Bombers president touts success story for the future

From the Kenora Daily Miner & News:

Jim Bell grew up within a ten block radius of Bomber Stadium in Winnipeg. By the time he was 10 years old, he would have bled blue for his hometown Blue Bombers. Today, he sits in the president's office for the football team but that success story wasn't the one he told the Northwestern Ontario Associated Chambers of Commerce as keynote speaker at its annual general meeting Thursday.

He told the story of the team's success to come.

With only four wins under its belt last year, he stressed he wasn't proud of his team's performance on the field but painted a picture of an organization kicking into gear after making an 180-degree turn.

In the 81 years the Canadian Football League has handed out its Grey Cup, Winnipeg has put its name on the cup 10 times. Since 1990, it has lost the championship game four times, struggled with the media, coaching, its business strategy and ultimately as attendance fell, its relationship with its community.

When Bell stepped into his job interview with the company in 2002, he was under heat when they showed him their balance sheet. Forced to choose between trying to think of a word to use other than "terrible" or being truthful at risk of not getting the job, he chose the honest road and stuck with it.

"I want to be honest with you that things along the way haven't always been rosy," he told a small crowd at the Best Western Lakeside Inn. "In the late 90s, the club was in a serious, serious financial crisis. The balance sheet was mired in debt. The staff was bringing their own office supplies and toilet paper to work. Attendance was plummeting and to top it off, the team wasn't performing well at all. It was discouraging."

The administration put a plan together to field a winning team and turn the business around.

Bell said today, the momentum behind head coach Paul LaPolice is allowing the club to re-sign young players who could be playing in more consistently successful clubs like Montreal and Saskatchewan. Bell said they're staying because they recognize what the Bombers are building and the potential to be part of a championship team.

Meanwhile, red has turned to black in the Bombers' books, turning a $400,000 profit in 2010 and listing it with $4.4 million in assets, as it embarks on taking on a $85 million debt to cover its share of a new stadium.

The club intends to announce figures within weeks that will show the highest season ticket sales rate in decades and has already sold out its annual July corporate dinner before the end of April.

It has also reached into its backyard, sending players and administration to Kenora and rural Manitoba to engage thecommunity outside what it calls the "perimeter" of Winnipeg.

"We, as a football club, were diagnosed with perimeteritis. I'm here to tell you we're cured.

"Bomber fan are well outside the perimeter of Winnipeg and if we didn't know it three to six months ago, we surely know it now," he said.

"We can't control the wins and losses. Come game day, if you see me on the sidelines, I hate losing. I'm not going to make excuses for it. I want to win badly. I want it worse for the community."


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