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CFL in Halifax: A gamble with lots of field to cover
FRANCIS CAMPBELL The Chronicle Herald December 28, 2017

This is part one of a series on the possibility of a CFL franchise in Halifax.

PART TWO: Stadium talk dominates CFL expansion discussion

Third down and long.

Sports fans could not be blamed for ascribing those odds to a Canadian Football League expansion franchise in Halifax.

Jaded by past failure and sporadic expansion chatter that hasn’t gone anywhere, local fans might be too hasty in relegating the latest CFL expansion bid to the improbable bin.

“We feel that the odds are better than not,” said a guarded Anthony LeBlanc, one of three businessmen who front a company that is keen on pushing CFL expansion to the Maritimes over the goal-line this time around.

“There is a lot of work that needs to be done. We are taking a sizeable financial risk on our part. Business is a deal of risk-reward. We are certainly not at that point that anybody is saying this is approved and it’s moving forward.”

The New Brunswick-born LeBlanc was a longtime executive with Research in Motion and is the former president and chief executive of the Arizona Coyotes of the National Hockey League. Sharing the bulk of the initial financial risk with LeBlanc are Maritime Football Ltd. co-owners Bruce Bowser, a Halifax native who is president of AMJ Campbell Van Lines, and Gary Drummond, a businessman from Regina who was president of hockey operations with the Coyotes during LeBlanc’s tenure there.

The group had recent meetings with new CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie and the league’s board of governors, and an in-camera session with Mayor Mike Savage and the Halifax Regional Municipality’s city council.

“What we wanted this group to know is that we are very interested and excited about the opportunity to bring the Maritimes, the Atlantic region, into the Canadian Football League family,” said Ambrosie, an offensive guard for three CFL teams who was installed as the league’s 14th commissioner in July.

“We will support them to the very best of our abilities while recognizing that they have to drive the bus and, from time to time, we have to get out and push a little to help them move this along.”

If anyone is going to drive a CFL franchise into Halifax, they will require a stadium in which to park it. The lack of a stadium was the stumbling block after a group called the Maritime Professional Football Club Ltd. was granted a conditional expansion franchise in 1982.

That team, officially named the Atlantic Schooners, was to begin play in the 1984 season, but the ownership group was not able to meet the deadline with a financial plan for a necessary $6-million stadium slated to be built in Dartmouth. The franchise bid was withdrawn in 1983.

“The elephant in the room is the stadium,” said LeBlanc, who estimated a facility with a capacity of somewhere in the vicinity of 25,000 would be required.

Ambrosie said the league is committed to collaborating with the ownership group as “they work through a process of working with the city, the province and perhaps the federal government on a facility.”

“Obviously, that is the big question that has to get answered,” Ambrosie said.

But it doesn’t appear as if much of the funding will be coming from public coffers.

“There has always been mixed feelings on the idea of a stadium and even a CFL team,” Savage said. “Interestingly enough, when this one surfaced, many people, including people on council who had been skeptical, said this deserves a chance.

“I think there is a lot of potential for a team and a stadium here, but I don’t think there is much appetite on council for something that we have to sink a lot of capital dollars into right up front. We need to be a little more creative than that. That’s what I have told the (ownership group) and they are working on that.”

LeBlanc said the ownership group has commissioned Deloitte Halifax to prepare a third-party analysis of the benefits a stadium could bring to the city and province.

“We’re being very, very thoughtful in our approach with the city and the province in trying to construct a true public-private partnership,” LeBlanc said. “It’s not just a CFL stadium; it will be a multi-use stadium.”

Potential locations bandied about include Bayers Lake Business Park, the former Shannon Park military community on the Dartmouth side of the MacKay bridge, a Dartmouth Crossing site, and property that is part of the Halifax Commons.

“I think there are a lot of football fans in HRM and I think there are a lot of concert fans in HRM,” Savage said. “I think there are a lot of people who would come to different types of sporting events. By and large, the support could come from here, but I think you do need to supplement that with interest from around the region. It’s there as well.”

Rick Rivers has long been involved in coaching and administration of minor football at the provincial and national level.

“I think there are enough (fans) to make it a go,” he said of a potential CFL expansion franchise. “I think there has to be a starting point. I’ve watched football grow here since I came here in 1969. . . . I think it should definitely have a Maritime flavour because we want to get the people from New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island.”

Jeff Cummins, the head football coach at Acadia University for the past 14 seasons, is not convinced of the viability of the CFL in Halifax.

“It would be great, but I don’t know how real it is,” Cummins said.

“There is no stadium and I don’t think there is an appetite from the public to build one. It’s not that people are clamouring for football in the Maritimes. It’s not like people are screaming and yelling that they want football. My concern is the support and, do they find it.”

Ambrosie said the expansion bid is in its infancy, but he remains optimistic.

LeBlanc said in addition to hiring Deloitte and legal representation from McInnes Cooper in Halifax, the ownership group engaged Corporate Research Associates to do detailed polling.

“The results that came back were really positive, that people want to go to a game,” he said.

Earlier this month, the legal team secured the trademark name Atlantic Schooners. The trademark provides Maritime Football Ltd. with control over intellectual property associated with the Schooners name, such as licence plate holders, athletic wear and football figurines.

LeBlanc said the trademark was acquired in case the ownership group decided to use it in future.

“We are getting to the point where we’re ready to spend real money, when you are bringing in companies like Deloitte, law firms, when you are doing serious government relations,” LeBlanc said.

“We at least have the level of comfort that we know we are doing this with 100-per-cent risk of our own personal investment to keep this thing moving along and we continue to do so.”

The best-case scenario would have the league grant the ownership group a conditional franchise as early as next year, with an expansion team on a new stadium field in the Halifax area by the 2020 or 2021 season.

LeBlanc was circumspect when asked about the likelihood of that happening.

“It is so difficult to say. Some days, I feel it’s 100 per cent. Some days, I feel it’s 50 per cent.”

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Stadium talk dominates CFL expansion discussion
FRANCIS CAMPBELL The Chronicle Herald December 28, 2017
Place to play is top of mind in team, city, league officials

This is part two of a series on the possibility of a CFL franchise in Halifax.

PART ONE: CFL in Halifax: A gamble with lots of field to cover

Professional sports teams need a place to call home.

In the Canadian Football League, that place is a stadium, a place conspicuously absent in the effort to bring an Atlantic regional expansion franchise to Halifax.

“Getting the stadium, that’s the ballgame,” said Mike Savage, mayor of Halifax Regional Municipality. “You can’t have a team, you can’t have an ownership group and you can’t be in the CFL if you haven’t got a stadium. It has to be a multi-purpose stadium that’s realistic and economically viable.”

The stadium stumbling block has scuttled many expansion discussions.

“There is no place to play,” said Jeff Cummins, the American-born former CFL player who has run the Acadia Axemen football program for more than a dozen years. “My concern will be that until it shows up, a stadium, a place to play. You can talk about a team all you want but there is no place to fill 10,000, 12,000, 15,000 seats. There is no place to have that game.”

The necessity of a place to play is not lost on the league or the ownership group, registered under the name Maritime Football Ltd.

If you build it they might come

Anthony LeBlanc, one of three front men for the ownership group, refers to a stadium as the elephant in the room and league Commissioner Randy Ambrosie said a stadium is “first and

foremost” among the expansion requirements that the ownership group must address. The two men agree that the stadium could not be a CFL-only facility.

“We’re conscious that this would not just be about the CFL, this would be about unlocking the full potential of the Maritime region to show their hospitality to people from Canada and from around the world at a world-class facility,” Ambrosie said.

Key questions swirl around a potential stadium. Who would finance it? Where would it be built? What would it cost? Who would own it and what would it look like?

The estimate is that a stadium in the Halifax area would cost well north of $200 million. The Saskatchewan Roughriders moved into the $278-million Mosaic Stadium for the 2017 CFL season. The 33,000-seat facility can be expanded to accommodate 40,000.

A Halifax stadium, according to LeBlanc, would likely be an expandable 24,000- to 26,000-seat facility, falling in line with the size of the stadiums that are home to Eastern Division teams in Ottawa, Montreal, Toronto and Hamilton.

Moshe Lander, a professor who specializes in the economics of sports at Concordia University in Montreal, said a publicly funded stadium doesn’t make good sense.

“It is not like there is an unlimited amount of tax dollars out there, so if you are going to put it toward a stadium, then that means there is less money for health care, roads, infrastructure, education or whatever else,” Lander said. “Usually, the benefits that come from a stadium don’t justify that diversion of funds.”

Neither is Lander a proponent of the public-private partnership to build a stadium.

“The city or the province will say, ‘We don’t want to put up any of our money, so you put up yours.’ The owners say, ‘If you don’t put up the money, we just won’t have a team.’

“You will find that these ownership groups are rich to begin with because they made their money elsewhere . . . They don’t need a franchise, it’s not their source of wealth, it’s not their source of income. ‘Give us what we want or we can find another worthwhile way to use our money to benefit us.’”

That sort of squeeze play seems unlikely to move the three levels of government that could be involved with a Halifax stadium.

“From a municipal government point of view, we are saying, if you can come back with a plan that allows us to contribute but to contribute in a way that doesn't drain the resources of the municipality, in other words, do some kind of development around the stadium that brings in tax revenue which could then be used to offset our contribution, then that is the kind of thing that I think there would be an appetite for,” Savage said.

