‘It is time to get it done’: CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie shifting focus back to Halifax expansion with renewed ‘momentum’

Photo courtesy: Ted Pritchard/Rattleboxmultimedia.ca/3DownNation. All rights reserved.

After narrowly avoiding disaster with the Montreal Alouettes, CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie is flipping his focus back to expansion in Atlantic Canada.

Joining 620 CKRM’s The SportsCage on Friday, Ambrosie reiterated the league’s commitment to adding a tenth franchise in the near future and said that it would be the top priority for him moving forward.

“I think we’ve approached this latest phase with, not to say ‘do it or get out,’ but certainly there is a sense of great purpose that we have brought to this project,” he said, fresh off unveiling a new owner in Montreal. 

“The last six weeks, we’ve been a little busy on other matters but David Goldstein, our chief operating officer, and I were just talking about this last night. We’ll take about 18 hours off, dust ourselves off after today’s success, and then we’re going to focus really hard on our expansion project.”

The CFL has been angling to add a team in the Maritimes on and off since the 1980s, with Ambrosie making expansion one of his legacy projects since 2018. Asked if he felt like the timing of a team in Halifax was now or never, the commissioner was surprisingly frank.

“I think we’ve put ourselves in a good position but I don’t disagree,” Ambrosie said. “I think we’ve got to go in, we have to have a lot of energy and a lot of discipline, and I think it is time to get it done. That’s the mindset we’re going to apply to it.”

Last season saw the return of the CFL’s Touchdown Atlantic game, with 10,866 fans filling Raymond Field at Acadia University in Wolfville, N.S. The game sold out in less than 24 hours and a study found that the event generated more than $12.7 million in economic impact for the province.

However, the overall expansion picture looked relatively bleak at the time. The league’s proposed ownership group, Schooner Sports and Entertainment, did not attend the event due to a lack of faith in their ability to deliver a franchise and Halifax mayor Mike Savage told 3DownNation that there was “no political appetite” to fund a CFL-specific stadium in the city.

The tone of those discussions has changed in the intervening months, with the CFL shifting its ask away from a pricey taxpayer-funded stadium towards a temporary facility that could eventually be made permanent. Construction on an expanded pop-up stadium at Saint Mary’s University is scheduled to begin in May in advance of the league’s 2023 Touchdown Atlantic game on July 29 and a recent report from CTV News indicates that officials have discussed the potential of it staying long-term.

“One of the great things about the recent conversations in Atlantic Canada is this idea of temporary/permanent, that we don’t have to start with a Mosaic type of stadium. We can start with something that gets us in the market,” Ambrosie acknowledged. “We know how successful Touchdown was, that was largely a bleachers game and people loved it. The energy was through the roof.”

Even if the push for a long-term temporary facility, akin to the one used by the Canadian Premier League’s Halifax Wanderers, gains traction, it would appear that much work remains before the CFL can call the Nova Scotia capital home. It will be a pressing priority for a league looking to add balance to its schedule and searching for growth within its small national market.

Ambrosie remains committed to the dream he revived in the early days of his tenure as commissioner and believes the Schooners would already be playing if not for factors outside the league’s control.

“In 2019, we had funding approved by the Halifax Regional Council. There was a huge bit of momentum there. Discussions were very intense around getting it done and then COVID changed the world,” he said.

“Let’s not dwell on that because that’s not the story. The story is that we’re through that period, getting our tenth team is important to the future of the league, and now we seem to have momentum again.”