They may have two stadiums to call home this season but the Winnipeg Blue Bombers are doing what they can to make fans feel welcome in both.
Next Sunday coach Paul LaPolice would like to see double the number of fans show up this season, when the first practice of 2012 camp gets under way.
The Bombers will open at old Canad Inns Stadium, now that construction delays have put off christening Investors Group Field until some time in September.
“We’re trying to make an atmosphere like opening day of the Red Sox or the spring ball game at Alabama or at SEC schools that get 90,000 people,” he said Monday.
“We’re going to open concessions up ... We’re going to have a tank with a Rider fan in it you can dunk ...We’re going to do all kinds of things to hopefully have a good Sunday, a good weather day.”
About 4,500 fans showed up last season, when the Bombers were coming off of a dismal losing year in 2010. This year they’re coming off a trip to the Grey Cup.
They’ve also managed to break last year’s season-ticket sales record with lots of time left to sell more, as fans try to ensure they have seats when that new field opens on the grounds of the University of Manitoba.
As Winnipeg looks to get back some of the form that got them to the final in 2011, the coach is deflecting a little criticism the Bombers weren’t active enough picking up proven talent in the free-agent or trade market in the off-season.
They were more on the giving end this time around, as free-agent offensive lineman Brendon LaBatte left for Saskatchewan and wide-receiver Greg Carr for Edmonton.
Winnipeg released running back Fred Reid and linebacker Joe Lobendahn, who landed in Calgary. The Bombers also traded Odell Willis — one of last season’s CFL sack leaders — to Saskatchewan, basically just to be rid of his griping.
They picked up former NFL running back Chad Simpson in January and a few months later Canadian defensive tackle Ryan Lucas, who was released by the Alouettes.
They also signed a trio of young import free agents late last month. Defensive lineman Alex Hall and defensive back Demond Washington saw at least some playing time in the NFL, while linebacker Terrell Parker played in the German Football League in 2010.
Early in the off-season the Bombers added a new offensive co-ordinator, Gary Crowton, to replace Jamie Barresi, who lost his job shortly after Winnipeg’s Grey Cup loss to the B.C. Lions.
LaPolice insists the Bombers don’t make deals just to make deals.
“We’re continuing to make changes to help us improve,” said LaPolice. “I think people’s decisions are based not on how good they did in the off-season [but]. . . on how they do at the end of the season.”
He says they have been developing young players and will continue to be one of the youngest teams in the CFL. And he’s proud of the turnover in Canadian talent since he started in 2010 and what the changes have delivered.
“Our Canadian talent is continuing to get better compared to where we were four years ago,” said LaPolice.
The Bomber roster is pretty well full now, although the coach says they may add one more receivers and a defensive back. And most deals have been signed, except for one with their top Canadian draft pick this season, offensive lineman Tyson Pencer.
LaPolice says he expects that to happen before camp. Rookie camp opens Wednesday.