“But it’s just not in our capital budget plan right now. There are a lot of things that we need to put money into that the only way to do it is to just spend the money and do it — a fire station or any other number of projects. If there is a way that everybody wins with a stadium, a private entity with other orders of government, I think that is very attractive.”

Premier Stephen McNeil said earlier this month that it is “exciting to see interest in Halifax and Nova Scotia from a reputable group of businessmen.”

But McNeil said the provincial Liberal government had not received any funding requests.

“If we do, it would be assessed just like other requests and projects that come before government,” he said.

The Lansdowne model

Darren Fisher, a former city councillor and now Liberal MP for Dartmouth-Cole Harbour, said he has been a longtime supporter of having the CFL in Halifax.

Lansdowne Park, located in the heart of Ottawa near the Rideau Canal, encompasses the 24,000-seat TD Place Stadium where the Redblacks play, shopping, restaurants and entertainment venues, a farmers market, courtyards, a playground, heritage buildings and green space.

“I have really fallen in love with the model that is in Ottawa around Lansdowne,” the Liberal MP said. “It’s the model that uses private money and leverages the surrounding areas around the stadium in order to help fund the capital costs.

“I hadn’t really even contemplated the ability to build something with no public dollars,” Fisher said. “I kind of envisioned some public dollars and some private dollars and some leveraging of surrounding lands. I’ve also thought of where you could use the growth in tax dollars around the area just to help support it and that would be the public contribution.”

That is in line with Savage’s vision, too.

“You have the complete experience of hotels, restaurants and shops that would be a natural complement to a stadium,” Savage said. “People come in, say, from out of town, they want to shop at the same time as they want to have their football game and do their tailgating. The old idea of building a stadium outside of town where nobody lives and nobody can get to is not attractive. There has to be almost a village like you see in Ottawa with Lansdowne.”

Lander said a stadium close to downtown would be preferable.

“If you put it right downtown where everybody is, everybody can walk down to Spring Garden or the harbour front,” said Lander, who has become familiar with Halifax while teaching a course at Dalhousie University every May and June.

“You are inviting people down there. It will be part of their day or they will make a day of it. It is much more likely to create a lasting impact than putting it out in the middle of nowhere.”

Lander suggested a property like the Halifax Commons as an ideal site.

There has been speculation about properties at Dartmouth Crossing, back of the Kent Building Supplies store in Bayers Lake Business Park and even the Shannon Park military site, although both Savage and Lander dismissed Shannon Park as an inappropriate location.

“We’re talking to a number of landowners right now,” LeBlanc said. “It’s intriguing. We have some opportunities in and around Bedford.”

LeBlanc said earlier this month that the ownership group is working with all levels of government, the league and private investors.

“That final piece that we need to figure out so that we can truly understand the economic impact is doing a final site selection. That’s something we hope to get done in the next four to six weeks . . . We’ve been very open in saying that the model we are looking to replicate is the model here in Ottawa and it is more than just a stadium. It’s a work, live, play environment with significant retail and residential. We’d like to do the same thing because that is what really drives a lot of the revenue from a provincial, city and federal perspective that makes it reasonable for them to participate in that way.”

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Halifax CFL franchise would make football a coast-to-coast sport, says commissioner

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is part three of a series on the latest attempt to bring a CFL team to Halifax.

PART 1: CFL in Halifax: A gamble with lots of field to cover

PART 2: Stadium talks dominates CFL expansion discussion

The Canadian Football League has always fallen short of a true national identity.

“Coast to coast — it’s easy to say,” said Randy Ambrosie, named the league’s president in July.

“This is part of our inclusion strategy that has been missing. Not having that final piece of the puzzle, to a degree, makes us kind of incomplete.”

A franchise on the East Coast would complete Ambrosie’s puzzle and the commissioner sees that last piece coming from a bid by a trio of businessmen to bring an expansion team to Halifax.

“Having a chance over the years to visit the Atlantic provinces and to get to know the people, I can say without hesitation that this would be one of the great accomplishments of all times. To see that 10th team, I personally would like to see it happen.”

An ownership group called Maritime Football Ltd., could hold the missing piece.

“We’re paying McInnes Cooper out of the Halifax office to do all of our legal work, a variety of things, incorporating our new holding company into things like trademark searches, working with various government-related people and then, of course, continuing discussions with the city and the province,” said Anthony LeBlanc, the former president and chief executive of the Arizona Coyotes of the National Hockey League and one of the trio of businessmen behind Maritime Football Ltd.

“The other aspect is working very closely with the league itself, going back and forth with commissioner Ambrosie. It’s kind of the first phase of what a conditional expansion franchise would like and allow us to really go out and gauge the market and see what the support is going to be like.”

Ambrosie said there are a series of steps that must be followed.

“Granting of a conditional franchise and ultimately a franchise is part of the process,” Ambrosie said. “What we have done is made it clear that we are going to work with them and them alone. The most important thing we want them to know is that we want to help this group — they’ve shown the initiative, they are gentlemen of high character and great reputation.”

The men who make up the Maritime Football Ltd. ownership group are LeBlanc, Bruce Bowser, a Halifax native who is president of AMJ Campbell Van Lines, and Gary Drummond, a businessman from Regina who was president of hockey operations with the Coyotes during LeBlanc’s tenure there.

“There are all kinds of things relating to the business model that we will be sharing with them as we go through the process,” Ambrosie said. “We’ve given them a high-level overview of what those requirements will be.

“We’ve made it clear that the business model has to be accretive and positive for the other nine CFL teams. We want to build the business and grow our league so we’ve shared that with them at a high level. That includes all kinds of things, including franchise fees and revenue sharing and all these other parts of our business model that we’ve spoken about. We haven’t gotten into such detail with them because, on a very high level, a very important part of this puzzle is the issue of can we get a facility in place, one that would be great for the Canadian Football League but one that would help Maritimers from the entire region to attract major national and international events.”

The stadium puzzle piece is one that the ownership is working on, an approximate 25,000-seat facility that could be built and maintained under some kind of a public-private partnership.

In the meantime, the ownership group knows that the major hurdle of constructing a stadium at a cost of more than $200 million will be accompanied by other significant franchise costs. First, there would be an expansion fee.

“We certainly don’t get in for free,” LeBlanc said.

The expansion fee for the last awarded franchise, the Ottawa RedBlacks, was $7 million, according to the unofficial CFL database. It has been speculated that the next expansion franchise fee would be in the $10-million range.

And the logistics of how to fill out a roster remains a question for down the road. The expansion Ottawa Redblacks took part in a three-round CFL expansion draft in December 2013, which included one round of import player selections and two rounds for non-import players.

“We haven’t had that conversation,” Ambrosie said of an expansion draft. “Obviously, we want to talk to the players association about that in a very thoughtful and respectful way. It’s too early in the process. We obviously are aware of the issue but we haven’t spent any time on it.”

There has also been intermittent speculation that other locations, namely Quebec City and Saskatoon, are interested in a CFL expansion team.

“Right now, we’re having no such discussions,” Ambrosie said. “From my point of view, I’m not going to speculate on what might happen if a group emerged with a proposal for a different part of the country. As it relates to these gentlemen and to this piece of the Canadian Football League story that has been unfulfilled for far too long, we want them to know that we are committed to working with them and them alone for a period of time.”

A 10th team would also give the league divisional balance.

“There are some practical advantages, to be sure,” Ambrosie said. “One of the great benefits of two balanced divisions would be fantastic. There is lots of potential if you have two balanced divisions. There are lots of reasons for us to want it, not the least of which is to make sure that our Maritime countrymen have a team to cheer on as passionately as Canadians cheer on the teams in the rest of the country.”

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Would Halifax support pro football?
FRANCIS CAMPBELL The Chronicle Herald January 1, 2018

‘We feel that we could actually support a stadium that holds upwards of 30,000’

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is part four of a series on the latest attempt to bring a CFL team to Halifax.

PART 1: CFL in Halifax: A gamble with lots of field to cover
PART 2: Stadium talks dominates CFL expansion discussion
PART 3: Halifax CFL franchise would make football a coast-to-coast sports, says commissioner
PART 5: Roughriders show that CFL fan support can be province-wide
PART 6: Retired CFL pros want to see Halifax team
PART 7: Could a public-private partnership secure a CFL stadium?
PART 8: Stadium will make or break Halifax’s CFL bid

That is the challenge facing the business group that wants to bring the Canadian Football League to Halifax. If they construct a stadium to house their field of CFL dreams, will the fans come in numbers large enough to make it viable?

Anthony LeBlanc, one of three men who front the Maritime Football Ltd., ownership group, said the bid to bring an expansion team to the Atlantic region is in its first phase, the stage of trying to determine “what a conditional franchise would look like and allow us to really go out and gauge the market and see what the support is going to be like.”

“That’s very critical but very common,” said LeBlanc, a longtime executive with Research in Motion and the former president and chief executive of the Arizona Coyotes of the National Hockey League. “Let them go out and gauge the interest. The league wants to see it, the city, the province and, quite frankly, economic investors want to ensure that our expectations are real.”

LeBlanc said the ownership group hired Don Mills and his Corporate Research Associates to do some detailed polling about fan support for a CFL expansion team.

