‘They have to pull us in’: Randy Ambrosie willing to explore other options for CFL expansion if Atlantic Canada can’t deliver

Photo: David Mahussier/3DownNation. All rights reserved.

CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie was back on the airwaves to talk about CFL expansion on Thursday night, but his tone seems to have shifted when it comes to Atlantic Canada.

In an interview during the second quarter of TSN’s broadcast of the 2023 season-opener between the B.C. Lions and Calgary Stampeders, Ambrosie put the onus on prospective ownership groups to make a Halifax franchise happen.

“There are lots of things happening behind the scenes. There are certainly two possible venues for a CFL team, one being the Wanderers’ field and the other being in Saint Mary’s. We’ve got groups that we’re actively talking to that are very interested in doing it,” Ambrosie explained.

“What we’ve said to all of them is we love Atlantic Canada, and we’ve shown a lot of love to the region for all the right reasons in the world, but now they have to pull us in. And we think we’re talking to the right people to make it happen.”

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. The rights to a team in Halifax were originally awarded to Schooner Sports and Entertainment in 2018, a group backed by Gary Drummond and Anthony LeBlanc. However, the coronavirus pandemic and a lack of interest from local government leaders, including Mayor Mike Savage, to put public funds towards building a multi-million dollar stadium kiboshed those plans and caused the group to pull out.

Ambrosie has remained committed to Maritimes expansion nonetheless, promising to make it a central focus for the league this year. The CFL’s demands have shifted towards a temporary-permanent facility in the model of the Halifax Wanderers of the Canadian Premier League and the search for new ownership has been ongoing.

However, the urgency in tone has increased, with the commissioner readily acknowledging that it is time to stop talking and take action. If Halifax is not viable soon, the league is prepared to move on in its pursuit of a tenth franchise.

“If it turns out not to be Atlantic Canada, we’re gonna start talking to other markets like Quebec City, as an example,” Ambrosie warned. “10 teams will make a really big difference in our league.”

Ambrosie has floated the idea of Quebec City expansion before but has been careful not to frame it as a replacement destination. That appears to have shifted, as leadership in the Maritimes continues to drag their feet.

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, this year’s game will be played on July 29 at Saint Mary’s University with little to show for the year in between. Given the revenue growth possibilities of a tenth team, plus the strategic advantages that come with a balanced schedule, it is easy to see the reason for the impatience.

Still, the commissioner has not given up the hope of a coast-to-coast league.

“I think it’s the finest, fastest, most entertaining brand of football in the world and the reason to care is all that our teams and athletes do in their markets, the difference they make in the communities that we play in,” Ambrosie stressed. “That’s why we want to get to Atlantic Canada and have that same impact out there.”