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On- and off-field success means Big Blue back in black

Winnipeg Football club reports $2.1-M profit

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A year after getting sacked for millions in losses, the Winnipeg Football Club is back in the black following a successful 2021 season both on and off the field.

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A year after getting sacked for millions in losses, the Winnipeg Football Club is back in the black following a successful 2021 season both on and off the field.

The club released its annual financial report Wednesday, announcing a $2.1-million operating profit for the fiscal year, a significant increase from the $9.7 million in losses from 2020 when the CFL was forced to shut down its entire season due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The numbers are very positive, and our team and our organization, everyone involved, worked extremely hard to get to the success we did on and off the field,” football club president and CEO Wade Miller told the Free Press in a phone interview.

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Winnipeg Football Club preseident and CEO Wade Miller credited everyone in the organization for the Bombers' financial success.

“A lot of credit belongs to a lot of people for making it the year that it was.”

Revenue generated came in at $32.8 million, a tad more than 90 per cent of what was recorded in 2019, an impressive feat considering the 2021 season was shortened to 14 regular-season games (seven at IG Field) rather than the usual 18 games (nine at home).

Miller credited the strong commitment of team sponsors to stick with the club following the Blue Bombers’ championship run in 2019, and fans who slowly but surely returned to their seats even as COVID-19 restrictions limited stadium capacity. It also helped the Bombers, en route to successfully defending their championship title in 2021, hosted the Western Final, a game that generated $2.4 million in additional revenue.

“The fandom that our fans have shown us has just been phenomenal,” Miller added. “When we won the 2019 Grey Cup, we had the pause of 2020 and then the excitement picked back up as we went into 2021 when we were able to get back on the field and getting our players and coaches doing what they love. The fans came out in droves in 2021.”

Operating expenses totalled nearly $30.7 million, which was down by more than $2 million, from 2019. The report noted the Winnipeg Football Club incurred $886,000 in expenses related to COVID-19.

The club received solid support from volunteers, many of whom worked to put on safe Blue Bomber and Valour FC game days. Players also had their salaries prorated to reflect the reduced season, with some forced to restructure their entire contract for significantly less money.

The CFL made a unilateral move when it came to its football operations cap, reducing it from $2.59 million to closer to $2 million, with an expected savings of around $4.5 million league-wide. Miller said there were some reductions made internally but kept those details private.

The numbers don’t exactly tell the whole story.

In 2020, the football club benefitted from financial assistance from the government to help ease the damages caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, reducing its losses from $9.7 million to around $7 million. In 2021, it gained an additional $3.2 million in public funds associated with the coronavirus pandemic, received $2.2 million back from a stadium payment in 2019 and wrote off a loan to the pro soccer team ($1.2 million), resulting in an overall profit of $6.2 million this past year.

ETHAN CAIRNS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES Attendance at the stadium has steadily increased since the team returned to action following a year off because of the pandemic.

Valour FC lost $600,000 in 2021.

The additional monies were not reflected in the $2.1-million profit total because it isn’t a reoccurring revenue stream, Miller said. The report was also late in its release to the public; the team’s financial audit usually comes out in April of each year.

“The reason it took so long is with the new agreement related to the stadium, we needed to take time to assess all those agreements and then how those impacted the Winnipeg Football Club,” Miller noted. “There’s a lot of consultants and people involved in helping with that.”

During the 2021 season, the WFC entered into a new agreement with the Manitoba government and Triple B Inc., resulting in the establishment of a capital fund that included a $10.2 million contribution from the province to be used for stadium maintenance and improvements. Prior to the new deal, the club wasn’t on the hook for these bills, although they were expected to make significant payments against the stadium determined through a formula based on profits and often to the tune of millions of dollars.

The WFC no longer has to make the costly stadium payments — the team’s $85-million dollar loan from the provincial government, of which a grand total of $6 million had been paid off, was forgiven in the new deal — that often left the club in the red. Instead, there’s a new formula that has the football club contributing to the capital fund each season, which included a deposit of $576,000 in 2021.

That formula will have different results in 2022, with payments expected to increase this year and well into the future. Under the new deal, the first $1 million in profits will go to the stadium capital fund and the second $1 million would then be transferred to the team’s operating reserve.

Any additional profits would then be added to the capital fund until it’s “fully funded,” which means the WFC would have enough money in the fund to cover major capital upgrades for the next five years and 80 per cent of anticipated capital costs over eight years. The anticipated costs are unpredictable and alter over time.

It’s a costly deal for taxpayers, but the hope is it has set up the Winnipeg Football Club to be a self-sustaining force solely responsible for the upkeep of its home stadium, one of the province’s biggest assets. As it stands, the club is on solid footing, with nearly $10.8 million in the capital fund.

RYAN REMIORZ / THE CANADIAN PRESS FILES Bombers offensive lineman Stanley Bryant hoists the Grey Cup last year. The team is looking to challenge for a third title in a row this year.

The Bombers are 6-0 this season on a path to host another playoff game and fight for a third consecutive Grey Cup title. The COVID-19 pandemic isn’t nearly as big an obstacle to the bottom line and attendance is on the rise.

“It’s a great story, where our financials were, how we came out of the pandemic,” Miller said. “Just proud of our entire team for knocking it out of the park, so many people behind the scenes that never get that credit. It’s just such a great group of people here that work so hard.”

– with files from Tom Brodbeck

jeff.hamilton@freepress.mb.ca

twitter: @jeffkhamilton

Jeff Hamilton

Jeff Hamilton
Multimedia producer

After a slew of injuries playing hockey that included breaks to the wrist, arm, and collar bone; a tear of the medial collateral ligament in both knees; as well as a collapsed lung, Jeff figured it was a good idea to take his interest in sports off the ice and in to the classroom.

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