What normally is a flood of fans pouring through the gates at IG Field looked more like a trickle as spectators navigated new COVID-19 procedures in the first CFL game in more than 600 days.
The Winnipeg Blue Bombers last played the Hamilton Tiger-Cats 620 days ago in the 107th Grey Cup and the rematch started with the 2019 championship banner unfurling to add some salt to Hamilton’s wounds.
Nearly 30,000 fully-immunized fans filed in to the stands in the biggest live sporting event in Canada since the beginning of the pandemic.
And every single one of those fans had to show gatekeepers their vaccination record and matching ID to get into the stadium. For the time being, IG Field is not accepting any cash payments and fans must wear masks in all indoor common areas.
The gates opened up 90 minutes before kickoff in order to accommodate the slower process to get into the stadium and all indications pointed to painless entry to IG Field.
Mia Kirbyson, 23, went to the season opener with four of her friends and she says she had her “vaccine card and ID ready and all I needed was my ticket and it was seamless.”
Chris Edwards, 19, is from Toronto and received both vaccinations while in Ontario but he’s been in Winnipeg for the summer.
“A staff member pointed me to a shorter line and I got in right away, which was great because I was standing in a longer line with everyone else so I actually got in before them,” says Edwards.
“I thought it was very easy, people were quite reasonable and it was much faster than I expected,” says Jakob Sanderson, 24. “Props to everyone involved, and I’m really happy to have football back.”
“Getting in was very smooth, it felt like a normal game all the way and especially once we got inside,” says Ian Willison, 21.
Nicole McAlpine, 28, was pleased to see the amount of event staff “ready to answer anyone’s questions. Waiting in line didn’t take too long and they had great support making sure everyone had their COVID-19 QR codes and ID’s ready to go and from there it was just a waiting process as usual.”
Darren Cameron, Senior Director of Public and Player Relations for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers says he was pleased how prepared fans were. He admits there were a few issues with cashless payments but they “are working with our supplier to address this and correct it going forward.”
“The atmosphere, energy and excitement from having fans back in the stadium tonight was incredible and we are so happy to have them back at IG Field,” says Cameron.
Two fans were particularly happy to be back at IG Field and shortly after the second half got underway, a woman dropped to one knee and proposed to her partner. He said yes and the crowd roared as if the Bombers just scored a touchdown.
Noah Slusky, 28, was thrilled to see staff at IG Field splitting some of the scanning duties, which “definitely helped keep the line moving.”
“It was very easy. People were checking QR codes first and then other staff were there to check tickets. Traffic was a bit slow but entry was pretty smooth.”
Moving through the ticket line was undoubtedly quicker than the line to get a drink or some food.
Slusky says his younger brother waited in line for a hot dog and a drink for about 20 minutes before kickoff.
“He probably would have given up but the $3 hot dog special is just too good to pass up.”
Janelle Forcand, 27, says her group showed up at about 7:35 p.m. but didn’t miss the kickoff and caught the fireworks with the new Grey Cup banner reveal.
“One staff member called us over and he was very polite, scanned our vaccine cards and then we got checked by security and we were in.”
Forcand says the whole process took “maybe three minutes. I saw some videos before we saw some really long lines so I definitely didn’t have the same experience as everyone but once we got into the stadium it was buzzing and booming in there.”
As for getting a drink, Forcand says “lines are long but c’est la vie.”
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