Halifax group makes pitch for CFL franchise

The CFL said Thursday it has had talks with a group looking to secure an expansion franchise for Halifax.

“We can confirm the CFL has had discussions with a group interested in securing a Canadian Football League franchise for the city of Halifax,” the league said in a statement. “While this group has been professional, enthusiastic and impressive, these conversations are relatively new and a very thorough process of due diligence must be put in place and completed before we can fully assess the viability of the project.

“We want to publicly thank this group for its passion for the CFL and we thank the members of the media for their interest.”

A league official said a timetable for potentially awarding a franchise has not been established as of yet. One of the challenges for Halifax is that the city does not currently have a stadium that would be suitable for a CFL team.

TSN reported Thursday the group made a presentation to the league’s board of governors several weeks ago in Toronto. The report also identified Anthony LeBlanc, a former president and CEO of the NHL’s Arizona Coyotes, as a partner in the group.

A franchise in the Maritimes would certainly be a positive development for the CFL. Not only would it give the league a coast-to-coast reach but it would also allow it to form two five-team divisions.

The CFL awarded a conditional franchise to Halifax in 1982 – it was named the Atlantic Schooners – but financing for a stadium never came about. The league played regular-season games in Moncton, N.B., in 2010, 2011 and ’13.

The biggest barrier to adding a team in Eastern Canada has been finding a suitable facility in a big enough market. 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.

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.

– CP

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