CFL discussing Halifax expansion with ‘highly engaged, very qualified potential owner’

Photo courtesy: Ted Pritchard/ All rights reserved.

The Canadian Football League’s search for an ownership group in Atlantic Canada appears to have narrowed to a single candidate.

After touting the presence of multiple interested ownership groups for an expansion team in Halifax ahead of July’s Touchdown Atlantic game, commissioner Randy Ambrosie told reporters during his annual State of the League address during Grey Cup week that a leading contender has emerged.

“I can tell you that we have been in a conversation with a highly engaged, very qualified potential owner in Atlantic Canada and those conversations will continue through the Grey Cup weekend and beyond,” he said. “But we need to bring this to a conclusion at some point, no matter how much we want to be there.”

The CFL has been working with its investment banking partner, Park Lane, to identify potential owners for an expansion team. The league’s board of governors has also enlisted the support of a group of local community leaders who have been helping guide in-market conversations and further understand what might be possible.

The quest for CFL expansion in the Maritimes dates back four decades but has gained new life in recent years. 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. The COVID-19 pandemic and a lack of interest from local government leaders 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 expansion as a legacy project nonetheless, with conversation around a stadium turning towards a temporary-permanent model. The league’s tone has shifted to one of immediacy in regards to Atlantic Canada, with the commissioner threatening to explore other potential expansion locations, including Quebec City, if progress is not made.

“The conversation with this current phenomenal ownership candidate will continue but I will say to him — I will say to anyone who’s involved in the process — at some point, we have to decide whether we’re going to do it or not,” Ambrosie insisted. “And if we’re going to do it, let’s do it. And if we’re not, then you have to at some point, to use the fishing expression, fish or cut bait.”

Ambrosie provided no details as to the identity or structure of the ownership candidate in question. Following the economic success of two successive Touchdown Atlantic games, there is optimism from the league office that this big fish can be landed.

“For now, we’re encouraged by what we’ve seen and are certainly thrilled by the conversation we’re having with this particular potential owner,” he said. “We don’t have a conclusion yet, but I’m optimistic and realistic.”

The Winnipeg Blue Bombers and Montreal Alouettes will meet in the 110th Grey Cup on Sunday, Nov. 19 at Tim Hortons Field in Hamilton. Kickoff is slated for 6:00 p.m. EST.

J.C. Abbott is a University of British Columbia graduate and high school football coach. He covers the CFL, B.C. Lions, CFL Draft and the three-down league's Global initiative.