This is that magical time of year where sports seasons overlap. The Blue Bombers season is picking up. The Goldeyes are starting a playoff run. The Jets are back in just over a month. These teams have the ability to bring us together as a community. After weather, the biggest small talk starter has to be that local sports team. Our teams incorporate local historical and cultural elements. They want us to identify with them and be proud of what they represent. What this boils down to is that ultimately our teams are a reflection of ourselves.
We embed these teams as part of our identity. They allow us to connect with each other, unite behind a goal and give us a reason to get together. The actual experience of a live sports game is exciting. Having a stadium full of the energy and noise of thousands of other fans is an amazing energy. This energy needs to be fed. It needs momentum and it needs to be able to pull people in. Beyond that, you have to get them to buy in to the team to begin with.
So how do you get people to buy in? While there are a lot of hardcore fans out there (one of my own family members has held season tickets for over 40 years), typically it takes a strong performance and/or the Banjo Bowl for the stadium to start selling out. Which it has. Today is the Banjo Bowl. Kickoff is at 3:00 pm. I was offered the opportunity to be a part of the action. I will be down there selling Bomber merch all game. It should be a great time. There is something so fun about a friendly rivalry. It takes the atmosphere up a notch. One of the reasons I’m glad our rivalry is with Saskatchewan is that they are great fans. A few years ago I was in Saskatoon and their transit buses were driving by with Go Riders on the Destination Sign. I asked a cashier what time the game was at and she said that the team wasn’t playing until the next day. Rider Nation is all in on their team. As much as I like to make fun of them, that kind of attitude is exactly what makes games fun. That enthusiasm and support is what brings us together in a positive way. And it’s true, Saskatchewan isn’t big enough or concentrated enough to be able to support (at this time) any team bigger than CFL. I think this makes them appreciate what they have instead of wishing for something better.
I’ve heard so many people trash the CFL because it’s not the NFL. Hate to break it to you, but we are not an NFL city. Also the football may be better, but the people sure as hell aren’t. I spent a good amount of time researching NFL teams last year, trying to find a single one that didn’t have problematic coaches or players. That league will sweep everything under the rug – domestic assault, murder, rapes. They can’t even get their own cheating under control. As a fan, I can’t get behind any of that. The CFL has created a comprehensive domestic violence policy. This year the CFL announced new player health and safety measures. Any cheating that has been reported in the CFL has ended up with fines (roster violations) or are relatively minor (allegedly watering the grass a little extra ahead of a game). I will take that over deflating footballs for a championship game. Winnipeg is not a moneyed city. Our population sits well below one million. We will never have an NFL team nor do I want one. We should take a page out of Saskatchewan’s book and go all in on our football. We didn’t build that stadium for nothing.