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Official Review by Jordan Falconer, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
The Winnipeg Blue Bombers started their second season in 2014 in their new digs – Investors Group Field (IGF). The stadium that everyone waited for finally opened up in time for the 2013 season. The stadium was originally scheduled to open for the 2012 season, but construction delays meant the Bombers had to play another season at the old Winnipeg Stadium. Once the new stadium opened, it became clear that the wait was worth it.
Investors Group Field has been referred to as a facility of NFL quality. End zone seating and a concourse that allows fans to walk around the entire facility flank the two large grandstands. The grandstands boast an arched and swooping roofline (creating an iconic skyline view from various points in the city) that provides coverage for 80% of the seats in the facility. If you are attending a game and want the shade, you will want tickets on the west side. If you are sitting on the north end of the east side, particularly the 200 level, be prepared to bring sunglasses, a hat, and sunscreen as you will be in the sun for most of the game. This can be a welcome advantage later in the CFL season.
All the amenities have been included at IGF. The stadium has ample washroom facilities, a large selection of food options, two large HD video boards at either end zone, and TV monitors everywhere so you do not miss any of the action while running to the concourse for concessions.
Arrive early to the game and be sure to walk around the concourse. There are several bands playing near the four gates and there are Bomber tattoos for the kids, and often giveaways (e.g. beads, cowbells, etc.) as you enter IGF. Fans often have the opportunity to mix and mingle with President and CEO, Wade Miller who can be seen interacting with fans on the concourse. Other CFL dignitaries can be seen (usually in the south end zone area) such as CFL commissioner, Mark Cohon.
There has been much debate in Winnipeg about the location of IGF. Many fans have complained that the location makes it difficult to get to. Parking is available on campus with the advanced purchase of a game day parking pass (more information can be found here), which will run you $20. The Bombers have done a terrific job of working with Winnipeg Transit to provide fans easy options to get to and from the games. There are park and ride locations throughout the city and travel times have improved since IGF first opened. Many fans choose to park in neighboring suburbs such as Fort Richmond or Waverley Heights and walk in to the facility or to bike and use the free Bike Valet. Like any major city, one should plan ahead to get to the game to ensure your experience is a good one. More information on the Park and Ride can be found on the Bombers’ website here.
Something new for the 2014 season that the Bombers are doing is allowing the fans down onto the field after the game. Fans have the opportunity to explore the field, take pictures, meet members of the Cheer and Dance team as well as the Bomber mascots, Buzz and Boomer. There are often players hanging around that you can meet and collect autographs from – and Wade Miller, President and CEO often makes an appearance. Fans also have the opportunity to play a little football (literally as they hand out some mini footballs to kids as they come onto the field).
While this post-game opportunity provides another level for the fan experience, there are many other levels to consider as well. Pre-game festivities are not only limited to restaurants and bars in the area. The Bombers also host “Tailgate at the Plaza” just outside of Gate 2 prior to each home game. Festivities start 2.5 hours before game time and include activities for fans of all ages including:
• Bomber Alumni autographs
• Football skills including pass, kick, run and blocking stations
• Photos beside the Bomber airplane that drives through the end zone after each Bomber score
• Face painting
• First time Bomber game attendees can register at the My First Bomber Game booth
• The Rum Hut and food stations are open and DJs pump out the music
Once inside IGF for the game, the options for food and beverage are wide open. Food options range from regular stadium fare (burgers, dogs, mini donuts, pretzels, chicken fingers, fries, etc.) at several locations around the stadium to local food favourites like Casa Burrito, Pizza Hotline, Salisbury House, Clay Oven, Danny’s Whole Hog, and Bomber Alumni Obby Khan’s Shawarma Khan. The line up at Shawarma Khan is a long one – and for good reason. The food is fantastic, fresh and proportions are large for the price.
Most concessions will run you about $6-$10 for a “stadium meal.” Beverage prices range from $4 for bottled water, $5 for a bottled pop or a large 32oz fountain drink (in a souvenir cup, refills are $3) while beer will run in the $7 to $10 range depending on size and type. A complete listing of concessions available can be viewed on the Bomber website here.
