A packed house could be coming to an IG Field near you.
Owing to a decrease in COVID-19 infections and an increase in vaccination rates, the Manitoba government announced Wednesday an easing of health restrictions effective July 17. Included are professional sports teams, which are now permitted to have full capacity for games, so long as patrons are fully vaccinated, and their return-to-play protocols have been approved by Public Health.
The Winnipeg Blue Bombers have been patiently waiting for months to earn approval of their plans to host fans at IG Field, something Dr. Brent Roussin, Manitoba's chief public health officer, confirmed Wednesday have been approved. That means a full house of 33,500-plus, fully vaccinated fans would be allowed to attend the Bombers home opener against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats on Aug. 5. Kids under the age of 12 are permitted to attend, so long as they're accompanied by a parent(s) who is fully vaccinated.
"Come Aug. 5 it will be great to open the stadium up and get people back where they belong, in their seats," Wade Miller, president and CEO of the Winnipeg Football Club, said. "We've been working hard, trying to get this done to see how closely we could get to capacity."
The Bombers are just the latest CFL team to get clearance for a full crowd. Other provincial governments, including in Saskatchewan and Alberta, have permitted full capacity without having fans double vaccinated.
Miller is happy with how the province has handled the process, and the fact he's able to house a capacity crowd should only help the Bombers bottom line. Winnipeg posted a $7-million loss in 2020, when the entire season was wiped out owing to COVID-19.
"We're a gate-driven league, obviously, and this makes a big difference for us, for sure," Miller said.
While the Bombers entire plan for 2021 hasn't been disclosed publicly, some details have surfaced, including masks being optional. Even the double-vaccination clause has a caveat currently attached: ONLY Manitobans who can provide proof of being fully vaccinated will be permitted. That's because at this point only a Manitoba immunization card is considered valid proof, meaning you need to have a Manitoba Health number to gain access.
While out-of-towners are currently being locked out — a mandate put forth by the Manitoba government — it's safe to assume the Bombers will continue to work with provincial health officials with the hope of getting the restriction lifted at some point. Or finding an alternative way for those living outside the province to show valid proof of being fully vaccinated.
"We're a gate-driven league, obviously, and this makes a big difference for us, for sure." ‐ Wade Miller, president and CEO of the Winnipeg Football Club
The last eligible date to get a second vaccination, which requires an ensuing two-week wait to ensure its full effects, and attend the game is July 21. For those who are season-ticket holders and won't be vaccinated, either in time for Aug. 5 or at all, will have their money credited for future games.
For those who like to tailgate, the only option being offered is to attend the pre-game festivities put on by the Bombers, in the club-sanctioned gated area on the east side of the stadium. Miller said the parking lot parties are currently in violation of health protocols and therefore have been suspended.
Inside the stadium, Miller said there will be additional staff to ensure common areas are wiped down and properly sanitized. The number of concessions will still be rolled back, as those that were positioned on the concourse won't be there in order to create additional room to walk.
Lines won't be subjected to social distancing, which means the Rum Hut is likely to have its usual feel. Though Miller encouraged fans to be respectful of people's personal space when hanging out on the concourse.
Fans will not be required to purchase food when buying alcohol, and alcohol will no longer be closed at 10 p.m. — mandates that were lifted for all establishments under the new protocols.
Miller said he's seen a steady increase in ticket sales since the announcement in June confirming a 2021 CFL season, which has been shortened to 14 regular-season games, with a Grey Cup scheduled in Hamilton on Dec. 12.
Single-game tickets will go on sale Mon., July 19, at 10 a.m. A presale for single-game tickets will take place on July 16 and will only be eligible to those with season tickets.
With proof required for those double-vaccinated, Miller said he expects entry into IG Field to take longer than usual. To help combat the issue, gates will open 90 minutes prior to kickoff, up from an hour before game time. Fans are encouraged to come early.
When asked if the home-opener Aug. 5 would include the official unveiling of the 2019 Grey Cup banner, Miller was tight-lipped. He did say an announcement on the matter would come sometime next week.
"We're here because Manitobans did this, by getting immunized," Miller said. "We wouldn't be here if Manitobans didn't go get immunized and beat the second target (Aug. 1). And if you get your second dose by July 21, you'll be eligible to come to the game Aug. 5."
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.