WINNIPEG — If Willie Jefferson needed any motivation to keep playing for the Blue Bombers, he received it with Tuesday’s official announcement that the 2025 Grey Cup will be held in Winnipeg.
The defensive lineman and fan favourite is signed through the upcoming CFL season and made Winnipeg his permanent family home last year.
“It’s a big incentive,” said Jefferson, 32, who attended the press conference at IG Field.
“The Grey Cup coming here in 2025 kind of makes it hard to think about going anywhere else. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else to play in the 2025 Grey Cup.”
The 112th title game will be the fifth one Winnipeg has hosted. It was held in the Manitoba capital in 2015, 2006, 1999 and 1991.
Jefferson was in his second year in the league and won the 2015 championship in Edmonton’s 26-20 victory over the Ottawa Redblacks.
Winnipeg-born CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie was on hand for the announcement and said the 2025 game will be a first for him.
“I have not been to a Winnipeg Grey Cup, to be honest with you, so now I’ll look forward to coming to this one and making this one the best Winnipeg Grey Cup ever and the one I got to attend,” said Ambrosie, adding family and job commitments were the reasons for his previous absences.
Winnipeg wasn’t the only city bidding for the ’25 Grey Cup, but Ambrosie wouldn’t disclose details.
The ’23 Grey Cup will be held Nov. 19 at Tim Hortons Field in Hamilton. Vancouver was awarded the ’24 championship game, which Winnipeg also bid on.
No November date has been set for the ’24 or ’25 Grey Cup games. Ambrosie said potential league expansion could affect scheduling, and the file on expansion is next on his to-do list now that a new owner was recently found for the Montreal Alouettes.
The Manitoba government contributed $5.5 million toward Winnipeg’s successful bid. That’s more than in 2015 and exceeds recent winning bids in other provinces.
“The economic impact shows the value of it,” Blue Bombers president and chief executive officer Wade Miller said. “It’s a competitive bid so we’re putting our best foot forward. The city was great in supporting it, too.”
The City of Winnipeg promised a non-repayable $950,000 hosting grant and may contribute $550,000 of value-in-kind services. Manitoba officials have estimated hosting the Grey Cup would add $90 million to the economy and provide $8.2 million in provincial tax revenue.
Miller said seats won’t be added to IG Field beyond its current capacity for 33,234 fans, but the party leading up to the game will be expanded.
“I think what set (our bid) apart was the festival week and the different events,” he said. “You’ll hear in the next year or so the different events that we’re going to add to the festival that maybe look a little unique and different than you’ve seen in other Grey Cup festivals.”
The Bombers made a net profit of $7.1 million from the 2015 Grey Cup. Miller said 2025 may be a little less because of upcoming revenue sharing.
Under the new CFL Players’ Association collective bargaining agreement, Grey Cup revenue will be part of league revenues shared with players starting with the 2024 game.
The Bombers have been in the past three Grey Cup games, losing last year in Regina 24-23 to the Toronto Argonauts, but winning in 2019 and 2021 against the Tiger-Cats. The 2020 season was cancelled because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The 2025 season could be a special one for Winnipeg.
Bombers head coach Mike O’Shea, quarterback Zach Collaros and receiver Nic Demski have new contracts running through 2025.
Demski and running back Brady Oliveira, who’s signed through the upcoming season, were also at the press conference. The Winnipeg products had attended the 2015 Grey Cup as fans.
“I’ve been ecstatic about this contract, but it just definitely adds fuel to the fire,” Demski said.
“This is somewhere where I want to be and it would be a pretty amazing experience if we could run out of the tunnel and be hosting the Grey Cup here. So it’s just a little bit extra motivation just to keep working and keep pushing each other and just keep getting better.”
Oliveira said he hopes he’ll have the same opportunity.
“I’d love to play into my 30s here and retire as a Bomber,” Oliveira, 25, said. “I have no plans on leaving and I expect to be here in 2025 and to play for a Grey Cup in my hometown.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 14, 2023.
Judy Owen, The Canadian Press