Commish Randy Ambrosie on CFL expansion: ‘It’s time to do it.’

CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie says the league is getting serious about adding the long-awaited 10th franchise.

In a recent interview with Postmedia’s Ted Wyman, Ambrosie said he’s raised the issue of putting a team in Halifax with the league’s board of governors.

“We’ve been talking about it for too long, so it’s time to do it. Everybody wants to see a 10th team. Everybody wants to see us have a partner out east and Halifax is the community everybody talks about. As I’ve said to the governors, it has to be done smart. It has to be a creative business model, where it’s financially positive to all. I think we can do it.”

Previous commissioners have floated the idea of expansion on multiple occasions and the league struck a committee to examine the issue as far back as 2003. The CFL held three regular seasons games in Moncton, New Brunswick between 2010 and 2013 as part of the Touchdown Atlantic campaign but interest seemed to fizzle, particularly after the final game was more than 5,000 fans short of a sellout.

But Ambrosie’s comments are the most aggressive yet.

The biggest barrier in adding a team in Eastern Canada has been finding a suitable facility in a big enough market. While Moncton hosted Touchdown Atlantic on the strength of its new $17 million stadium that opened in 2010, neither the town (population 72,000) or the facility (10,000 expandable to 20,725 but with few of the pro amenities like suites and club seats) isn’t ideal for a CFL team.

With a population of over 400,000, Halifax is big enough but also lacks a CFL-calibre stadium. The local university team at St. Mary’s plays in a facility with just 4,000 permanent seats (expandable to 11,000) and that clearly won’t do it.

So what piqued Ambrosie’s interest? Well, in June Halifax city councillors voted to approve a pop-up stadium at a downtown municipal sports field as part of a bid to earn a team in the Canadian Premier League. That league, spearheaded by Hamilton Tiger-Cats owner Bob Young and CEO Scott Mitchell, also has franchises in Hamilton and in Winnipeg owned by CFL clubs and is set to launch in either 2018 or 2019. While the stadium would seat just 7,000 people, the arrival of professional soccer in Halifax could be the first step to a bigger facility – one that could accommodate a CFL team.

Sports Entertainment Atlantic, the group behind the pop-up stadium, runs sporting events in Halifax, including several Canadian university championships.

Ambrosie has earned early accolades for his aggressive approach on player safety issues and fixing improving replay but establishing a 10th team in Eastern Canada would be a legacy achievement. Of course, so would fixing the attendance issues in Toronto….

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