“The results that came back were really positive, that people want to go to a game” LeBlanc said. “He put some pretty strong factors in (the survey questions) with regards to the results and ensuring that it wasn’t over-inflated, and the numbers were really, really positive. He only looked in a 100-mile radius. We feel that we could actually support a stadium that holds upwards of 30,000.”

A larger audience

The CRA polling extended for only 160 kilometres from the Halifax area, a survey that would reach respondents as far afield as Middleton, Liverpool, New Glasgow, Oxford, Economy and Ecum Secum.

Add another 100 kilometres to the catchment radius and you can reach fans from Moncton, a few more kilometres and you are into the heart of New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island.

Greg Turner, a Moncton city councillor who was instrumental in bringing major junior hockey to Moncton, said his city has a strong relationship with the CFL. The first regular-season game ever played in the Atlantic region was held on Sept. 26, 2010, at the 10,000-seat Moncton Stadium, a $17-million venue that had opened earlier that year to host the world junior athletics championships. The stadium sold out for the neutral-site game between the Edmonton Eskimos and Toronto Argonauts, a capacity crowd that filled about 10,000 additional temporary seats.

The following year, the Hamilton Tiger-Cats and the Montreal Alouettes played another regular-season game in Moncton. Those games followed league exhibition tilts at Saint John, N.B., and Huskies Stadium in Halifax earlier in the decade.

“When we had those games, we added seats in the endzones that brought us up to 20,000,” Turner said of the regular-season games in Moncton. “We were very successful and it worked out well and the CFL was great to work with, great partners.

“We’ve always been open to working with the CFL and bringing them to Atlantic Canada.”

The hope in Moncton was for a team to locate there but the size of the stadium remained a drawback.

“We knew they were very interested in Atlantic Canada,” Turner said. “Like anything else, you have to find a willing partner and it looks like (Halifax) may have accomplished that. It’s great news for Atlantic Canada. It’s exciting.”

Turner thinks the fans that filled the Moncton Stadium on the campus of Universite de Moncton would also buy tickets for games in Halifax.

“We’ve always thought regionally about a franchise. We’ve all looked toward Saskatchewan and what’s happened there and see the same kind of model working in Atlantic Canada. All of our markets are probably too small but, collectively, we can certainly support a franchise.

“We are optimistic that there might be a role that we could play — exhibition games, training camp, even regular season games. We’ve got a really great stadium and it’s a proven entity. The CFL knows how Moncton embraces the CFL and, with the successes we’ve had, we now have to look toward Halifax and Nova Scotia.”

Turner said a “tremendous” number of Nova Scotia fans attended the two regular season CFL games in Moncton.

“I’m sure the reverse will happen if the team is playing out of Halifax. You will see New Brunswick and P.E.I. supporting it. It’s good for the region, really.”

Worth the risk?

Not everyone is convinced that the league is good for the region or that sufficient regional, or even local support, will materialize.

Derek Martin is president of Sports and Entertainment Atlantic, which plans, delivers and promotes events across the region.

“I grew up in Hamilton going to CFL games,” Martin said. “I played high school football, university football and pro football in Europe. I love the game but I am now a parent and my two sons are not registered in football due to the risks to their brains and bodies.”

Martin said there is no assurance that fans will embrace the league here.

“The future of the sport of football is precarious and we may be a few decades late to the party. The NFL is trending down in all applicable metrics and I fear the CFL is not far behind. Our market size is also small, it’s growing but is still small and there is not a grassroots base in Nova Scotia like there is in markets that have had professional football for decades. I hear the comparison to Saskatchewan often as a similar-sized market that has embraced the CFL but there are decades of cultural immersion at play in that market that can’t simply be replicated here overnight.”

Martin is also lukewarm toward the construction of an expensive stadium to host CFL games.

“Anything is possible and Halifax has certainly been kicking the can on a stadium for a long time but I don’t believe the fundamental issues have changed,” he said. “The business case for a permanent 20,000-plus-seat stadium is difficult to make and will likely require significant public investment one way or another. As a sports fan, it would certainly be nice to have but as a taxpayer, I can appreciate the valid concerns that we have other priorities in our community.”

Martin, who has led the push for a Halifax soccer team in the Canadian Premier League that is to begin play next year with six to eight teams, proposed a 7,000-seat pop-up stadium on the Wanderers Grounds in downtown Halifax. City council signed off on that proposal in June.

“We are committed to our plan to play at the Wanderers Grounds in a privately funded, modular, right-sized stadium,” said Martin, adding that if Halifax is awarded a team, it would likely begin play in 2019. He said the soccer team would not play in the bigger stadium if it were built.

The city will continue to own the four-hectare, natural-grass Wanderers Grounds property and would rent it to Sports and Entertainment Atlantic to host 10 home games. The stands will be removed at season’s end.

While the soccer stadium deal seems to be falling into place, the football stadium debate about financing and ownership is ongoing. But if somebody builds it, Mayor Mike Savage thinks there are enough interested fans to fill it. “I think there are a lot of football fans in HRM, I think there are a lot of concert fans in HRM,” Savage said. “By and large, the support would come from here, but I think you do need to supplement that with interest from around the region. It’s there as well.”

Turner said people would travel from New Brunswick and P.E.I. for CFL games in Halifax, stay overnight and spend their money in Halifax hotels, restaurants, bars and shops.

“Absolutely,” Turner said. “Anytime you have a major professional sports team in your community, it’s good for the economy. That’s what it’s all about. If you can drive your economy, it’s good for everyone.”

LeBlanc agrees, saying a CFL schedule of 10 games a season would spark the local economy.

“Our view of the world is that these types of stadiums obviously need an anchor tenant to get off the ground,” LeBlanc said of his proposed 24,000- to 26,000-seat facility. “Especially with football, they have to be much more than just a football stadium. But those are an important 10 dates. You throw 10 dates in, you’re bringing 250,000-plus people to the stadium on an annual basis. That’s real money, not to mention the benefit to the community.”

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Roughriders show that CFL fan support can be province-wide
DARRELL DAVIS The Chronicle Herald January 2, 2018

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is part five of a series on the latest attempt to bring a CFL team to Halifax.

PART 1: CFL in Halifax: A gamble with lots of field to cover
PART 2: Stadium talks dominates CFL expansion discussion
PART 3: Halifax CFL franchise would make football a coast-to-coast sports, says commissioner
PART 4: Would Halifax support pro football?
PART 6: Retired CFL pros want to see Halifax team
PART 7: Could a public-private partnership secure a CFL stadium?
PART 8: Stadium will make or break Halifax’s CFL bid

REGINA — A brand-new $278-million, 33,000-seat football stadium sits just northwest of downtown and it’s regularly filled to capacity by its primary tenant, the CFL’s Saskatchewan Roughriders.

It’s more than just a stadium though; in reality it’s a testament to the connection between the residents of the province and its capital city, who happily buy season tickets, green-and-white Riders merchandise, team-ownership shares, and tickets in a fund-raising lottery to help keep the 108-year-old, community-owned franchise alive. What’s referred to as Rider Pride has grown so intensely that even though the team is in the CFL’s smallest centre, the Roughriders might be the league’s richest franchise as the nine-team league courts a 10th franchise in the Maritimes. How times have changed.

“NFL bailouts, government loans, debt forgiveness, pay cuts — this team found ways to keep itself alive,’’ said Jim Hopson, a Regina native and former Riders offensive lineman who served as the team’s president/CEO from 2005-14. “Decades ago there was often talk about the franchise folding.

“There’s no talk of that now.’’

Going through a rough patch

Indeed, in the 1970s and 1980s, the Roughriders could barely keep up to the big-city teams and their wealthy owners in Toronto and Montreal. Gate equalization payments propped up the rinky-dink Roughriders, who made it into the 21st century by any means possible.

Known as the world’s bread basket because of its border-to-border farmland, Saskatchewan’s farmers could trade their grain for Rider tickets. The team held telethons, with famous alumni like Ron Lancaster and George Reed answering phones to accept the pledges of diehard fans. A fundraising lottery was established to go along with the team’s annual fundraising dinner, plus the volunteer board of directors was constantly renegotiating terms with governments and financial institutions for life-saving loans. The CFL even attempted expansion into the United States, an ill-fated move in the mid-1990s that netted a few million dollars in expansion fees that kept the league afloat. Despite their best efforts, the Roughriders were threatening to fold in 1997 until the National Football League, in exchange for accessibility in signing their players, offered interest-free loans of $500,000 to CFL teams.

“It’s all about 100 years of history,’’ said Hopson. “The Roughriders have benefited by not having competing sports, like the NHL, in the same market. It’s also a provincial team, not a city team, which has benefited, sort of, from the people who left Saskatchewan. People from Saskatchewan have moved all over the world and the Roughriders have become their lifeline to home. They say, ‘That’s my team!’ And they buy the merchandise and invest in the franchise.

“There’s a perception that every game is attended by people from across the province. Although it’s true that people make five-hour trips from Meadow Lake or Macklin or Prince Albert, the majority of the fans come from within a 100-mile radius. They might not have season tickets, but they’ll come to one or two games a season. It would kind of be like the Maritimes, except on a bigger area. And the challenge, like in the Maritimes, would be the corporate sponsorship. Saskatchewan doesn’t have large, corporate sponsorship available. I suppose, if you look at the facts today, I don’t know if you would start a team here (in Saskatchewan) now. But for the last several years, things have been really good and the Roughriders are doing exceptionally well.’’

