The Grey Cup game could not have come to Winnipeg at a better time.
After the struggles of last year's 5-13 season, the Winnipeg Football Club is feeling a great deal of financial stress. The Blue Bombers are not quite as messed up as the Ottawa Renegades ( HAHAHA ), but there is a very good chance, when the club releases its financial statement in April, that the 2005 operating loss could reach as high as $400,000.
After the 2004 season, the Bombers reported an operating loss of $144,590. But thanks to the $219,631 the team produced in off-field fundraising, the club was left with a meagre profit of $75,041 and an accumulated debt of $217,788.
It now appears the accumulated debt will grow significantly. Some members of the community-owned team's Stakeholders' Board (the citizen board of directors, the province and the city) are concerned the club will have to dig into its rainy-day fund to cover the losses.
Meanwhile, with the CFL's salary cap set at $3.8-million and with CEO Lyle Bauer already admitting the team must be close to the cap in order to compete, the pressure is on, not only to sell season tickets and corporate sponsorships, but also to put a more competitive team on the field while lobbying to get a new stadium constructed before the old one falls down.
The Bombers made a "solid" contract offer to Montreal Alouettes non-import safety Richard Karikari this week. However, just two days after losing a shot at return-specialist Bashir Levingston, who decided to "re-work" his contract and return to the Toronto Argonauts, GM Brendan Taman admitted he was not likely to get Karikari, either.
"Karikari will end up back in Montreal, I believe," Taman said from the NFL Europe League camp in Tampa on Friday morning. "That's the vibe I'm getting. I doubt we'll land him."
In the meantime, financial pressures have more than a few members of the Stakeholders' Board on edge. Last summer, Winnipeg's deputy mayor, Gord Steeves, voiced his concern over the Bombers' finances and the city has said repeatedly it does not have the money to cover the team's losses.
Any profits from the Grey Cup will be vital to the Bombers' future. In fact, a Grey Cup game has never been more important to any CFL franchise than it will be to the Winnipeg Football Club in 2006.