Randy Ambrosie bullish on CFL expansion, pitches solution to stadium woes

Photo courtesy: Kyle Scott/CFL

The CFL hasn’t had more than nine teams since the short-lived era of American expansion in the mid-1990s.

Though the league doesn’t appear close to adding a tenth team anytime soon, it remains firmly committed to the goal of expansion.

“I really believe expansion is the next big positive step forward for our league,” CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie told 3DownNation on Tuesday. “Everywhere I look, I see benefits to expansion, so what I have committed to the governors is to be very specific, very focused on can we expand. How do we do it? What are the terms of expansion? How would it work? And ultimately, to see if we can make it happen.”

One obvious benefit of expansion is having an even number of teams in the league. The CFL’s regular season schedule is currently played over 21 weeks with each team having three byes. Adding a tenth team would allow the league to play its schedule over 19 weeks and play the Grey Cup the first weekend in November.

Ambrosie revealed that the league generates more revenue per game during the summer than it does in the fall. By condensing the schedule, the league would be able to take advantage of the summer months by scheduling more games when revenues are at their peak. Having five games per week throughout the summer could also entice more sports bettors as there’s little else to wager on in July and August.

The most likely spot for a new team appears to be the Maritimes where the league has hosted a number of neutral site games since 2005. The most recent edition of Touchdown Atlantic was played this past season and featured the Saskatchewan Roughriders and Toronto Argonauts in front of a sold-out crowd at Raymond Field in Wolfville, N.S.

“I think there’s an undeniable appetite to see if we can expand in Atlantic Canada, but at some point we have to just go from talking about it to either saying we can do it or we can’t do it. One of the big positives that has come out of a conversation with Atlantic Canadians, with Maritimers, has been the conversation about what kind of facility what we would need,” said CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie.

3DownNation conducted an exclusive interview with Halifax mayor Mike Savage in July in which he stated there was no desire to build a CFL-specific stadium in the city, facetiously suggesting that an expansion team could play in the parking lot of a local mall.

Ambrosie believes an expansion team could utilize what he dubbed a “temporary-permanent” solution to house a team. This concept stemmed from conversations the league had with Canadians in the Maritimes and would see an expansion team add seats and amenities to an existing facility for five to ten years while the club gets established. If the franchise could prove its viability, it would then advocate for a permanent stadium to be constructed.

“I think we’ve recognized that asking a region to build a stadium like Investors Group Field or Mosaic Stadium or BMO Field when they never had a team before may be a stretch. But could we expand the stadium using a temporary-permanent concept? Could we do that and use that as a platform to build a future for football in a marketplace? That conversation has helped this and we hope that that’ll advance discussions in the Maritimes,” Ambrosie said.

This year’s edition of Touchdown Atlantic will be played at Huskies Stadium on the campus of Saint Mary’s University in Halifax. The facility has a permanent capacity of 2,000 but has been expanded to 11,000 for sporting events in the past, including the first edition of Touchdown Atlantic in 2005. Ambrosie suggested it or Medavie Blue Cross Stadium at the Université de Moncton, which has hosted three previous Touchdown Atlantic games, could serve as a possible “temporary-permanent” homes for an expansion CFL team.

Ambrosie also hasn’t ruled out looking at other markets for potential expansion, mentioning Quebec City and the success of the Université Laval. The Rouge et Or averaged 13,122 fans in attendance this past season en route to a Vanier Cup title, more than twice that of any other team in U Sports.

“The idea is to listen to the market and let the market drive our strategy going forward and those conversations have opened doors for us. And now our goal is to be very specific and clear on what we need to have happen and go see if we can’t make it happen,” said Ambrosie.

“Right now, we’re going to focus on the CFL’s tenth team because it’s really good for us if we can get a tenth team. But we’re going to be deliberate about it, we’re going to be specific and we’re going to move heaven and earth to try to make it happen.”

John Hodge is a Canadian football reporter based in Winnipeg.