April 5, 2012

Irving: Full steam ahead for 2012 Bombers

Bob Irving

The Winnipeg Blue Bombers held their annual fan forum this week, and as usual, the Bombers passionate fan base turned out in force.  

Nearly 500 Blue Believers jammed a ballroom at the Canad-Inns Polo Park to participate in the event.   

They were mostly there to wave the Blue and Gold flag, but some came armed with questions, and even one with a stinging critique.  

A 44-year season ticket holder grilled Blue Bombers Chief Operating Officer Jim Bell on why his seats have been moved from the 55-yard line in Canad-Inns stadium, to the 35-yard line in the new Investors Group Field, which is still under construction at the University of Manitoba. 

The Bombers remain confident that their new stadium wil be open for the team’s home opener on July 26.

Bell patiently explained that the Bombers just don’t have as many rows of seats in their new bowl-shaped stadium, and they have tried their very best to re-locate their 21,500 season ticket holders in a fair and reasonable manner. 

He urged the 44-year loyalist to give his new seating location a fair trial, stating that the sight-lines in the Bombers new home would be better than, or as good as, any stadium in North America.

Bell pointed out that over 90 per cent of their season ticket holders have given their approval to their seat relocation, while CEO Garth Buchko, barely a month on the job, used a video backdrop to once again show Bomber fans what an absolutely spectacular new stadium they were going to have.  

Fabulous sight-lines, not just one,  but two of the biggest replay screens on the continent, more concessions with the freshest food possible and other amenities that will create a “wow” factor beyond anyone’s imagination.  

What Buchko couldn’t do is give a definitive answer to the question of WHEN the fans would be able to settle into the 33,500 bigger, more comfortable seats at Investors Group Field.  

And this remains one of the nagging issues hovering over the 2012 season for the Blue Bombers. When will their new stadium be ready?

There has been rampant speculation that the new home of the Bombers and the University of Manitoba Bisons won’t be available for occupancy until sometime in September, maybe not even at all this season.   

But the football club has remained steadfast in its position that they are “hopeful” they will be able to play their July 26 regular season home opener there, and will have a much better idea of the construction timelines, and will provide an update for the public, during the first week of May.

Otherwise, the fan forum was mostly a love-in.  Blue Bomber General Manager Joe Mack, who received the most enthusiastic applause when club officials were introduced, assured the fans that the loss of Brendon LaBatte and Greg Carr to free agency won’t cripple his club.  

Nor will the retirement of defensive tackle Doug Brown. Mack says they have capable, young replacements returning from last year, and they have signed some new import talent that will excite the paying customers.  

And speaking of the fans, Mack offered a sincere and heartfelt thanks for their support in 2011, insisting that the tremendous support and passion of the club’s fan base played a significant role in the success they had in 2011.  

Both Mack and head coach Paul LaPolice reiterated that their goal is to achieve consistent excellence.  

While they made great progress in improving from 4-14 in 2010 to 10-8 and a grey cup berth in 2011, their work is far from done because the Bombers grey cup drought is now heading into its 22nd season.

Throw in a financial bottom line that saw the Blue Bombers make a profit of $2.3 million, pushing their reserve fund to $6.6 million, and 2011 was a very good year indeed for this Winnipeg institution.   

Now, if they could just get that darned new stadium finished.