WINNIPEG — Football fans from across Canada have descended on Winnipeg for Sunday’s Grey Cup, and while the game officially became a sellout Friday afternoon, there were still plenty of tickets available online, some at bargain prices.
A smattering of the 36,634 tickets for the big game at Investors Group Field were still available via Ticketmaster at noon Friday. The Winnipeg Blue Bombers announced a few hours later that the game had sold out.
But there were still tickets available via third party sellers at well below face value — half-price was not uncommon.
The last time Winnipeg hosted the Cup, in 2006 at the old CanadInns Stadium, there were 44,786 fans, according to league statistics. The last time there were fewer than 40,000 fans for a Grey Cup was the previous Winnipeg showdown in 1998, when attendance totalled 34,157.
The weather does not appear to have been a factor in the effort to sell tickets. Autumn has been milder than usual and Sunday’s forecast called for temperatures just below freezing at game time, which is a few degrees above normal for late November.
Some local fans laid the blame squarely on the shoulders of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, who have not won a championship for 25 years and who have struggled to be a contender in recent years.
"It’s almost painful to watch football now, especially the Bombers, because there are so many heartbreaking losses and bad penalties," said Derick Young, a former season-ticket holder who attended the last two Grey Cups in Winnipeg but is taking a pass this time.
He was offered a $100 discount on tickets through his job, he said, but still declined.
"I’ve kind of conditioned myself not to care about CFL football to save myself the pain," he chuckled.
Saskatchewan’s dismal 0-9 start to the season has also seemed to play a role. There were many Saskatchewan fans — arguably the most passionate fan base in the league — in Winnipeg by Friday, but the fact the Roughriders were out of contention so early appears to have reduced the size of the green army willing to make the six-hour drive from Regina to Winnipeg.
The die-hards, however, were not swayed.
"We enjoy the festivities and meeting new people and enjoying the game, and watching the best team win, hopefully," said Prince Albert, Sask., resident Edward Beauchesne, who was decked out in Rider green tuque and scarf outside a pancake breakfast put on every year by the Calgary Stampeder Grey Cup committee.
"Our goal is to visit every park for one Grey Cup," Calgary’s Angelo Daneluzzi, who is attending his seventh championship, said while walking through a small football-themed street festival in downtown Winnipeg.
"Hopefully it’ll come back to Calgary soon enough."
For those not willing to brave the minus-10 temperatures, there were indoor events at the city’s convention centre. Fans could run a football-themed obstacle course or test their throwing skills. Pin traders offered up collectibles from Grey Cups past.
"I just love football," said Ron Boily as he displayed a "roar on the shore" pin from last year’s Grey Cup in Vancouver.
CFL commissioner Jeffrey Orridge said he was not worried about the pace of ticket sales.
"I’m not really worried about the crowd, I’m not worried about the fan base, I’m not worried about the game," he said. "It’s going to be an incredibly exciting game with two incredibly exciting teams and it’s going to meet and exceed peoples’ expectations, no doubt."