The Winnipeg Football Club released its annual financial report Tuesday, announcing a $2.6-million operating profit in 2018 – a decrease of $2.5 million from the year before.
"Very happy," WFC president and CEO Wade Miller told the Free Press in a phone interview. "Our team worked very hard to achieve these results."
Miller said the greatest factor for the significant drop in profits from the previous year is because of the lack of major events held at Investors Group Field in 2018, such as large-scale concerts and sports games.
Unlike in 2017, when the stadium was home to a women's soccer friendly match between Canada and Costa Rica; hosted the Canada Summer Games closing ceremonies; and put on Nitro Circus and a Guns N’ Roses concert, there was nothing of that significance in 2018.
"The profits were similar to other years where we haven’t had a major event or concert," Miller said. "When you go from 2017, where we hosted a number of events to the past year where we had nothing, it’s going to affect the bottom line."
Other contributing factors included the absence of a home playoff game. Miller has been quite vocal about the necessity of the Bombers hosting more CFL games on their turf. In an interview following the release of the 2017 financials, when the Bombers did host a postseason match, he said it made "a big difference" when calculating year-end success. He said much of the same this time around, too.
The Bombers, who finished third in the West Divison in 2018 with a record of 10-8, had to travel for a pair of playoff games, incurring the costs associated with playing away from home.
Miller said that although the home team does help offset the costs of travel for the visitors in the CFL playoffs, it doesn’t cover the whole price tag. Additionally, it’s the home team that gains all the revenue from ticket sales, which in Winnipeg’s case almost always means a soldout crowd for playoff games.
"There’s definitely a benefit to hosting a game and in an ideal world, whether you’re wanting winning (on the field) or for the bottom line, hosting a playoff game every year makes a big difference," Miller said.
Another notable difference in the report was a dip in attendance — the average number of fans attending home games dropping by 800, to 26,880 per game. Miller noted that 2017 was a banner year for the club when it came to attendance and that it was always going to be difficult to match those numbers even with constant efforts to improve the game-day experience.
Then there was the success of the Winnipeg Jets in 2018 and their run to the Western Conference finals. That surely affected fan’s disposable income for entertainment, even if Miller prefers, at least publicly, to defend the hockey team’s run as a positive development.
"It’s difficult to be able to measure that but at the same time for maybe the perception of less entertainment dollars, there is also a positive effect of the energy that’s driven out one of the sports team in town winning and being very successful," Miller said, adding he expects a moderate increase in ticket sales in the coming years.
Total operating revenue increased by $970,000 from 2017, totalling $33.4 million. That coincided with a decrease in game revenue, which was down $1.4 million; stadium management revenue was also down $1.8 million from the previous year.
Operating expenses were on the rise, jumping $3.4 million, with football operations expenses increasing by $470,000. Much of the remaining $3 million had to do with costs associated with running the stadium’s food and beverage operations.
The WFC is one of two stadiums in Canada — the other being McMahon Stadium in Calgary — that are self-operated. The benefits of this arrangement include power over what deals can be offered – including last season’s introduction of the $3 menu – as well as keeping all the profits from sales.
A stadium payment of $2.7 million – based on the WFC’s available excess cash as of December 31, 2018, as defined in and required by the club’s management agreement – was also made to Triple B Stadium Inc., making it the fifth scheduled payment since IGF opened in 2013. That means the Bombers, though profitable in their operations as the WFC, find themselves in the red – excess of revenues over expenses – to the tune of $100,000.
It was much the same in 2016, when the WFC posted an operating profit of $2.8 million but were required to use an additional $1.65 million in other monies to cover the balance of a hefty stadium bill worth $4.5 million. By contrast, in 2015, the Bombers turned an $11.4-million profit — much of that coming from hosting a number of FIFA Women’s World Cup soccer games, as well as the Grey Cup — which dropped closer to $5 million after another stadium loan payment and other expenses.
In 2017, even when including the stadium payment of $3.5 million, the team remained in the black, posting an overall profit — excess of revenues over expenses — of nearly $1.6 million.
Miller said he predicts a report that looks similar to this one next year, even if there will be 15 more event days at the stadium as the city’s newest professional soccer team, Winnipeg Valour FC, calls IGF home. Valour FC, which is owned and operated by the WFC, is readying for the debut season of the brand new Canadian Premier League, which officially opens later this month.
There are no major events scheduled for 2019. There is, however, the potential to host a pre-season NFL game in August. The Free Press was first to report the WFC’s interest in putting on a match between the Green Bay Packers and Oakland Raiders for the third week of August, and NFL officials were in the city last week to check out the facilities and go over any logistical concerns.
Miller, for his part, wasn’t willing add any fuel to fire the conversation, echoing much of what he said last month, that the WFC was always looking to find new ways of generating income. Per sources, Winnipeg is heavily favoured to host the game though nothing has been confirmed just yet.
"What we’ve always said is we want to build a winning, consistently sustaining organization and that’s what we’re doing," Miller said, before shifting to the on-field product. "Losing the Western final was tough but that was another step forward – we’re right there and that’s where we need to be every year. We need to compete for championships every year."
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.
Updated on Tuesday, April 16, 2019 at 2:18 PM CDT: fixes typo
6:13 PM: Full write through, adds photos