Private owners or community effort?

Although most of the CFL’s franchises have been community-owned at some point in their history, only three fit that description now — Saskatchewan, Edmonton Eskimos and Winnipeg Blue Bombers. The other six have private owners with a variety of backgrounds, ranging from individual ownership such as Bob Wetenhall (Montreal Alouettes) and David Braley (B.C. Lions) to the NHL’s Calgary Flames, who own the Calgary Stampeders. The Ottawa Redblacks have a consortium of wealthy investors who most closely resemble the group reportedly interested in starting a franchise in Halifax.

“If there were private ownership in Saskatchewan, it would have to be a unique owner,’’ said Hopson. “In Saskatchewan we own the team. We know the money goes back to the team, not into an owner’s pockets, and in Saskatchewan that generates a pride of ownership. You have to admire (Hamilton Tiger-Cats) owner Bob Young. He calls himself ‘The Caretaker’ because he’s looking after the community’s franchise. Bob has made it clear that he’s not in it for the money.’’

Unlike privately owned teams, community-owned franchises are often registered as non-profit corporations. For the Roughriders, that means they must publicly disclose their financial statements.

In 2013, after playing host and winning their fourth Grey Cup in their history, the Roughriders reported a record-setting profit of $10.4 million. Stabilized by the CFL’s television contract, their profits still rise when the team has a successful on-field season and dip when they struggle. For 2016-17 there were costs associated with moving into the new stadium, yet the Roughriders reported a $33,000 profit despite a 5-13 record. Their football revenues were $37.8 million ($16.0 million in gate receipts) with expenditures of $40.3 million. The Roughriders, who reportedly sell more merchandise than the other eight CFL teams combined, also sold $6.1 million in jerseys, hats, T-shirts, coffee mugs, onesies, sweats, jewelry . . . .

Thirty-one years ago the CFL implemented its first salary cap; it has evolved into a salary management system that allows a team to spend as much as it wants on anything except players’ salaries, which are supposed to be capped at $5.15 million in 2018. The current collective bargaining agreement between the CFL and its players expires before the 2019 season.

The Roughriders also committed to contributing $25 million to help the provincial ($80 million) and municipal ($73 million) governments offset some of the costs for the new stadium. Another $100 million comes from facility fees of $10-$12 attached to ticket sales, such as concerts, outdoor hockey games and Riders games. With a population base of 236,000 in Regina, another 295,000 two hours away in the province’s largest city, Saskatoon, and 1.16 million people throughout Saskatchewan, that payment should be completed in 31.5 years.

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Retired CFL pros want to see Halifax team
FRANCIS CAMPBELL The Chronicle Herald January 3, 2018

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is part six of a series on the latest attempt to bring a CFL team to Halifax.

PART 1: CFL in Halifax: A gamble with lots of field to cover
PART 2: Stadium talks dominates CFL expansion discussion
PART 3: Halifax CFL franchise would make football a coast-to-coast sports, says commissioner
PART 4: Would Halifax support pro football?
PART 5: Roughriders show that CFL fan support can be province-wide
PART 7: Could a public-private partnership secure a CFL stadium?
PART 8: Stadium will make or break Halifax’s CFL bid

A pair of retired Canadian Football League players would like to see the league touch down in Halifax with an expansion team.

“I think it’s a wonderful idea,” said two-time CFL points champion Terry Baker, a punter and placekicker who played 15 seasons with the Saskatchewan Roughriders, the Ottawa Rough Riders, the Toronto Argonauts and the Montreal Alouettes.

“I think it would be just a great addition to the area and it would be inclusion from the CFL, too, from coast to coast, to unite Canada from Halifax to Vancouver and all points in between. It would enable teams and fans to be very appreciative of the fact that it is a Canadian league.”

Bruce Beaton, a Port Hood native who didn’t play football until he arrived at Acadia University, said having professional teams located across the country would help the game.

“In terms of growing the game, the more geographic locations you have at the highest level you have in the country, I think there is a trickle-down benefit there, too.”

Baker agrees.

“I think that certainly it would help the minor football program. If they were able to see a professional football team play on a consistent basis, it would certainly increase the profile of the sport with the younger generation growing up, and it might even inspire them a little more to look at this as a profession that they could try to get into,” said Baker, 55, who played football at Cobequid Educational Centre in Truro, Acadia and Mount Allison universities before going on to win two CFL scoring titles.

The CFL life

Beaton, 49, parlayed his skills on the offensive line into 13 seasons with Ottawa, Montreal, the British Columbia Lions, the Edmonton Eskimos and the Calgary Stampeders. He was named a league all-star three times and was part of two Grey Cup championship teams in Edmonton. But he never got to play pro football in Nova Scotia.

“Playing close to home is special for anybody for a whole bunch of reasons — the fans, the family, the coaches who coached you, ex-teammates,” Beaton said. “In the CFL, you typically are going to make less than $100,000 a year and you have a fairly short career. . . . To me, the two most preferable places to live in Canada are here and British Columbia, and that’s not to say there aren't other nice places but for me, I liked both ends of the country and to have an opportunity to live where you play year round and to develop your career after football without having to live somewhere else is a real positive thing. It just works on every level.”

Baker, too, said it would have been a kick to play as a pro in front of Nova Scotia fans.

“It would have been great to be able to come home and play in front of family and firends,” Baker said. “It just would have been a great opportunity. Unfortunately that never happened, never materialized.”

Baker is confident that the fans would come to see the CFL if an expansion team took root here.

“I do believe there is enough fan support here. The exhibition game that they had at Saint Mary’s in 2000, just after I retired, I was surprised that they had such great support. . . . I do believe that there is support out there for a team in Halifax. Obviously, the biggest stumbling block will be if a stadium can be built.”

As part of the Touchdown Atlantic series, the Argonauts and the Hamilton Tiger-Cats played an exhibition game at Huskies Stadium in Halifax in June 2005. The game, which ended in a 16-16 tie, attracted a sellout crowd of 11,148 to the stadium, that had added temporary seating.

“I think it’s an enjoyable product,” Beaton said. “On a nice sunny day and in the right environment, you are definitely going to want to partake.”

Development league option

Beaton said league expansion to Halifax is a good idea but he is far from convinced that the league’s overall vision is focused in the right direction.

“The question is more around the direction of the CFL as opposed to Halifax as a market,” he said. “If the CFL gets their direction right, Halifax would be a great market. I just mean the NFL (National Football League) is a multi-billion (dollar) league with no development league. Compared to all the other major sports — baseball, basketball and hockey — I would make the argument that football needs a developmental league more than any of the others.”

And that developmental league should be the CFL, he said.

“I think the NFL field is too small. I think we have a great field. I think we should look at things like American rules and becoming a development league similar to the AHL (American Hockey League.) You could still develop Canadian content, develop Canadian coaches. We could do an awful lot of positive things. There is a huge market demand for that, a huge need for that, and if you sort of miss the boat on that and deny people in those hungry 12-month-of-the-year NFL markets to look at potential, future players, then I think you are really missing an opportunity.”

Beaton, a real estate entrepreneur who lives in Kentville, said the NFL’s massive visibility hurts the CFL product.

“If you juxtapose that, when the CFL was on par with the NFL, going back to the 50s before technology changed and exploded the market for elite sports and eroded the market for ticket-driven, gate-driven sports where there was a lot of talent and a lot of ability and an exciting contest, when you could watch that or you could watch the best in the world, you are going to choose the best in the world.”

Baker, too, harkened back to yesteryear when asked if the Maritimes could drum up the support that football-crazed Saskatchewan provides for its Roughriders.

“If Halifax had a team since the 1930s or 1940s or whatever and they could sustain that for the 60 or 70 years since, I think that there would be a loyalty, it would be built into the culture and you could have the same thing here,” said Baker, who lives in Bridgewater and operates his seasonal business, the Admiral Benbow Trading Co., in Lunenburg. “ I don’t know if Nova Scotia would be all on its own. New Brunswick and P.E.I. aren’t too far away and if you could truly generate a Maritime team, that would be the marketing way to go. You’ve got a real possibility of creating a special unity with the three provinces and make it truly a Maritime team.”

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Could a public-private partnership secure a CFL stadium?
JOSH HEALEY The Chronicle Herald January 4, 2018

Halifax may want to take some cues from Canada’s capital city

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is part seven of a series on the latest attempt to bring a CFL team to Halifax.

PART 1: CFL in Halifax: A gamble with lots of field to cover
PART 2: Stadium talks dominates CFL expansion discussion
PART 3: Halifax CFL franchise would make football a coast-to-coast sports, says commissioner
PART 4: Would Halifax support pro football?
PART 5: Roughriders show that CFL fan support can be province-wide
PART 6: Retired CFL pros want to see Halifax team
PART 8: Stadium will make or break Halifax’s CFL bid

On Nov. 29, 2016, more than 40,000 crazed Canadian Football League fans took to the streets of Ottawa to celebrate their Redblacks winning the 104th Grey Cup.

The Grey Cup win was momentous, given that Ottawa had only rejoined the league in 2014.

But the win also represented the culmination of a project begun in 2007, including the redevelopment of Lansdowne Park and the 24,000-seat TD Place Stadium, the home of the Redblacks.

