Season ticket drive in Halifax could be premature: economist

HALIFAX—The group pushing for a professional football team and stadium in Halifax is expected to announce a season ticket drive and team-naming contest on Wednesday, but a sports economist suggests the effort may be premature.

In a news release on Tuesday, Maritime Football Limited Partnership (MFLP) invited media to a “special announcement” with Canadian Football League (CFL) commissioner Randy Ambrosie at Saint Mary’s University in Halifax on Wednesday.

Halifax regional council voted in favour of a staff report last week looking at a thorough business case for a 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.

In the meantime, a report to council said MFLP plans to launch a season ticket drive and team-naming contest this month.

“The issue with a season ticket drive now is that there’s so many uncertainties that it’s kind of hard to read whether there’s support for a CFL franchise,” sports economist and Concordia University professor Moshe Lander said in an interview.

“Unless, of course, there is overwhelming season ticket support.”

Lander, who spends about two months of the year in Halifax working at Dalhousie University, said there would be better ways to gauge public support at this juncture, like opinion polling.

“There’s so many other ways that you could effectively do this,” he said.

“I think that this is trying to maybe force the city’s hand to put up money more than it is to gauge whether there’s a CFL franchise there.”

It’s unclear how much money Halifax is being asked to put up. MFLP founding partner Anthony LeBlanc would not answer specific questions about the proposed financing arrangement after council’s vote last week, and it looks like Halifax could be on the hook for the entire capital cost of a stadium — up to $190 million.

“There still isn’t a concrete, no pun intended, stadium in place,” Lander said. “And it’s not clear, even if there were a stadium, even if they’re going to go ahead with that ridiculous Shannon Park location, it’s not clear when there’s going to be a team.”

The goal is 2021, but Lander suggested MFLP might be rushing that. He’d rather see the group take its time and find a better location.

Lander thinks Shannon Park is an “antiquated,” 1960s-style stadium location, where everyone’s expected to drive to the game and then drive home afterwards.

“The last 20 years, the trend has been: you build the stadium where people are. You make it part of the neighbourhood, you make it part of the background of what’s going on,” he said. “You don’t make it the basis for all future construction in the neighbourhood.”

That doesn’t mean season tickets won’t sell though.

Lander noted that the CFL season is different from the Halifax Mooseheads’ as well as that of the lacrosse franchise starting next season, but said people only have so much disposable income to spend on sports tickets.

“How on earth can you ask 24,000 fans, 10,000 fans to put down money three years out, where most people don’t even know where they’re going to be in three years time, or what their job’s going to look like? And Nova Scotia is such an up and down sort of economy. It’s very, very cyclical. That’s a big ask,” Lander said.

“I think if you get overwhelming ticket support, then clearly there’s interest in a team. But I don’t think that the reverse is true: that if you don’t get overwhelming support, I don’t think we can read that as there’s no interest in a CFL team.”

The exact price of Halifax CFL tickets could be announced on Wednesday. Season tickets around the league range from less than $200 to around $1,000, and up to $2,000 for suites and other special seating.

LeBlanc told reporters last week that he’s aiming to build a stadium similar to the Hamilton Tiger-Cats’ 24,000-seat Tim Hortons Field.

Tiger-Cats season tickets range from $220 to almost $1,000.

Fans will likely be asked for a deposit as part of MFLP’s season ticket drive.

Nick Voutour, spokesperson for MFLP, said no one from the partnership was giving interviews on Tuesday, but they’d be available at Wednesday’s announcement.

– StarMetro Halifax

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