The Manitoba government will make a bid to make Winnipeg a CFL hub city this fall, should the league play a shortened season amid COVID-19.
Premier Brian Pallister and Sport, Culture and Heritage Minister Cathy Cox announced an $8 million “event attraction strategy” Monday, which the premier says will include a bid to make the home of the Blue Bombers a hub city.
“I think this is the right spot to host the CFL. I think it’s the safest place,” Pallister said.
“We’ve got a pretty good general back and forth going (with the league) so far and we’re told … we have a few days to nail down, cross some t’s and dot some i’s.”
The province said it is committing $2.5 million from the pot of money to help encourage the CFL to choose Winnipeg as a hub city, should a season go ahead.
If chosen as a hub city, the money would have to be spent on food and accommodations, practice field rentals, group transportation, and event-specific expenses in Manitoba, Pallister added.
The CFL has yet to say definitively whether or not it will play a shortened season this year.
The 2020 regular season was scheduled to kick off June 11 but was postponed due to COVID-19.
The league is currently in talks with the players association on whether to hold a season at all, and it has asked the federal government for financial help.
But a prairie rival is also making a bid.
The Saskatchewan government said it could put up $3 million, and in a statement Monday night, also appeared to take a shot at Winnipeg’s stadium, IG Field, which have had to undergo frequent repairs since its opening in 2013.
“The new Mosaic stadium and other facilities are state of the art and are well suited to accommodate all the needs required in a hub-city model,” Gene Makowsky, Saskatchewan’s parks, culture and sport minister said.
If a season goes ahead, Pallister is hoping Winnipeg will be chosen, partly because Manitoba’s COVID-19 case numbers are among the lowest in the country. There have been 354 confirmed or probable cases to date and seven deaths.
While details would have to be worked out, the plan is to hold 60 games over 15 weeks, provincial Sport Minister Cathy Cox said.
Earlier this month a CFL spokesperson denied reports the league had settled upon Winnipeg as a hub city in the event football was played this year.
A release from the province Monday said the CFL has conducted “extensive consultations” with Manitoba’s public health department, and Pallister said the province’s chief public health officer, Dr. Brent Roussin, has reviewed the plan to have Winnipeg act as a hub city.
Roussin said players would be required to self-isolate upon arrival and essentially live in a bubble during their time in Winnipeg.
If a team wanted to have its players eat at a restaurant, he said, the restaurant would have to be closed to the general public.
Testing would be mandatory and frequent for players upon arrival, but would not be as frequent afterward, he said, unless someone close to them tested positive.
Pallister said even if the league decides to proceed with no fans in the stands, having players, coaches and staff in Winnipeg would boost the hard-hit tourism industry.
He also said there would be an emotional benefit to fans if the league could get up and running this year.
“There’s kind of an immeasurable emotional aspect to this … for a lot of Manitobans, who have been feeling kind of deprived from their nightly ritual of checking out how the sports teams are doing, and watching some sports or sports highlights on TV.”
The province said the rest of the money earmarked in event attraction strategy will be used to “maximize the potential” of destinations in both Winnipeg and rural Manitoba to host “large-scale meetings, conventions, and events.”
–With files from The Canadian Press