self-sustaining since the early 2000s but when it needed to build a stadium it had to ask for help. That help will come with strings.
One can bet the first time the Bombers are unable to produce the $4 million or so they are supposed to pay down on the public stadium debt each season, there will be an uproar.
The Bombers organization has been playing with house money for a long time. But now they've borrowed from a loan shark known as the ticket-buying public.
They're going to want their money and when they don't get it, they'll go right past the Bombers board to Premier Greg Selinger.
Do you think he'll spend his political currency defending Bombers management and the board?
Not for a second.
If the Bombers don't appear capable of running their own house and paying their bills, Selinger will make changes -- rapid and vast changes.
What that looks like and who it involves is still an unknown but there are already rumours of a new structure being considered.
The Bombers, as they exist today, are on the clock.
They need results and they need them fast.
The Free Press asked its readers to tweet with suggestions on what to do with the Blue Bombers. Here are some of the responses:
jordan 23@2jordan3 -- Bring in some veterans that are leaders and not veterans that whine about fans on Twitter!
Todd Peters@Miyagithepug -- Vote for board of directors by season-ticket holders! Bye 2 Mack! Buono needs new challenge. Pay the$$$ 2 get him here.
Mike K@mkskud -- Whatever it is, this isn't working. The whole system of community ownership needs to go. It hasn't worked for 20 years.
Scott Cawson@scottcawson -- Blow it up. New GM, coach, QB, O-line and down the line. New stadium next year and a new team to go with it.
Todd Rose@toddrose24 -- Keep Elliott, develop him, he has the tools to be an elite qb as #4 qb coach. Keep some of the promising young guys!
Tim Hodge@BlueandGoldWPG -- Rename Investors Group Field "Travis Lulay Stadium" so that he'll join the Bombers.
Brian Mitchell@AntigothTCO -- Bring in more Canadian O-line talent. Analyze what B.C. & Montreal are doing within their operations departments, mimic it
Dave Lowe@DLo44_1975 -- Simple fix -- ban the media.
Gord Barnsley@WinnipegGordo -- Keep Mack, Burke. Let Burke pick own coaches including QB coach. Talent is there, just need to stabilize QB position.
Paul Poirier@PaulPoirier3 -- Hey guys, we need TNSE to own the bombers
Derrick McBride@BIGDELISH69 -- Male cheerleaders and worst season ever. Coincidence? I think not. Get rid of them!
firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @garylawless
Quarterback quandAry C3