Former CFL receiver Jeff Fairholm believes that a tenth team could find success on Canada’s east coast, but league officials are putting it in the wrong place.
The Calgary resident, who hauled in 426 catches for 7,465 yards and 59 touchdowns in nine seasons with the Saskatchewan Roughriders and Toronto Argonauts, considers himself a supporter of the Atlantic Schooners since participating in the 2019 Touchdown Atlantic festivities. He simply doesn’t see Halifax as the type of unifying market that could make a regionally-supported franchise work.
“I’m not sure putting it in Halifax is the best idea,” Fairholm said in an appearance on The Rod Pedersen Show. “Nova Scotia is kind of, from what I know, a province that doesn’t really want to be around the other provinces, whereas New Brunswick would be [a good location], I thought.”
Since 2005, the CFL has played five Touchdown Atlantic games in the Maritimes with only the first one taking place in Halifax. The rest were hosted in Moncton, New Brunswick, Fairholm’s preferred expansion target.
“We were in New Brunswick, we were in Moncton there and it was a happening town. Everything was going on, the bars and restaurants were all into it, the fans were into it and the game was a good game. It was a great little stadium there too, they’d obviously have to expand, but I think it could work out there,” he said, likening it to Regina, where he played his first six CFL seasons.
“That’s sort of the feel I got and then you make it an Atlantic [team], which they were planning on doing.”
Halifax has become the CFL’s favoured spot for expansion thanks to its larger population base — boasting about 465,000 people in its metro area compared to Moncton’s 145,000 — but the league has yet to deliver on the promise of a franchise there since unveiling the marketing for the Atlantic Schooners ahead of the 2018 Grey Cup.
Schooner Sports and Entertaiment, the ownership group led by Gary Drummond, managed to secure $20 million in government funding to build a stadium in Halifax and had been hopeful to begin play in 2022, but the COVID-19 pandemic caused the city to discontinue the stadium funding project in 2021.
According to Fairholm, announcing plans before a franchise was a sure thing was a major mistake by the league, just as it was when the first proposed Schooners’ franchise died in 1982.
“I think they were trying to test the waters almost by announcing it, to see if we announce it what kind of coverage we get,” he said. “I think they made a mistake as well unfortunately, because here we are, what three or four years later, and there’s nothing going.”
While the project is firmly on the backburner, SSE has said they are still interested in pursuing a stadium deal when the timing allows. During his 2021 state of the league address, commissioner Randy Ambrosie said that conversations continue on expansion, but gave no timeline for a team to start play.