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Cheap eats to fill the seats

Winners, not wieners, sure bet to bring in Bomber fans to IG Field

Opinion

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 26/6/2019 (411 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

It's a game you'd think would pretty much sell itself. Except apparently it isn't.

You have the home-opener for a Winnipeg Blue Bombers squad that might be as talented as any we've seen in years. A battle for first place between a pair of undefeated clubs. A spectacular sunny forecast, where the temperature is expected to be pushing 30 degrees. The eve of the Canada Day long weekend and the start of the lazy, hazy days of summer.

Sounds like bliss for the local sports fanatic, doesn't it? Only it's clear the football club believes Thursday night's highly anticipated clash between the 1-0 Bombers and the 2-0 Edmonton Eskimos needs a bit more sizzle to seal the deal. Or, in this case, suds and sausages.

How else to explain the decision to slash beer prices and offer cheap hotdogs to everyone who passes through the gates at IG Field?

Give the Bombers credit: they appear to have a good read of the market, which has never met a sale or discount it didn't love. I mean, did you see the turnout last weekend in New Bothwell, where the local cheesemaker was offering discounted product? Lineups were reported to be more than an hour long, as customers gobbled up all the marked-down Gouda and Havarti they could get their hands on.

Heck, giveaway weekend around these parts is practically a stat holiday. One person's trash truly is another person's treasure, at least in this town.

There's no doubt many will be doing a happy dance at the prospect of $3 franks and $4.85 Bud and Bud Light to wash it all down. Just make sure you get there a bit early, as the wobbly pops return to regular prices at kickoff time.

Whether this was all an attempt to deal with sagging ticket sales or results in a spike, remains to be seen. The organization said Wednesday it's expecting a crowd in the range of 25,000 fans, which would be similar to last year's home-opener (25,458) but down significantly from 2017 (30,165).

TREVOR HAGAN / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES</p><p>Unsurprisingly, the club's latest effort to try to cater to on-the-fence football fans factors in alcohol. After all, this is the city which put The Beer Snake on the map a few years ago.</p>

TREVOR HAGAN / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

Unsurprisingly, the club's latest effort to try to cater to on-the-fence football fans factors in alcohol. After all, this is the city which put The Beer Snake on the map a few years ago.

Regardless, this is the latest concerted effort by the club to try to cater to on-the-fence football fans. And, not surprisingly, alcohol is a common theme. After all, this is the city which put The Beer Snake on the map a few years ago.

The Bombers have started offering "social passes" — sponsored by Jim Beam — which gives you admission to the stadium but no actual seat. Instead, you can rub shoulders with other well-lubricated liquor lovers in the notorious Rum Hut. Thirty-seven bucks gets you through the doors and a complimentary drink in your hands.

The promotion was described as the first of its kind in Canada.

"A contingent of our fans enjoy game days differently," explained Bombers president Wade Miller.

Translation: there are some people out there who really couldn't give a lick about the on-field product, but enjoy pretty much everything else about the experience. As a result, the Bombers have also added the new Jim Beam Stillhouse and a DJ booth to crank out the tunes, giving the place a real nightclub-style vibe.

Those folks might leave the stadium having no clue what the final score was. But as long as they had a good time and are willing to come back, that's a victory for the Bombers.

Speaking of music, the team (and the CFL as a whole) appear to be taking a page out of the NFL's playbook, teaming up with Universal Music Canada for in-game broadcast music, team-specific game-day themes and a Thursday Night Football Concert Series.

Fans at IG Field will get a glimpse of that as The Reklaws, a Ontario-based country duo, will perform at halftime. The Bombers will also run their own concerts throughout the season, featuring mostly local acts.

Once again, that's trying to appeal to more than just the hardcore fans, who didn't need any extra motivation to hand over their cash.

TREVOR HAGAN / THE CANADIAN PRESS FILES</p><p>Despite the increase in television viewership last year, it doesn't appear to be translating to more butts in seats across the league. The Bombers are hoping to buck that trend, by trying to give fans more bang — and booze — for their buck.</p>

TREVOR HAGAN / THE CANADIAN PRESS FILES

Despite the increase in television viewership last year, it doesn't appear to be translating to more butts in seats across the league. The Bombers are hoping to buck that trend, by trying to give fans more bang — and booze — for their buck.

According to the CFL, there was a 20 per cent increase last season in television viewership in the coveted 18-49 demographic for Thursday night games. However, that doesn't appear to be translating more butts in seats.

Overall attendance was down across the league in 2018, including here in Winnipeg. And through two weeks of this new season, average crowds are 6.5 per cent smaller compared to the first two weeks of last year. No doubt the Bombers are hoping to buck that trend, by trying to give fans more bang — and booze — for their buck.

So all of this is a good thing, right? What kind of a person would have a problem with any of this?

There's no doubt a segment of the population and, no doubt, the loyal fan base, isn't exactly thrilled about this attempt to curry favour with some of the fair-weather types. Not to mention the inherent problems that can occur when you pack more than 25,000 amped-up people into a close setting and the drinks are flowing fast and furious.

I'm guessing the Bombers are likely having to budget for some extra security this year just to ensure everything runs smoothly.

You always run the risk of alienating your core by deviating from the norm and trying new things. But I'm not sure the organization has much of a choice here.

It's no secret there are more options than ever for sports fans in Winnipeg. You have the Jets, the Moose and now the Ice of the Western Hockey League. The Goldeyes and Valour FC have filled up the summer calendar as well. Basketball is exploding in popularity and the national men's team is playing an exhibition game here in August. The Green Bay Packers and Oakland Raiders are also playing an NFL pre-season game that month, with through-the-roof ticket prices that are going to put a major strain on many people's wallets, including potentially stealing dollars away from the Bombers, who are hosting the event.

Summer is short and folks love their weekends and cottage time, not to mention the abundance of festivals and concerts going on around the province. All of the above are competing for time, not to mention disposable income.

And for a Bombers team that hasn't hoisted the Grey Cup since way back in 1990, maintaining the status quo is a recipe for disaster.

Obviously, the pressure is on the team to perform where it really matters, and it's off to a good start and appears to be on track. But if management can fill up the bandwagon along the way to what they hope will be a championship ride, that would go down even easier than discounted beer and hotdogs on a hot summer night.

mike.mcintyre@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @mikemcintyrewpg

Mike McIntyre

Mike McIntyre
Reporter

Mike McIntyre grew up wanting to be a professional wrestler. But when that dream fizzled, he put all his brawn into becoming a professional writer.

Read full biography

History

Updated on Wednesday, June 26, 2019 at 7:59 PM CDT: Fixes date.

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