Roger Greenberg, the executive chairman and managing partner of the Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group (OSEG), said that the task of attracting a CFL team can be all-consuming.

“I could talk about it for hours. This has taken over a big chunk of my life for the last eight or nine years,” he said. “You have to have solid local ownership that is committed to sticking it through.”

And as it’s the most recent expansion in the CFL, there is an opportunity for Halifax to learn from Ottawa’s complicated return to the football world.

No easy task

Greenberg explained that when the idea of bringing a CFL team back to Ottawa was first discussed in 2007, there were a number of setbacks.

Like Halifax, the need for a stadium was the talk of the town.

The idea was that Ottawa, which had previously fielded CFL teams, would play at the old Frank Clair Stadium but it became apparent that the building was in poor shape.

“That was what really led to a very, very different process than what we had anticipated at the outset,” said Greenberg.

This new route involved a joint venture between OSEG and the City of Ottawa and included a complete redevelopment of the 40-acre Lansdowne Park area.

The project, dubbed the Lansdowne Partnership Plan (LPP), encompassed the construction of a football stadium, upgraded sports facilities for soccer and hockey, 360,000 square feet of retail space and another 100,000 square feet of office space.

Greenberg noted that there was some opposition to the project, such as an organization called the Friends of Lansdowne.

Like Halifax, those critical of LPP asked why the city should spend money on a sports facility when the money could be spent on other infrastructure.

“I think a balanced city needs to have priorities but also needs to have a balance of economic opportunities,” said Greenberg when asked how cities should prioritize expenditures.

“Lansdowne has been a huge economic driver for the city of Ottawa, creating many jobs.”

Has the project boosted the local economy?

A recent report from the City of Ottawa’s finance and economic development committee has shown the LPP has generated an increase of visitors and business to the area.

In 2016, 3.4 million people visited Lansdowne, a 41-per-cent increase from 2015. The 105th Grey Cup Festival alone was anticipated to create $100 million in economic activity for the area.

Greenberg explained that the new facilities have also attracted events such as a FIFA game, the NHL 100 Classic and dozens of festivals.

“That never would have happened but for the redevelopment of Lansdowne,” he said. “We’ve created an urban park. I would not look at it as strictly building a stadium.”

Greenberg recommended that Halifax should find an area that can support a lot of commercial development but he said that it comes at a price.

To facilitate the return of the Redblacks and the revitalization of Lansdowne, OSEG and the City of Ottawa paid nearly $600 million.

According to a representative of OSEG, the city invested $240 million to the building and renovation of the stadium and arena complex.

“Sometimes, in my view, you need to invest in order to get a return. You can’t expect cities to grow if the infrastructure is not in place,” said Greenberg.

Glen Hodgson, a senior fellow at the Conference Board of Canada and an expert in macro-economics, said that the most profitable part of Ottawa’s project is not the football team but the property development.

“A CFL team typically has revenues of around $16 million to $18 million. That makes it a fairly small business in a community,” Hodgson said. “That’s where the Ottawa model is interesting because they were able to do some property development along with attracting the CFL team. That’s where they probably made their money back, by building a condo tower and then the commercial space around the stadium.”

Mindful of the message

Ian Lee, an associate professor at Carleton University’s Sprott School of Business, was opposed to the LPP. He was involved in the process as both an analyst and activist, being a member of the Friends of Lansdowne.

Lee explains that Halifax should learn from Ottawa’s expansion and be mindful of how the project is sold to the public.

“You have to ask yourself, can Halifax, as a city, afford to do this? And ought we pay for this?” said Lee.

In previous interviews with The Chronicle Herald, Anthony

LeBlanc, one of the members of Maritime Football Ltd., has said that the question of a stadium, and who will pay, is the elephant in the room.

Estimates for a stadium in Halifax are north of $200 million.

Lee explained that from the beginning of the LPP, the boosters in Ottawa tried to say that taxpayers wouldn’t have to worry about footing the bill.

“Their mantra was it won’t cost the taxpayers a dime. I’m old enough and have enough experience as a business banker to know that there is no such thing as a free lunch. Somebody is paying,” he said.

Moreover, Lee said, he hopes that Halifax’s ownership will have a long, detailed discussion about different options because he feels Ottawa missed an opportunity for debate once the Frank Clair Stadium was ruled unfit.

“We never discussed any alternatives.”

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Stadium will make or break Halifax’s CFL bid
FRANCIS CAMPBELL The Chronicle Herald January 5, 2018

New attempt after 1982 bid foundered

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is part eight of a series on the latest attempt to bring a CFL team to Halifax.

PART 1: CFL in Halifax: A gamble with lots of field to cover
PART 2: Stadium talks dominates CFL expansion discussion
PART 3: Halifax CFL franchise would make football a coast-to-coast sports, says commissioner
PART 4: Would Halifax support pro football?
PART 5: Roughriders show that CFL fan support can be province-wide
PART 6: Retired CFL pros want to see Halifax team
PART 7: Could a public-private partnership secure a CFL stadium?

The time is now for the Canadian Football League to expand to Halifax.

But the same was said 35 years ago when the Atlantic Schooners were ready to chart a course for the Eastern Division of the CFL. Plans and money ran short, and despite having been granted a conditional expansion franchise in 1982 that was to give rise to a team taking the field two years later, the ownership group eventually withdrew its bid.

Back in the 80’s

“Going back to the ’80s, you had a team that was working with the CFL and the CFL was kind of keen on it,” said Mike Savage, mayor of the Halifax Regional Municipality. “Ever since then, people have kind of popped up and said we should have a team but what they are missing is the business case for a stadium.”

That business case is the rocky shoal on which the Schooners foundered and eventually ran aground. In May 1982, the CFL’s board of governors unanimously approved a conditional expansion franchise for the Halifax area. The team would pay a $1.5-million expansion fee by the next May and take the field for the 1984 season if a 30,000-seat stadium were built in time to host a home opener.

The Maritime Professional Football Club Ltd. ownership group initially included John Donoval, a Toronto-area trucking executive, and J.I. Albrecht, the eccentric former general manager of the Toronto and Montreal CFL teams. Later, Robert Bruce Cameron, a New Glasgow-born industrialist who had served in the Second World War before starting several businesses that included Maritime Steel and Foundries in his hometown, joined the ownership group.

The proposed team, given the name the Schooners by November 1982, planned to hire Acadia Axemen head coach John Huard to guide the franchise in its first season. A league expansion draft was planned and details were worked out for the dispersal of players from existing franchises to staff the Schooners.

The $6-million stadium was to be built on leased land in Dartmouth but the federal and provincial governments were not amenable to providing any funding for the facility. Despite considerable contributions from Cameron, the ownership group was unable to meet league deadlines for a financing plan for the new stadium.

Will CFL hunger set the table for a stadium?

Subsequently, the best bet for a stadium may have been the scuttled bid for Halifax to host the 2014 Commonwealth Games. Halifax was selected as the Canadian bid city in December 2005 for the 2014 Games but when the bid society was unable to pare the estimate for hosting the Games from $1.6 billion to a preferred $1 billion, the province and the municipality withdrew their support. The Halifax bid withered and the Games were eventually awarded to Glasgow, Scotland.

“The thing that bothers me is that this city does not have the gonads,” said Rick Rivers, who has been a football coach and administrator at the local, provincial and national level since moving to Halifax from Ontario nearly 40 years ago.

“A few years back we won the Commonwealth Games bid; we should have a stadium as a result of that. The federal government, the provincial and local governments, would come together. They got cold feet and left it.”

Savage recalled that, last time, a stadium was seriously considered.

“It was a third federal, a third provincial and a third municipal,” the mayor said. “Basically, the entire capital cost was being borne by levels of government with upfront capital payments. I don’t think there is an appetite for that and, actually, there wasn’t back then either because it didn’t happen.”

Still, another bid for a CFL expansion franchise has surfaced, this time from the Maritime Football Ltd. ownership group, led by New Brunswick-born businessman Anthony LeBlanc, a longtime executive with Research in Motion and the former president and chief executive of the Arizona Coyotes of the National Hockey League. Also on the team are Bruce Bowser, a Halifax native who is president of AMJ Campbell Van Lines, and Gary Drummond, a businessman from Regina who was president of hockey operations with the Coyotes during LeBlanc’s tenure there.

The group has met with the CFL and with the HRM city council. They have spent considerable personal funds on a poll to gauge fan interest, a cost-benefit analysis and legal representation. They hope to soon test season ticket sales and attract corporate sponsors.

“I think it’s fair to say that we need to either get this done or come to a decision that it is not doable,” LeBlanc said. “But we are certainly not looking at it in that (not doable) manner.”

Savage acknowledged that the business group is doing a lot of work behind the scenes.

“There isn’t anything at this point to present to council but we certainly are hopeful and anticipate that when they have formulated a plan, particularly around a stadium, that they’ll come forward. They are a serious group of people, they know what they are doing and I have a lot of faith in their ability to make this happen.”

LeBlanc said the capital structure and ownership of the stadium has not yet been discussed.

“Usually what happens is there is a public-private entity that owns and operates the facility,” LeBlanc said. “That’s kind of getting ahead of ourselves. From our perspective, the perspective of the ownership group of the franchise, we certainly understand that we are going to have to participate in the ownership, or at least the money that goes into building a stadium. Who operates or owns it, those are things that will get figured out.”

