The 103rd Grey Cup game will be the poorest attended CFL championship in at least 17 years.
And if ticket sales, currently at a snail’s pace, don’t pick up significantly over the next 12 weeks, the crowd could be the smallest for a Grey Cup in four decades.
The Winnipeg Sun on Friday learned the host Blue Bombers have quietly reduced capacity for the Nov. 29 classic to just 36,634, down some 3,400 from the original plan to expand Investors Group Field to 40,000 seats.
It’s the smallest Grey Cup capacity since the 1970s.
The temporary seating planned for the north-end concourse has been scrapped, leaving a temporary grandstand only on the south concourse. Construction on the seating began this week.
The reason for the reduced capacity is unclear.
The Bombers say president Wade Miller is out of town this week and not available for comment.
But a team spokesman told the Sun on Friday the pre-game and half-time entertainment will set up on the north-end concourse instead of the usual location at mid-field.
That decision appears to have been a hasty one: Ticketmaster on Friday continued to sell seats that don’t exist in temporary seats in that north end.
The Bombers eventually issued a Friday afternoon press release saying the decision was made after a recent tour of the stadium by CFL commissioner Jeffrey Orridge.
The release says the relocated stage will ensure fans have “the very best experience,” but did not explain how the switch is an improvement.
The team spokesman says fans who’ve bought or continue to buy tickets in the north end will be relocated to the south end.
With ticket sales at 25,576, Friday, or around 70% of capacity, some 11,000 unsold seats remained.
Even a sellout of 36,634 would be the smallest crowd to attend a Grey Cup since 1998, when Winnipeg, wallowing in the Jeff Reinebold years, hosted the game and drew just 34,157.
The reasons for this year’s slow ticket sales once again revolve around the performance of the home team.
The Bombers have a losing record (3-5) after dropping four of their last five games, and have missed the playoffs the last three years.
In addition, Saskatchewan is so far out of the playoff picture fans there, usually a rabid bunch, aren’t buying up seats like they otherwise would.
If Winnipeg doesn’t reach capacity this year, the crowd count could sink to mid-1970s levels. Calgary attracted 32,454 in 1975.
“We are encouraged by the ticket count to date and look forward to selling out the rest to our great Blue Bomber and CFL fans in the months to come,” Miller said in the press release.