Halifax group launches ticket drive, name competition but major hurdles remain

By Zane Woodford

It’s not yet a reality and it has no place to play, but later this month, the city’s potential professional football franchise will have a name.

The group behind the bid, Maritime Football Limited Partnership (MFLP), launched a season ticket drive and team-naming contest in Halifax on Wednesday with Canadian Football League (CFL) commissioner Randy Ambrosie.

“As of this moment, fans — and if you’re not a fan, we still encourage you to do so — can go on and make a deposit via ticketmaster.ca,” MFLP partner Anthony LeBlanc told the crowd on Wednesday.

The $50 deposit will put fans on a priority list, giving them first access to seat choice for season tickets. LeBlanc didn’t say how much season tickets would be, but he said they’d offer a 20 to 40 per cent discount as compared to buying individual game tickets. Across the CFL, season tickets range from less than $200 to more than $1,000 depending on the location of the seats.

LeBlanc said he’s hoping to sell half a stadium’s worth of season tickets: 12,000.

Fans who put down a deposit are also asked to help name the team.

The team name won’t start with Halifax — MFLP is opting instead for Atlantic — and there are already four top contenders: the Atlantic Admirals, Convoy, Schooners or Storm.

“We’ve been out, we’ve been talking to the community getting what we feel is the shortlist, but we’re not sitting here saying it will be one of those,” LeBlanc said.

LeBlanc said the team name will be announced at a party on Nov. 23, ahead of the Grey Cup in Edmonton.

“This is an important milestone,” LeBlanc said. “I’m certainly not going to sit here and put the commissioner on the spot of what this means in regards to next steps and when things will be announced, but we certainly feel that it will be, if not the final checkmark required, it’s certainly at the top of the list.”

Ambrosie didn’t want to put any labels on his relationship with LeBlanc and fellow MFLP partner Bruce Bowser at Wednesday’s news conference, preferring to keep it casual when asked if this was considered the approval of a conditional franchise.

“We can call this what we want,” he said. “I’m sitting between these two gentlemen because the CFL wants this group, Maritime Football, to bring a 10th team into the Canadian Football League right here in Halifax, and we’re gonna be doing everything we can to help get these last few hurdles crossed so that we can get to the finish line.”

Ambrosie said fans across the country have repeatedly told him they want a team in Halifax.

“I think maybe to some degree there’s a romantic notion that this is the unfinished business that the Canadian Football League has been pursuing for a long time,” he said.

“I do think that Canadians are intrigued by the Atlantic region and all too often don’t come here and see the splendour and all that you have to offer. The idea of having a football team will create a reason for them to come and visit, and welcome this part of the region into Canada.”

But before they can come, MFLP needs to build it.

A week before Wednesday’s announcement, Halifax regional council voted in favour of a staff report looking at a thorough business case for MFLP’s proposed 24,000-seat stadium on the Shannon Park lands in Dartmouth. That staff report, which will look at the controversial plan to fund the stadium as well as associated infrastructure costs, is expected to take six months.

The stadium itself would cost up to $190 million. Municipal chief administrative officer Jacques Dubé told council last week that Halifax wouldn’t own the debt or the stadium. After council’s vote LeBlanc said his group would take on the operational costs, pegged at about $3 million annually, but he wouldn’t say who’d be taking on the capital risk.

Asked for further financial details on Wednesday, LeBlanc didn’t offer much, but did say he wasn’t completely sold on any one financial model.

“What we have been doing is looking at a variety of tax plans and public interaction and public involvement throughout North America, and we’re not zeroed in on one specific one,” LeBlanc said. “But we know that we need participation from the public sector, just like it has been very clear to us that the public sector needs our involvement in a significant way.”

LeBlanc said MFLP would be submitting a “more concrete” proposal to municipal staff that will have “a lot more meat on the bones” in the coming months.

LeBlanc complained about what he called misinformation about the funding plan using tax dollars, and joked that the stadium debate was almost as polarizing as this week’s U.S. midterm elections.

“All we ask is go about this with an open mind. Let us share with you what it is that we’re planning, let us hear what you have to say, and at the end of the day, we’re confident that we’ll remove all the road blocks,” he said.

“But no, I don’t anticipate that it will be a smooth ride to the end of a stadium. There might be a bump or two along the way.”

A news release put out with Wednesday’s announcement said MFLP hoped to field the team during the 2020 season. LeBlanc said that was the original goal, but MFLP is looking at 2021 now.

LeBlanc said building a stadium would take 18 to 22 months. Based on timelines in the latest municipal staff report, construction couldn’t begin for at least a year.

If the team is approved before the stadium is built, LeBlanc said the team could play a season in Moncton, N.B.

“One of the concepts that we bandied about was possibly starting a season in Moncton while the stadium’s under construction,” he said.

MFLP wants to “engage” fans across Atlantic Canada, LeBlanc said, “But, you know, Moncton is obviously a natural fit because of the fact that they have the basis of a stadium … those are discussions we’ll continue.”

– StarMetro

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