Bombers hope transportation improvements lead to increased ticket sales

The Winnipeg Blue Bombers are opening their 2017 regular season home schedule with much to prove both on and off the field.

While Matt Nichols and Andrew Harris will work to lead the club’s roster to a second-straight playoff appearance, club CEO Wade Miller and his team have spent the last several months — nay, years — trying to convince people that making the trek to Investors Group Field for a football game is worth it.

Miller’s biggest obstacle is history as the opening of Investors Group Field was simply an unmitigated disaster.

No stadium opening is without issue, of course. Tim Hortons Field in Hamilton is still the subject of legal squabbling, while New Mosaic Stadium in Regina has cup holders that are prone to spilling beer — a tumultuous problem for the beer-loving football crowd.

Still, Investors Group Field had by far and away the most issues of any recently-built Canadian sports venue upon its “completion” in 2013. First, it was delayed by an entire year. Then the winterized ‘bubble’ planned for the playing surface failed to come to fruition. Then the roof leaked. Then the drainage sucked. And the list goes on and on and on.

Worst of all may have been the pre- and post-game traffic that made it difficult for fans to get to and from the stadium. While Canad Inns Stadium was centralized in Winnipeg’s St. James neighborhood, Investors Group Field is in the south side of the city on the isolated University of Manitoba campus. Commute times increased for most fans based simply on the location of the stadium before anything else factored in.

Miller and his team have increased transit opportunities for fans since 2013 (at the club’s own cost, to boot), including park and ride stations across the city and a very cool bike valet. The team also allowed fans to enter the field of play after games as of 2014, creating more staggered post-game departure times for attendees.

The biggest change for game days this season is the opening of a new transit corridor on the north side of the stadium. Buses have traditionally lined up along Chancellor Matheson Road after football games at Investors Group Field, a logistical nightmare. The buses themselves are loud and smelly — an annoyance for the foot traffic heading to nearby Pembina Highway — while bus riders clog the sidewalks. There is also no clear indication where lines should start or end to get on the bus, giving way to a first-come, first-serve mentality. While this works for some, it is a major issue for children, the elderly, and other people with mobility issues.

These buses — and there are anywhere from 15 to 30 lined up at any given time — will now use the transit corridor to load up passengers after games. This is a huge win-win — bus riders will have more space to enter the bus in a (somewhat) orderly fashion, while foot traffic on Chancellor Matheson will have the sidewalks all to themselves.

Ticket sales appear to be strong for tonight’s game, likely surpassing 30,000. This is a double-edged sword for the club as, while increased ticket sales is great for revenue, the increased audience will put extra strain on pre- and post-game transportation.

A win over the vaunted Calgary Stampeders would be a great way to start selling tickets for week four’s match-up with Toronto, but a victory would ring hollow if fans are met with the same traffic disasters that plagued the club during its last busy season in 2013. Fair or not, some football fans in Winnipeg are simply unwilling to make the trip to Investors Group Field, turned off by a bad experience in the stadium’s inaugural campaign.

Tonight is the Winnipeg Football Club’s chance to win some of Investors Group Field’s detractors back with not only a great performance on the field, but a solid one off of it. The club is so confident that fans will be satisfied with pre- and post-game transportation that they are offering free tickets to the team’s next game to any fans who find their drive home isn’t quicker than it was before.

Reading the dozens of tweets I got yesterday about game day transportation (I’ll include a smattering of them below), it appears as though most fans are happy with the way in which they arrive to and depart from the stadium. I’ll include feedback from tonight’s game in my weekly Bomber Thoughts post-game piece out early tomorrow morning.

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