The Winnipeg Football Club have made sure that for fans, watching a CFL football game at IGF is an event. There is a lot to do before, during and after the game for fans. With a little planning the average fan will enjoy a memorable experience. If you have the opportunity to catch a Bomber game, do it!
The FANFARE scale is our metric device for rating each stadium experience. It covers the following:
Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
Options abound and even the hungriest of fans will be able to fill up on good quality food. From carved beef, pulled pork, shawarma, and poutine to the usual fare of burgers, dogs, smokies, mini donuts and fries, there are many options for even the hungriest of fans.
Perhaps second to none in the CFL, the atmosphere at IGF does not disappoint. Bomber fans know their football and are there to support their team - as well as give the opposing team a hard time. Volume levels can be deafening and can make it hard for the opposing team to get plays off in time. The Thirteenth Man is alive and well at IGF and is recognized by the Bombers at the beginning of each game with the raising of the Thirteenth Man flag in the south end zone by a season ticket holder and a Bomber alumni.
While options abound for the pre-gamers, distance is a factor. IGF is situated on the campus of the University of Manitoba. There are only a few ways in and out which means that the majority of fans use the Park and Ride system from Winnipeg Transit, bike or walk to the game from neighborhoods close to the campus. Parking restrictions are in effect on game days in these neighborhoods which means that many fans walk a good distance (20-30 minute walks are common) to get to the games. This limits the opportunities for pre-game meals and it is recommend that fans partake in options available in and directly around the stadium on game days. There are numerous hot dog carts and the St. John's Residence cafeteria hosts a great BBQ outside their residence just across the street from IGF.
Popular pre and post game spots around IGF include Tavern United (with over 15 beers on tap), Boston Pizza and Five Guys all on Pembina Highway.
Bomber fans meet the criteria as some of the most ardent in sports. Fans can be heard calling plays, indicating penalty calls before indication on the field is given, and, of course, cheering on their team as loudly as they can. The fans at IGF certainly contribute to the atmosphere in the venue and the overall experience. Be sure to consider Bomber attire if attending a game at IGF.
Most fans are decked out in some sort of Bomber gear. Fans attending the game should also know their role during the national anthem. Bomber fans have taken it upon themselves to yell "Blue!" during part of O' Canada. Instead of "God keep our land glorious and free", the fans at IGF sing "God keep our land glorious and Blue!".
Access to IGF is the one sticking point with many Bomber fans. Situated on the campus of the University of Manitoba, IGF has limited parking on campus. Fans are encouraged to use active transportation routes and a free bike valet can be found outside of Gate 3. There are several Park and Ride locations across the city for fans to use. There is a $5 fee for a round trip. More information is available on the Bomber website here.
While parking can be a bit of an event to plan for, the facilities at IGF are not. There are many washroom facilities located throughout the facility. They are clean, well stocked and easy to access with separate entrances and exits to keep people moving.
Any die-hard Winnipegger will tell you that they love a deal. While there are no deals to be had at IGF, the prices are reasonable for a venue such as this. Fans should expect to pay more on site for concessions than elsewhere. However, the overall return on investment is decent. An evening at the game for two with food and beverage can be under $100 - including tickets. Of course, seats range in price from $27.50 to $151.50 (single game ticket prices) so what you are willing to spend can range tremendously. For any football fan, the experience at IGF should prove to be worth the price of admission.
There are several bonus points at IGF. The facility itself is gorgeous. Everything is new and everything has been thought of - including water bottle filling stations for fans.
The views are good no matter where you sit. There are two large HD video boards (30 ft. x 123 ft.) at either end of the field and there are over 250 monitors stationed around the concourse areas so you never have to miss any of the action.
Popular attractions include the Rum Hut (a tradition for many) and the food (especially Shawarma Khan).
Real bonus points have been scored by the Bombers by allowing fans onto the field after the game. This is a particular hit with families. In addition, The Rum Hut stays open after the game and a DJ plays tunes for those who choose to stay.
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