Blue Bomber Report Record: 7–11–0

Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Buchko says he has a plan to right the Bombers franchise

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Garth BUCHKO knows the product isn't good enough. He just needs to determine how to fix it and he says he's making inroads.

The first-year CEO of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers admits he's had lots to learn about running a professional sports franchise.

"I haven't slept in seven months," laughed Buchko, looking fit and relaxed in his office during an hour-long sit-down earlier this week.

The longtime radio executive is rightfully confident in his ability to build revenue, but is shy on experience on the football side of the operation. Buchko, however, has not let the lessons come to him -- he's actively pursued them.


"We've put together a sustainability study as well as a critical-path issues study (scheduling). Benchmarking is just standard practice for business. It's about the continuation of best practices and comparing ourselves not only to other businesses, but other CFL teams. What do other teams do well that we should compare ourselves to?" Buchko said.

For him, it all starts with what happens on the field, and he says with a 4-11 record, the club isn't projecting the image he wants.

"I don't know if we have an identity right now. I'm not unhappy with it, but I can say to you we don't have an identity right now. I think where we need to be as a football organization, football and business, that when somebody comes to the CFL, they know what we stand for. If you're the type of athlete that fits the CFL, you have to give the Winnipeg Blue Bombers a chance."

The latest attempt to put the Blue Bombers on the path to success isn't about Buchko taking over football operations. In fact, he's very clear that he won't be involved in the implementation of any new football operations' policy or spending.

"We need to identify how we run our business and how others run their business -- from org charts to sustainability issues to running the operation. It's not just about dollars and cents.

"A lot of times, people look at benchmarking as a way to say we don't spend enough money. Benchmarking is an analysis," Buchko said. "When I do the analysis of who has the best practices in terms of running a football operation, I'll turn it over to our football operations people and let them run with it.

"Just because one team has five scouts doesn't mean we need five. Just because one team has a quality-control person doesn't mean we do. But it also doesn't mean we shouldn't have one. We need to find out if we need a full-time Canadian scout. It's too early to tell. We need to identify what the best practices are and then give them the resources to go get the people."

Buchko has used consultant Bill Peterson, a former vice-president with AEG, one of the world's largest sports and entertainment companies, as well as Bombers vice-president Jim Bell to help conduct the study.

The results are almost in and Buchko says change will be coming.

"We're not doing this to stay status quo," Buchko said.

"With any strategic plan, you need money. The new stadium will make us the only CFL team that has 100 per cent operational capability. Every dollar we generate will be ours. We'll have the money. If we run the business properly, we'll have the money, and then we can spend the money to have the best football organization in the CFL."

For the football fan in Winnipeg, the meat of this study and how it affects the on-field product will be key.

"I think the club will look at expanding personnel on the football side. It's not my role to decide what people we hire, but the study clearly shows we need more people in football ops.

"We need to build an organization that is first-class in a salary-cap world. Obby Khan, bless his heart, says Calgary feeds the players better. It comes out of the cap, whether we give our players a larger housing allowance or food for breakfast or lunch. Calgary gives food and less for housing, but it comes out of the same pot."

The Bombers' top employee admits the organization has spent less than the rest of the league on football operations.

"We spend $300,000 less, on average, than the rest of the league on football operations. Still, $300,000 is a lot of money. It's never been about the Winnipeg Football Club being cheap. It's not that. We were in the Grey Cup last year with the same number of coaches that we started with. We were successful with eight coaches.

"But in saying that, we're here to win championships and build a first-class organization. How much money do we need to spend to do that? Because we want to build an identity; we want to be seen in the CFL like the Pittsburgh Steelers, Green Bay Packers, B.C. Lions and Montreal Alouettes." Twitter: @garylawless

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 19, 2012 C4

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About Gary Lawless

Gary Lawless is the Free Press sports columnist and co-host of the Hustler and Lawless show on TSN 1290 Winnipeg and
Lawless began covering sports as a rookie reporter at The Chronicle-Journal in Thunder Bay after graduating from journalism school at Durham College in Ontario.
After a Grey Cup winning stint with the Toronto Argonauts in the communications department, Lawless returned to Thunder Bay as sports editor.
In 1999 he joined the Free Press and after working on the night sports desk moved back into the field where he covered pro hockey, baseball and football beats prior to being named columnist.

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