CFL commissioner Tom Wright has fielded inquiries from more than one potential ownership group interested in placing an expansion franchise in Atlantic Canada, while hopes of a new stadium in Halifax stand to be boosted if the city succeeds in its bid to stage the 2014 Commonwealth Games.
Wright has gone on record with his desire to add a 10th team before the end of the decade, and he visited the Nova Scotia capital as recently as a month ago, further stoking the embers of expansion talk. An exhibition game between the Toronto Argonauts and Hamilton Tiger-Cats drew more than 11,000 fans to Huskies Stadium at Saint Mary's University in June.
"We've been approached by people that have expressed an interest in leading an ownership group," he said yesterday. "And, to me, that's further proof positive that there are opportunities there."
Wright would not offer any names.
"I can tell you we've been approached by more than one group," he said. "And that involvement would be local."
Expanding to the East Coast would allow the CFL to profit as the only professional league with a truly national reach. Sponsors would pay a premium to reach sports fans from across the country, television ratings should jump and the schedule-makers would no longer have to juggle an odd number of teams.
It is a dream scenario, to be sure. But its arrival has been consistently delayed by reality.
There is no stadium in Atlantic Canada capable of hosting a CFL team. Huskies Stadium held 11,000 only by the grace of temporary bleachers and there is a report that a proposed stadium in Moncton contains plans for only 10,000 seats.
Hopes of a facility in Halifax could be bolstered if the city beats out Hamilton, Ottawa and York Region (north of Toronto) to become Canada's bid city for the 2014 Commonwealth Games. That decision will be made on Dec. 15.
The Games themselves will be awarded in the fall of 2007.
Halifax lost to Hamilton for the chance to represent Canada in the sweepstakes for the 2010 Games, which were eventually awarded to Delhi, India.
"If we're fortunate enough to be chosen to represent Canada on the international basis and get the Games for 2014, that includes a stadium," said Fred MacGillivray, president and CEO of Trade Centre Limited, the group that helped stage Touchdown Atlantic. "So we are doing lots of work on that particular subject. But it's being done, right now, through our bid for the Commonwealth Games."
Moncton and Quebec City have also been touted as potential expansion destinations, and it is believed the 2006 version of Touchdown Atlantic will land in New Brunswick.
Nova Scotia Premier John Hamm has gone on record with his doubts that the "market here is great enough to support a team."
But the optimists are still at work.
"Whoever does their homework well is going to locate a stadium," MacGillivray said from his office in Halifax. "I don't see two 25,000-seat stadiums ever happening in Eastern Canada. I mean, this city is 256 years old, and we've never had a stadium. Moncton -- I don't know what the age of the city is -- but they've obviously never had a major stadium, as well.
"So if you look across Canada, from Victoria to Quebec City, there's a major stadium in every major city across the country. There's nothing in Atlantic Canada. I think Atlantic Canada's time has come."