Maybe it’s karma finally swinging back our way, a cosmic realignment, or perhaps it’s a touch of divine intervention. Whatever it is, there has to be something responsible for what’s happening to Winnipeg.
Winnipeg has become the hottest sports town in Canada. Seemingly transforming overnight, Winnipeg is emerging as the premiere market in Canada after years of being ridiculed and suffering disappointment.
This was no better illustrated than on Friday, August 26. On a night where hundreds of cottage lovers headed out to enjoy one of the last weekends of summer, Blue Bomber fans bought up a record number of tickets at CanadInns Stadium to cheer the home team on to a victory against the visiting Hamilton Tiger-Cats. In doing so, the Bombers secured the season series between the two division rivals, greatly improving the chances for a home playoff game this November.
A Bombers sellout is not especially shocking considering how good the team has been this year, but as 33,338 watched the football game in St. James, a sold out Shaw Park crowd of 8,065 sports fans were watching the Winnipeg Goldeyes secure the American Association’s North Division pennant down at The Forks.
The nice weather helped to draw out the literal “fair weather” fans, but let’s face it: it’s been a while since there’s been so many reasons to be excited about our local sports teams, and fans are showing how excited they are where it counts — at the ticket counter.
Coming off of a difficult 4-14 season, Bomber fans showed that they supported the direction the team was heading before the season began — setting a club record for season tickets sold and challenging the Saskatchewan Rough Riders for the distinction of having the loudest fan base in the CFL. The Goldeyes have averaged the largest crowds in the American Association and season tickets for the Winnipeg Jets sold out almost instantly, creating a waiting list long enough to ensure sell-outs for the foreseeable future. Simply put, no city in Canada is embracing its sports teams as passionately as Winnipeg.
Montreal has and will always support the Montreal Canadiens; through thick and thin, Habs fans stand by their team despite a tendency to be quite critical towards individual players. But, despite winning back-to-back Grey Cups for the city, the Allouettes have failed to sell out a single game this year, despite playing the smallest capacity stadium in the league. It’s as if Montreal fans have become apathetic to winning.
Toronto fans are just as fanatical about the Leafs, despite holding the longest current Stanley Cup drought, but support for the Argos and Blue Jays has waned over the years. Support for the Argos has declined to the point that there is reason to be concerned about the future of having a CFL franchise in Canada’s biggest market.
And unlike other major sports cities in Canada, Winnipeg hasn’t been the site of any riots — just the occasional rally at Portage and Main over the years to celebrate in the streets. And no one from Winnipeg has ever attempted to dump a truckload of manure on a professional athlete’s front yard. We’re classy, with perhaps the only fan controversy involving snaking stacks of beer cups.
Winnipeg has taken its fair share of ribbing and abuse over the years; the self-deprecating jokes about our sports teams (or lack of sports teams) have helped cultivate the negative Winnipegger stereotype that still persists, despite all there is to take pride in. But the times have changed. The “win” is back in Winnipeg, and we’re finally the national spotlight.
For all the right reasons.