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Winnipeg to host NFL pre-season game between Raiders and Packers


WINNIPEG — Wade Miller is hoping the rarity of an NFL exhibition game in Canada will soften the sticker shock of hefty ticket prices.

The president and CEO of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers confirmed at a news conference Wednesday with the game's promoter that the CFL club will host a Week 3 pre-season matchup at IG Field on Aug. 22 between the Oakland Raiders and Green Bay Packers.

Ticket prices are set by On Ice Entertainment Ltd., and range from $75 to $340, plus taxes and fees. By comparison, the lowest price for an 11-game Bombers' season-ticket package is $254.50.

"The prices are obviously different than they would be for a CFL game, but if you look at the (NFL) pre-season game that's in Hawaii this year, I think you see similar pricing, " Miller said. "There's some lower tickets, but they're similar pricing.

"It's more than just a pre-season NFL game, it's kind of a once-in-a-lifetime experience that you're coming for."

The game in Winnipeg will mark the first NFL contest in Canada since the Buffalo Bills completed a run of eight largely lacklustre games in Toronto with a regular-season clash against the Atlanta Falcons in December 2013.

The location for this latest game targetted Western Canada, including Regina. The Roughriders reportedly couldn't host it as they play at home Aug. 24. The Bombers are in Edmonton Aug. 23. Winnipeg's Valour FC soccer team was supposed to have a game at IG Field on Aug. 22, but it's been moved to another day.

"Our country's pretty large," said On Ice Entertainment president John Graham. "I think that they've tried it in Toronto with the Bills and it hadn't been tried out west….

"It just seemed to be a market that was eager and hungry and, obviously, it's probably the best football market in the country."

Oakland is the home team and will get the gate revenue from the 33,000-seat stadium, but details on how the Bombers will make money were not revealed.

"We're working with them and they're being compensated, and how we compensate them I don't need to disclose," Graham said.

When asked if the Bombers are taking a financial risk, he replied they weren't.

"Our business deal is our business deal, but you know better than I, Wade's not a dummy. He's a smart man," Graham said.

No one would predict a sellout at IG Field, but they emphasized the worldwide popularity of the Oakland and Green Bay brands. The game will be televised in Canada on TSN/RDS and Fox in the related U.S. markets, including Las Vegas where the Raiders are moving to next year.

"I truly believe there will be a big financial economic impact to the city and province with the ability to attract people from Western Canada, northern Ontario and the surrounding states," Miller said.

He wasn't worried about taking money out of the pocket of people who might otherwise pay to see the Bombers, and said he viewed it as a celebration of "gridiron football."

Activities are planned leading up to the game. The Raiders will practise at IG Field on Aug. 20 and then both teams will do a walkthrough the day before the game, Graham said, adding they will be open to fans in some way.

"This is a premier event, without a doubt," Graham said. "It's bringing some of the biggest football names."

Former Raiders star receiver Fred Biletnikoff, who spent time with the Montreal Alouettes as a player and a coach and also coached with the Calgary Stampeders, was at the presser. The 76-year-old Raiders ambassador was excited to promote the Winnipeg game.

The Raiders also have Canadian content on the field.

The club's roster features tight end Luke Willson, a native of LaSalle, Ont., who's entering his seventh NFL season. The 29-year-old appeared in two Super Bowls with the Seattle Seahawks, winning the championship with the club as a rookie.

The Winnipeg game should include a chunk of playing time for many of the teams' starters, including Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers and Oakland receiver Antonio Brown.

Graham said IG Field will undergo changes to accommodate the four-down game, including the taller NFL goalposts. The coaches' observation areas in the stands need renovations so each is the same size, according NFL rules.

Judy Owen, The Canadian Press