THIS was no blindside hit.

THIS was no blindside hit.

The Winnipeg Football Club saw it coming but there was nothing they could do to get out of the way.

Last May, the Free Press published a story predicting a cancelled 2020 CFL season could put the Blue Bombers on the hook for as much as $10 million. On Monday, the WFC released its annual financial report revealing an overall loss of $9.7 million. The club was able to soften the blow thanks to $3.1 million from the federal government’s CERB program, but still finished the year sacked for a loss of $7 million. In their Grey Cup-winning season in 2019, the WFC was $589,000 in the black.

"Obviously, 2020 was disappointing for live sports and entertainment across this country and many other industries, and we were one of the industries that got impacted severely by this," WFC president and CEO Wade Miller told the Free Press.

"We’ve moved forward and have a plan out of this going past 2021."

Miller told the Free Press last week the organization is putting its final touches on the IG Restart Plan, the framework for a 2021 season with limited fans in the stands. It’s not yet known what percentage of fans could be allowed to attend a game at IG Field this year, but it’s unlikely it’ll be anywhere close to a full house. With limited ticket sales and all the associated costs of having a season, in addition to everything that goes into meeting COVID-19 protocols, it’s difficult to imagine the next financial report will look much different.

Miller was asked if the Bombers anticipate losses in 2021 to be even higher.

"No, we’re getting ready to play with fans in the stands and have done a lot to make adjustments where we can, throughout our business across the league to get through 2021," he said.

"We knew in 2020 that this was going to be a challenging year as well."

With no TV money from the CFL’s deal with TSN and no events taking place inside IG Field, the team’s revenue dropped 89 per cent, a grand total of $32.3 million. Operating expenses were $13.7 million, a decrease of $19.1 million, with $3.4 million of that going to the cost of running an empty stadium. The decrease in operating expenses is attributed to laying off staff, pay cuts and not having to pay players for a season. From pre-COVID to now, the WFC’s full-time staff has been slashed by 41 per cent. Miller said it’s unlikely they’ll be hiring in the immediate future.

Miller wouldn’t say how big a cut he, general manager Kyle Walters, or head coach Mike O’Shea took, but described them as "significant."

"There were great people that we weren’t able to retain and we’ve adjusted our business model as a part of our plan heading into 2021 and beyond," Miller said.

"We have a great team here. The people that are a part of this team, even before this, but now, are strong individuals that will work hard and we’ll make adjustments in our business and move forward."

One positive is that the majority of their sponsors, corporate partners, and season ticket members from the 2019-20 campaign have remained on board for this year according to Miller. But that won’t be enough to prevent the club from diving into its operating reserve, which had a balance of $4.6 million on Dec. 31, 2020. At the end of 2020, the club’s net assets sat at $5.9 million, which includes the money from the reserve. On Dec. 31, 2019, the WFC’s net assets were $12.9 million.

"Well, I can share with you in September of this year, it was the first time the Winnipeg Football Club was debt-free since 1992. That lasted a couple of months and we’ve taken on additional financing and we’re going to get through this," he said.

Last summer, Miller pressed for Winnipeg to be the host of a shortened 2020 season played inside a bubble. The CFL tentatively selected Winnipeg before ultimately pulling the plug on the season. Miller said the time and resources put into the bubble plan had no impact on the financial statement. He believes game planning for the bubble helped them prepare for their IG Restart Plan.

Since the bubble and overall season fell through, the club didn’t collect entertainment tax or facility fees to have an excess cash balance. In a normal year, that money goes toward a stadium payment which is typically more than $2 million. Miller is confident games will be played in 2021 and that a stadium payment will be made this year.

While the numbers paint an uphill battle, Miller assures the organization will be able to bounce back.

"We went into this under some really solid financial footing. That’s going to help us get through this and we’ll work through this."

taylor.allen@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @TaylorAllen31

Taylor Allen

Taylor Allen
Reporter

Eighteen years old and still in high school, Taylor got his start with the Free Press on June 1, 2011. Well, sort of.

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