Alouettes’ GM Danny Maciocia ‘more than convinced’ CFL expansion team would work in Quebec City

Photo: Michael Scraper/3DownNation. All rights reserved.

Alouettes’ general manager Danny Maciocia might be a life-long Montrealer, but he believes a CFL expansion franchise could thrive in Quebec City.

“I think so,” Maciocia told 3DownNation. “When you take a look at what they’ve done at Laval University, I’m more than convinced that if they would ever choose to have a football team and if the CFL would ever choose to have a 10th franchise, Quebec City would be definitely at the top to be considered.”

Since launching their football program in 1996, Université Laval has become a national powerhouse, winning a record 11 Vanier Cups. The Rouge et Or captured their latest national championship in 2022, defeating the University of Saskatchewan Huskies by a score of 30-24 thanks to an outstanding performance from Hec Crighton Trophy winner Kevin Mital.

Laval has established itself as a major box office draw, routinely leading U Sports in attendance. The Rouge et Or averaged 13,122 fans in last season, more than double any other university program in Canada. Major rivalry games, like their annual clash against the Université de Montréal, attract even more attention, with 18,173 tickets sold last year.

That’s a dynamic that Maciocia understands intimately, having served as head coach of the rival Carabins for nine seasons from 2011 to 2019.

“I know it quite well and I know that every time we would play there, that was a hostile environment,” he recalled. “You would have 16, 17, even 18,000 people and they would be standing up around the track and it was really a hostile environment. I can just imagine what it would look like if they would ever have a CFL team.”

The CFL is focused on expanding to ten teams in the near future, citing revenue growth and the benefits of a balanced schedule as motivating factors. However, most of the attention has been focused on Atlantic Canada, where the league is pressing forward with plans for a team in Halifax despite uncertainty regarding a stadium and the current absence of an ownership group.

Nevertheless, commissioner Randy Ambrosie has routinely floated the possibility of a team in Quebec City while discussing expansion, including his latest sit-down with 3DownNation. The key to success in the market would be getting Quebec City businessman Jacques Tanguay, the president of the Rouge et Or and their biggest financial backer, onside with the idea, that might be accomplished with help from new Alouettes’ owner Pierre Karl Péladeau, a Quebec telecommunications billionaire.

“I saw Mr. Tanguay of the Rouge et Or at the Vanier Cup and I’m just such a big fan of what he’s built. Mr. Tanguay might have a different recollection, but I invited myself to come see him in Quebec City,” Ambrosie said. “We should go have a conversation in Quebec City and now of course, we get to talk to Pierre Karl Péladeau, who knows the province. He’s very well tied in and we get to talk to him about it as well. We’re looking forward to that.”

While the idea of Quebec City expansion has always had avid supporters in CFL circles, it comes with it’s own significant challenges. The league has long been viewed as a primarily anglophone institution and does not have the same degree of cultural cache in Quebec City, where just 30 percent of residents speak English. Compare that to Montreal, where 65 percent of residents are either primary English speakers or bilingual.

A CFL franchise would also require a revamped stadium in the city. The home of the Rouge et Or, Pavillon de l’éducation physique et des sports de l’Université Laval or PEPS for short, may be a jewel in U Sports but is nearly 30 years old and officially seats just 12,817 fans. Capacity is routinely expanded to over 18,000 with standing room and a stadium record of 19,381 was set in 2019, but the current setup would not meet CFL standards.

The CFL has tested the waters with two preseason games in the city this century, receiving mixed results. A clash between the Alouettes and Ottawa Renegades in 2003 drew a respectable crowd of 10,358 with considerable backing from the Rouge et Or. A second matchup between Montreal and the expansion Redblacks attracted just 4,778 in 2015 without much local support.

For many, the greatest fear would be that a second team in Quebec would weaken the Alouettes’ hold in the province, drawing fans away from a team that has struggled to consistently put butts in seats in recent years. That doesn’t seem to faze the man in charge of putting that football team together, as he recalls the days when heated NHL battles between the two cities made everyone better.

“I can just imagine the rivalry, because I’m old enough to know the rivalry between the Canadiens and the Nordiques. I can just imagine the rivalry between Montreal and Quebec [City] if that would ever come to fruition,” Maciocia said.

“If that’s an opportunity that presents itself and it makes sense for Quebec City and it makes sense for the CFL, why not?”

Justin Dunk is a football insider, sports reporter and anchor.