Savage doesn’t figure on the city owning it.

“As a municipality, we don’t want to own a stadium,” Savage said. “If you build a stadium, then you have to run it. I don’t think governments are ideally suited to do that. The idea would be that somebody would own it and run it. I think that is where you have your concerts instead of tearing up the Commons. You could have games, whether it is the Indigenous Games, the Senior Games, the University Games, the Commonwealth Games, all those kinds of things.”

If it was built

Moshe Lander, a Concordia University professor who specializes in the economics of sports, said a stadium would have limited use.

“If you end up with a stadium, how else is it going to be used other than the 10 times a year for the CFL?” Lander said. “Are you really going to have outdoor concerts in a 30,000-40,000-seat stadium? Are you going to have an MLS (Major League Soccer) franchise in Halifax? It’s unlikely. That sort of economics is that it’s going to be used 10 times, you might be able to squeeze a few other uses out of it. Other than that, it is going to sit primarily empty. So, who bears the cost if it is sitting empty?

What then, if anything, is different this time around from previous CFL rumblings?

“It’s definitely different,” Savage said. “Whether it’s different enough, we’ll find out.

“Getting an arrangement with the CFL whereby they would come here would take some work but it is very manageable. Putting an ownership group together for a team is a little more difficult but manageable. Getting the stadium, that’s the ballgame. That’s the jackpot right there.”

Lander said the difference from 35 years ago could be the growth of the city.

“Halifax is not going to build itself up to a world-class city but it’s certainly a very respectable Canadian city as an anchor of Atlantic Canada,” Lander said. “You can see the beginning of the high-rise developments that are starting to surface on the skyline, corporate headquarters that are starting to locate to Halifax or locate offices there. Lower Water is becoming more of a younger-trending area. Incomes are rising and it’s moved away from the stereotype old-fashioned fishing town to something a little more modern and dynamic.

“Now is the time to be a professional sports city. This is probably it. You are not going to be an NHL town, you are not going to have an NFL team, you are not even going to have MLS, so this is kind of the last missing piece.”

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POLL: What's in a name for an Atlantic CFL team?
FRANCIS CAMPBELL The Chronicle Herald January 7, 2018

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is part nine of a series on the latest attempt to bring a CFL team to Halifax.

PART 1: CFL in Halifax: A gamble with lots of field to cover
PART 2: Stadium talks dominates CFL expansion discussion
PART 3: Halifax CFL franchise would make football a coast-to-coast sports, says commissioner
PART 4: Would Halifax support pro football?
PART 5: Roughriders show that CFL fan support can be province-wide
PART 6: Retired CFL pros want to see Halifax team
PART 7: Could a public-private partnership secure a CFL stadium?
PART 8: Stadium will make or break Halifax’s CFL bid

The Atlantic Schooners’ 23-year undefeated record could soon be in jeopardy.

The Schooners were granted a conditional Canadian Football League expansion franchise in May 1982. The franchise ownership group, Maritime Professional Football Club Ltd., was unable to attract the financial backing necessary to build a stadium in Dartmouth to host the team that was tentatively scheduled to begin play in 1984.

The franchise application was withdrawn.

In recent years, a Schooners group has held Grey Cup parties during the annual championship game weekend and promoted the trademarked logo with an Undefeated Since 1984 slogan.

The trademark was registered again in early December by a trio of businessmen who are making another bid to bring the CFL to Halifax. When the recently registered Maritime Football Ltd., fronted by Anthony LeBlanc, Gary Drummond and Bruce Bowser, reclaimed the Schooners trademark, it spawned the impression that a successful bid this time around would revamp the Schooners’ name.

“I'm getting lots and lots of feedback on that topic,” LeBlanc, the former president and CEO of the Arizona Coyotes of the National Hockey League, said earlier this month. “Obviously the Schooners is one that's come up a lot.”

LeBlanc said the Schooners trademark was secured for safety reasons in the event that the new team would want to use it, but “this is by no means a confirmation that this will be the name.”

“Personally, I would like to go out and do a name-the-team contest and get people engaged when possibly we do the season-ticket launch. There are a lot of great possible names that have been thrown our way. One thing in particular, it will be a branded Atlantic franchise. I think that is critically important that everyone in the Atlantic provinces feels that this is their team.”

Some aren’t convinced that the sentimental value of the Schooners name is enough to earn a logo on the jersey for an active team.

“I don’t think we can go back to the Schooners,” said Rick Rivers, a retired high school phys-ed teacher and fervent football fan who has long been involved with the game in this province as a coach, clinician and administrator.

“You want some alliteration there,” Rivers said. “I’d go with the Maritime Mariners, something definitely with an Atlantic flavour, but I really don’t want to see a fish in the logo. When I took over as president of Football Nova Scotia, we had a fish on its tail and it looked like hell with a football under its chin.”

The mayor of Halifax Regional Municipality also recommended requesting public input, adding that a wide range of options and opinions would likely be offered.

“The names that are getting bounced around are the Schooners, because we had the Atlantic Schooners 30 some years ago and the Atlantics because of the Atlantic nature of the team,” Mike Savage said. “People have mentioned the Explosion. I’d have to think about that, whether it’s disrespectful of the people who died in the Explosion. I’m not 100 per cent sure that that's the appropriate name but I heard people talk about it.”

Darren Fisher, the MP for Dartmouth-Cole Harbour and a big supporter of the CFL concept, said the Schooners name is ingrained in people’s psyche.

“I wouldn’t necessarily say I’ve always loved the name the Schooners, but if you’d ask me anytime over the last 20 years what the team name would be, I always figured it would be the Schooners,” Fisher said.

He would like to see a name-the-team contest incorporate fans and residents from the entire Atlantic region.

“I think a contest is the best way to go and to have the public have ownership of the team name by coming up with suggestions and having a nice contest and offer a season ticket to the person who comes up with the name. When Ithink of a de facto team, I think of the Schooners. I’m not sure that’s as reflective of Atlantic Canada as it would need to be if the team is going to draw from the entire Atlantic region.”

Terry Baker, the retired two-time CFL scoring leader who lives in Bridgewater and owns a business in Lunenburg, said the Atlantic Schooners name made a lot of sense at the time.

“I like the idea of the Atlantic or Maritime,” said Baker, a former punter and placekicker who grew up in Truro. “Saskatchewan is Saskatchewan, whereas other teams are Winnipeg, Calgary — city names because they can sustain it based on the size of their cities. I don’t think Halifax can sustain it based on the size of the city. I don’t know if it would be the smartest thing to do to make the team name strictly Halifax because that might deter others from coming, getting behind the team and wanting to be part of the football (event) in this area.”

Ultimately, it will be up to the people who sign the cheques, Baker said.

“Who am I to say. The people who are going to put millions of dollars into trying to get this off the design board, they would basically be able to call it whatever they want. They are the ones putting out the money.”

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Economics of Halifax's CFL bid hinge on loyal fans
JOSH HEALEY http://thechronicleherald.ca January 10, 2018

Roughly 40 per cent of operating revenue for teams a result of ticket sales

EDITOR'S NOTE: This is part ten of a series on the lastest attempt to bring a CFL team to Halifax.

PART 1: CFL in Halifax: A gamble with lots of field to cover
PART 2: Stadium talks dominate CFL expansion discussion
PART 3: Halifax CFL franchise would make football a coast-to-coast sport, says commissioner
PART 4: Would Halifax support pro football?
PART 5: Roughriders show that CFL fan support can be province-wide
PART 6: Retired CFL pros want to see Halifax team
PART 7: Could a public-private partnership secure a CFL stadium?
PART 8: Stadium will make or break Halifax's CFL bid
PART 9: POLL: What's in a name for an Atlantic CFL team?

At the end of the day, Halifax’s bid for a CFL team will come down to dollars and cents.

And the cost of running a football franchise in Halifax extends beyond building the estimated $200-million stadium.

It is a long-term investment and there are countless coaches, players, bartenders and janitors who will all draw a paycheque if expansion occurs.

Examining the financials of teams around the league, it becomes apparent that the profits of CFL teams depend heavily on loyal fan bases to survive.

Glen Hodgson, a senior fellow at the Conference Board of Canada and an expert in macro-economics, said that the financial success of a Halifax franchise hinges on the team attracting a dedicated audience.

“They really have to appeal to all of Atlantic Canada as a fan base,” he said. “You need a capture area of about a million people to make a team go.”

Annual report trends

The Winnipeg Blue Bombers, Edmonton Eskimos and Saskatchewan Roughriders all release annual financial reports to the public.

For the 2016 season, Winnipeg and Edmonton reported marginal surpluses of $2.8 million and $2.2 million respectively.

Winnipeg’s operating revenues totalled $27.1 million while Edmonton reported $23.5 million.

Saskatchewan, an outlier in terms of profits in the CFL, boasted operating revenues of $39.3 million but spent $42.7 million on everything from player salaries to extra footballs.

Looking at these numbers, all three teams are basically spending as much as they earn.

And in terms of revenue, roughly 40 per cent of the teams’ profits are based solely on ticket sales.

As Len Rhodes, Edmonton’s president and CEO outlined, the profitability of the team relies on attendance.

“Our primary focus is to attract new fans,” he wrote. “We are a gate-driven league and our largest single source of revenue is ticket sales.”

A gate driven league

Hodgson said that relying so heavily on fan attendance poses a risk.

“You’re obviously more susceptible to not having a winning team or having bad weather for a couple of days,” he said. “In any business, the more diversified you are the more stable your business is going to be.”

He highlighted that growing a dedicated fan base helps protect against a weak team but it takes some time for fans to buy into the system. Ticket prices will be integral to attracting fans in Halifax.

“There will be an effect early on where you’ll sell out for the first year because it’s new in town, but ticket pricing is going to be really important in building a fan base and getting young people to support a team,” said Hodgson.

The variance in ticket prices can be seen in the revenues of Saskatchewan and Edmonton.

Ticket sales compromised roughly 40 per cent of both teams’ revenues but Saskatchewan earned $15.6 million on tickets while Edmonton reported $8.91 million. This is despite Edmonton having more seats available.

“It’s about the popularity of the team. They’re now the hottest ticket in Saskatchewan,” said Hodgson.

Randy Burgess, vice-president of communications and content for the Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group (OSEG), said Ottawa has been successful at attracting fans to Redblacks games as an expansion team. The emphasis has been on attracting peoples aged 18-34.

“Ticket prices are low. You can get in the building for as little as $35 and go wherever you want,” said Burgess. “The focus is on fun. That’s really the business we’re in.”


The CFL salary cap, which is low when compared to other pro sports, sits at roughly $5 million.

But when compared to the revenues of teams not named Saskatchewan, the cap eats up around a quarter of their operating revenues.

For example, Edmonton spent $7.9 million on player and coaches’ salaries.

Including scouting, medical personnel, travel costs and gear, Edmonton paid out another $11.4 million for football operation expenses.

And there are even more expenses to be added, such as the price of producing merchandise, marketing and more.

Sponsorships would be one way to combat operating costs but sponsorship revenues for teams are slight in comparison to ticket sales.

Edmonton’s sponsors contributed 21 per cent of their revenue while Saskatchewan’s was only 15 per cent.

Like Ottawa, Edmonton plans on capitalizing on a young fan base to cover the cost of business.

“An IMI research study conducted in April 2016 indicates the Edmonton Eskimos have a wide, passionate and growing fan base, led by teens and millennials following the 2015 Grey Cup victory,” reported Rhodes.

For Halifax to boast a fan base that attends the number of games and buys the merchandise and concessions to make a franchise financially viable will take time.

“They would have to build a fan base and that would take, frankly, a generation,” said Hodgson.

A lesson learned

Roger Greenberg, OSEG’s executive chairman and managing partner , has experience growing a CFL fan base.

A strong football culture or lack thereof, was something that was frequently discussed at the beginning of Ottawa’s CFL expansion in 2014.

“Football failed twice in Ottawa,” said Greenberg, arguing that Halifax’s bid is starting off on better footing than his own.

He said he believes the reason the previous renditions of the CFL in Ottawa failed was because of poor ownership.

“It’s like any business. If you don’t have quality leadership and ownership, I don’t care what the business is, it’s going to fail,” Greenberg said.

Now, the CFL is thriving in the nation’s capital.

“We sell out every game. We sold out the Grey Cup. We had the first Grey Cup parade here in 40 years last year,” said Greenberg. “We’ve been successful.”

How much will Atlantic Canadians be willing to support — and pay — to make the same success happen in Halifax?

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CFL notebook: Redblacks’ Brad Sinopoli on pace for record season
Dan Ralph 3Down Staff October 19, 2018

Brad Sinopoli is on a historic pace.

The Ottawa receiver is closing in on the CFL’s regular-season record for most catches by a Canadian-born receiver. The 30-year-old native of Peterborough, Ont., has a league-best 101 catches for 1,207 yards and four TDs with the Redblacks still having three regular-season games remaining.

Hall of Famer Ben Cahoon of the Montreal Alouettes holds the record of 112 receptions set in 2003.

The six-foot-four, 215-pound Sinopoli is on pace for 121 catches, which would be the fifth-most in CFL history. Sinopoli captured the 2010 Hec Crighton Trophy as Canadian university football’s top player as a quarterback with the Ottawa Gee-Gees.

The two-time Grey Cup champion is the seventh Canadian to reach the 100-catch plateau in a season, with both Cahoon and Dave Sapunjis doing it twice.


TOP ROOKIE: The CFL revealed Thursday its list of 97 players who’re eligible for the league’s top rookie award.

The overwhelming favourite for the honour is kicker Lewis Ward of the Ottawa Redblacks, who has made 46-of-47 field goals this season. The five-foot-seven, 185-pound native of Kingston, Ont., who played collegiately at Ottawa, has connected on a CFL-record 40 straight boots.

Amazingly, Ward went undrafted in 2017 and returned to school that fall before joining the Redblacks as a free agent. At Ottawa, Ward kicked 89 field goals, the second-most in U Sports history behind Calgary’s Johnny Mark (91) and finished as the school’s all-time scoring leader with 412 points.

Ward is also expected to contend for the CFL’s top special-teams player honour.

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Lewis Ward breaks the all time pro record for consecutive field goals with 45.  With fans in the stands yelling not to make the attempt Ward kicked his longest field goal of the season at 52 yards to break the record.

Brad Sinopoli caught eight passes to further strengthen his league lead in receptions.

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Why Halifax could know more about a potential CFL team in coming weeks
Philip Croucher StarMetro Halifax Oct. 9, 2018

HALIFAX—Halifax could know by month’s end if the city is running towards the end zone or taking a sack when it comes to a potential CFL stadium and team.

According to TSN’s Dave Naylor, Halifax regional councillors are expected to get an update on Halifax potentially building an outdoor stadium and becoming the CFL’s 10th team by month’s end.

In an interview segment from Monday, Naylor told TSN host Rod Smith that council is expected to get an update on the progress towards a stadium and team at its Oct. 28th meeting.

Given Oct. 28th is a Sunday, Naylor is likely referring to the scheduled Oct. 30th council meeting.

He said it’s ‘tentatively scheduled’ that at this meeting, councillors will be given an update on negotiations with the ownership group.

He said if there’s “positive momentum” from that meeting with councillors, things could start happening very quickly.

“What that means is the group, CFL Atlantic, would be able to work with the city and try and finish this deal off with the province…and basically come back with a site and a total package with all the partners involved,” Naylor said on TSN.

Naylor went on to say if the “positive momentum” happens, don’t be surprised if in November a season ticket package campaign is started, along with a name that team contest.

In an email to StarMetro on Tuesday, city spokesman Brendan Elliott confirmed that the CFL topic is tentatively scheduled to be on the Oct. 30th agenda.

“The report will include a project status update and may include a recommendation on the next steps in the process to bring a final recommendation to Regional Council on a site-specific financial arrangement,” Elliott wrote. “I’m told the report will be public (not in-camera).”

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8 hours ago, BearcatSA said:

How has CFL attendance been in Vancouver, Toronto, and Montreal this season?

The BC Lions have averaged 19,458 in the regular season with 1 game remaining. I can't find the attendance for the Als vs. Argos game on Saturday but the Argos average for the rest of the regular season came to 14,771. The Montreal Alouettes have averaged 17,301 in the regular season with 1 game remaining.

Edited by Enterprise Captain

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B.C. Lions defensive back taunts Esks player, gets trucked, goes viral
Drew Edwards 3downnation October 21, 2018

A video clip from this weekend’s game between the Edmonton Eskimos and the B.C. Lions has gone seriously viral.

The clip shows B.C. defensive back Garry Peters taunting an Edmonton Eskimos receiver (looks like Duke Williams) before getting absolutely trucked at the line of scrimmage.

The clip was first Tweeted by an Edmonton Eskimos fan named Jason Milne, who posted it early Saturday morning.

But things really took off when big names like Jemele Hill, a former ESPN personality now with the Atlantic with over a million followers and Barstool Sports (also over a million) picked up on it.

The original video had been viewed more than five million times by Sunday morning and is now being used in other contexts… the next step in true internet infamy.

There are two takeaways from this: one, taunting looks really bad if it isn’t backed up and 2) you never really know what the internet is going to care about.

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^That's a CFL season for the ages!  I don't like the NFL comparisons done by TSN  but it's really a terrific record and accomplishment for this young guy.  Who had the previous CFL record, the kicker from Calgary?

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Schooners, Admirals, Storm: Suggestions roll in for Halifax CFL team
Francis Campbell Chronicle Herald November 8 2018

The major hurdle in landing a CFL team in Halifax hasn’t changed in nearly 40 years.

“The most important question and the biggest elephant in the room is a place to play,” Anthony LeBlanc, one of three principal partners in Maritime Football Ltd., told a group of government officials and media at a news conference Wednesday afternoon at Saint Mary’s University to launch season-ticket and name-the-team drives.

The Atlantic Schooners, the Admirals, the Storm — a few of the names bandied about by LeBlanc at the news conference — need a field to call home.

“For this to become a reality, we have to have a stadium,” LeBlanc said. “We have started those conversations with Halifax Regional Municipality, with the province. We have been working an enormous amount of time on finding the right location. It took us longer than we expected but we couldn’t be happier with where we are right now.”

Where they are right now is Shannon Park. The group had previously announced it was negotiating with Canada Lands Company, the Crown corporation tasked with remediating and dispersing surplus military property, to secure an eight-hectare piece of land in Dartmouth’s Shannon Park on which to build a $190-million 24,000-seat stadium.

The ownership group plans to contribute a significant amount of private capital toward the purchase of the Shannon Park property and has approached HRM with a tax increment financing proposition in which the new stadium would provide a catalyst for other development in the park, with much of the property tax for the stadium and other developments being deferred to finance the stadium.

Municipal staff will do a number-crunching study and return to council with a recommendation in about six months.

Bruce Bowser, another principle Maritime Football Ltd. partner, said Shannon Park was his preferred site from Day 1.

“I grew up in the Shannon Park community, my father was in the military,” Bowser said of the site that had been used for military housing for a half-century before the federal Defence Department declared it surplus in 2003.

Bowser, president of AMJ Campbell Van Lines who now lives in Toronto, said the harbourside location could follow the the Lansdowne Park model, a 16-hectare urban park, sports, exhibition and entertainment facility in Ottawa that also provides a stadium for the CFL’s Redblacks to play.

“They’ve taken the whole notion of having a stadium outside of the city and put in a prime piece of land, which I think Shannon Park is. It’s on the waterfront. I use this notion of live, work and play. I can see a future where you have a football stadium anchoring a beautiful piece of land, with parkland around there, residential, condominiums and townhouses being built by the waterfront, restaurants making it a fun place to be.”

Support gets monetary

A team, even one shy of a stadium, requires a name and season-ticket holders.

“We are here today to announce that we are kicking off a season-ticket drive as well as an opportunity to name Atlantic Canada’s future CFL team,” LeBlanc said.

Fans can make a $50 deposit as of Wednesday to Ticketmaster.ca, ensuring them a place on the priority list for seat selection on a first-come, first-served basis. There’s a limit of 10 season tickets per account. A season-ticket membership also secures a ticket discount of 20 per cent to 40 per cent over the single-game ticket price.

LeBlanc said ticket prices will be announced in advance of the club’s inaugural season but he has hinted that tickets will range from $25 to $30 for a single ticket in the upper deck to several hundred dollars for club seating. The goal is to sell at least half the stadium seats as season tickets.

“If you make a season-ticket deposit, you’ll also be able to participate in selecting the name for Canada’s next CFL team,” LeBlanc said.

LeBlanc had previously said the team will be named Atlantic, followed by another name to be determined. Fans will be provided with a short list of four options — Admirals, Convoy, Schooners and Storm — as well as the opportunity to submit their own favourite name.

LeBlanc and company plan on announcing the team name on Nov. 23 at a Grey Cup party in Edmonton, simulcast back to Halifax. Those who select the winning team name will be entered into a pot and one person’s name will be drawn and awarded two lifetime season tickets.

League commissioner Randy Ambrosie said a CFL team in Halifax is the unfinished piece of business that has been on the hearts and minds of Canadian football fans for decades, “the opportunity to truly be a coast-to-coast league, to have that 10th franchise, to end up having two five-team divisions.”

LeBlanc said he will have a more concrete financial proposal to bring to city staff in the next three or four weeks. He said a stadium will take about 18 to 22 months to build, generating an estimated $137-million contribution to the municipality’s gross domestic product during construction, including $103 million in labour income.

LeBlanc said it is imperative that the stadium be used 12 months of the year and suggested two ideas to make that happen — a full-time ice rink in the centre of the field from Dec. 1 on that could be used for public skating and hockey programs or a dome that could accommodate other indoor sports.

LeBlanc said the goal is to field a team by 2021, with the possibility of starting a season in Moncton while the Halifax stadium is under construction.

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On ‎10‎/‎22‎/‎2018 at 5:23 AM, Enterprise Captain said:

The BC Lions have averaged 19,458 in the regular season with 1 game remaining. I can't find the attendance for the Als vs. Argos game on Saturday but the Argos average for the rest of the regular season came to 14,771. The Montreal Alouettes have averaged 17,301 in the regular season with 1 game remaining.


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On 2/10/2019 at 4:57 PM, BearcatSA said:

Just to provide a little clarity, BC has the last "old school" owner in the league.  While he pays the bills on time, David Braley is not known for progressive thinking.  He basically allowed the Argos to wither on the vine while sitting out the sale of the Argos to MLSE.  In the past, his charity and largesse has saved teams in the league many a time but his fastidiousness in ownership has deeply tarnished his once highly respected reputation.

Fortunately he did hire former Esk Rick LaLecheur as President and he has been implementing some marketing strategies to stem the slide.

As for the Als, football is still popular in Quebec and if Johnny "Canadian" Football can make inroads this year I think you'll see the fans come back there, Toronto is unfortunately another story.  I've seen too many miracle comebacks in the CFL, and Toronto has been one of the places, but as of now things look grim.  But people should learn to never count out the little league that could.

From the article...

The Lions just arrested a seven-year annual decline at the B.C. Place Stadium turnstiles. Back in 2011, they averaged 29,725 fans per game. The next season, after winning the Grey Cup, they cracked the 30,000 mark, and hovered around 28,000 the next two seasons before falling off a cliff to 21,000. This year’s average gate was a mere 117 fans more than 2017, but at least it was an increase.

Montreal (17,332) and Toronto (14,211) were the only cities worse than Vancouver, in terms of paid attendance, and the Als actually plan on constricting their seating nearly 15 per cent to make the game-day atmosphere more intimate.

The rest of the league has remained stable — highlighted by Hamilton and Ottawa both selling more than 94 per cent capacity of their stadiums — and an average of around 24,000 fans across the league.

And then there’s the fortress of Saskatchewan — which averaged 32,057 fans per game this season — with new Mosaic Stadium at 96 per cent capacity.


For us, we’re continuing to draw in a younger fan base, we’ve put in a lot of emphasis in marketing back to kids these past couple of years, and seen some tremendous success and growth.”

The league said Friday that TV ratings this season were up five per cent, with an average of 730,000 tuning in for CFL games. More importantly, they were up 15 per cent in the 18-49 demographic.

This comes on the heels of a study done last year by brand analytics firm IMI International, which said there was a five per cent leap in the number of millennials — the 18-34 year old age bracket — identifying as fans of the CFL, the largest jump of any North American pro league.

And with three more years remaining on the TSN/RDS broadcast deal with the CFL — which doles out around $4M per team each season, covering the lions’ share of a $5.2M salary cap — there’s still sunshine peaking through those grey-haired clouds.

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On ‎2‎/‎11‎/‎2019 at 3:09 PM, Joe MacCarthy said:

As for the Als, football is still popular in Quebec and if Johnny "Canadian" Football can make inroads this year I think you'll see the fans come back there.

 I see that the league had Johnny jettisoned, so if we see him again it will be in the AAF (highly doubtful) or  maybe Vince McMahon's reincarnated XFL.  Sadly, I think this guy is on a self-destructive course. 

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On 2/28/2019 at 11:37 PM, BearcatSA said:

 I see that the league had Johnny jettisoned, so if we see him again it will be in the AAF (highly doubtful) or  maybe Vince McMahon's reincarnated XFL.  Sadly, I think this guy is on a self-destructive course. 

I don't think there's a think about it.

The second Manziel and his agent asked for top of the league money during his initial negotiations, I knew he wasn't going to make a splash up here. Apart from setting an unrealistic expectation of yourself, if your focus is "How I can make you money" and not "How I can improve and learn as a quarterback and better your team" you already have the wrong mindset. His camp knows, the more he plays and doesn't produce (of which he really can't on the Als who are a tire fire right now), the more his brand and the shirts and signatures he loves to sell with take a hit.

As far as the XFL, I heard that Vince was going to try to do the opposite he did with the first XFL and try to make it as legitimate as possible. IE: No Drugs, no criminal records as far as players are concerned and no gimmick rules. If that ends up the case, I don't see him playing there. I also heard that the AAF want to know why we was released, but everyone is keeping their mouths shut. I'm fairly certain the terms of his release were due to drugs (or lack thereof, keep reading) something which the CFL has ALWAYS kept an incredibly tight lid on. Heck the CBA explicitly states first time offenders get a private warning for performance enhancers, nothing more. He's also been diagnosed with Bi-Polar disorder, and given some of the verbiage we heard was he had exacting conditions with domestic violence advisors and that he had options to rectify the situation. Maybe it was a case that he blew off a couple check ins that he was taking his meds and the league said "You missed once and we warned you, you missed twice, you're done". It certainly would be the kind of thing the league wouldn't want to comment on and Manziel would want kept quiet.

Anyways, I can't say though that I was surprised when the Tillman gong show pursued him and picked him up. He made a lot of noise to distract from the fact that the only free agent he could sign from another team was a kicker. He was an overpaid backup in Hamilton, and inferior to Masoli, and the only silver lining is that Montreal ended up over paying for him, because they apparently don't understand that you can't just release national offensive linemen when you are trying to rebuild. Even if you aren't going to play them, that's a depth position you should be able to throw into a trade. Good for the Ti-Cats, not for the league though. All that tire pumping and TSN coverage for a player that didn't deserve it, didn't grow the game even slightly with how much of a flash in the pan he was. 

Edited by -Hammer-

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Alouettes sale imminent, perhaps Monday.  Possibly three groups interested, former player Eric Lapointe, now a well connected businessman, could be fronting a group.  Louis Lemay, Louis Morrissette, Stephen Bronfman have all been mentioned as showing interest, perhaps together.

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