Here's why I like Moncton so much:
Moncton CFL story in this year's spotlight
[i]It was one of New Brunswick's highest profile sports stories in 2009.
It will also be one of the province's top sports stories in 2010 and likely well beyond that. It was officially announced on Oct. 15 that the Canadian Football League will play its first-ever regular season game in the Atlantic region next September in Moncton.
The Toronto Argonauts will be the home team in this historic contest at the Stade Moncton 2010 Stadium, which will have a 20,000 capacity for this event. Their opponent and the date will likely be announced in January.
CFL Commissioner Mark Cohon led off with a joke during a glitzy and jam-packed news conference. "Did anybody know about this?," he asked knowing that details had already leaked out the media.
Cohon also recounted a conversation that he had with Moncton Mayor George LeBlanc about next year's game here.
"I said 'This would be like a mini Grey Cup weekend' and he got offended," said a smiling Cohon. "He said 'What do you mean, mini?'"
LeBlanc was beaming with pride as he spoke at the news conference. He told the gathering that "I don't know what the weather will be like for this game, but I can promise you that the sun will be shining on Moncton that day."
This will be the first major league regular season game for any sport in Atlantic Canada. The federal and provincial governments combined to invest $1.5 million to create a full weekend of community events around Moncton's CFL game.
Cohon and LeBlanc were joined at the head table during the news conference by New Brunswick Premier Shawn Graham and federal Defence Minister Peter MacKay, the minister responsible for the Atlantic Gateway.
It appears that Moncton's CFL game will take place on a Sunday afternoon.
It's expected there will be a high school football game on Friday, a university football game on Saturday, a street party and numerous community events to create a festival atmosphere.
Moncton is looking to host one CFL regular season game per year for the next five years. With a new stadium that can be expanded to at least 25,000 capacity and brought up to CFL standards, this has renewed talk of the league expanding into the Atlantic region some day.
The Atlantic Schooners were scheduled to begin play in 1984 in Halifax, but they died when federal financing for a stadium fell through.
That's really where the dream of a Moncton franchise got started.
Moncton is the geographic centre of the Maritimes and it has by far the region's biggest drawing power with 1.3 million people who live within a 2.5 hour drive. An Atlantic franchise would clearly need regional support and Moncton is the only place on the East Coast that has a suitable stadium.
"Here's the way I look at it," said LeBlanc. "I know that the topic of a Canadian Football League team in Moncton has been bandied about for quite some time. There are those who think it would absolutely work and there are those who are very skeptical about it.
"My view is the old saying that you have to learn how to crawl before you walk. That's exactly what we're doing here."
Part of Moncton's crawl involved a trip to Calgary for this year's Grey Cup. LeBlanc and Ian Fowler, Moncton's general manager of recreation, parks, tourism and culture, spent four days there as guests of the CFL commissioner.
It was an opportunity for Moncton to wave its flag and to further strengthen its relationship with the CFL. Moncton met with a wide range of people, learned about the Grey Cup's festival side and pick up ideas to make next year's game here memorable.
LeBlanc, Fowler and I stayed in the Grey Cup headquarters hotel. We were in the centre of the action and I watched them work the crowds.
"From my standpoint as the mayor of Moncton, I'm here to promote the game in Moncton," said LeBlanc. "I take my role as an ambassador for the city seriously. Every single opportunity I've had I've invited people from across the country to come to Moncton.
"I talked to the premier of Saskatchewan and we had a great chat about him and his family coming to Moncton. I spoke to many of the national sports media at the Grey Cup and I gave them a personal invitation to come to Moncton for next year's game.
"I talked to Michael Landsberg, who does the Off The Record show on TSN. I offered an invitation for him to come to Moncton for our game and he expressed a great interest in doing a show here. That would be a fantastic opportunity for Moncton."
LeBlanc and Fowler met with several CFL corporate sponsors at the Grey Cup.
It was an opportunity to invite them to come to Moncton and be part of the event surrounding our game.
"It was an invaluable opportunity for us to promote Moncton and to attract people," said LeBlanc. "We want businesses and the national media to take notice of Moncton and the great city we have and the great opportunities we have to host big sporting events."
Moncton's CFL game will be nationally televised on TSN. That's better advertising than the city could ever buy.
"You can be sure the talk will be about expanding the CFL into the Atlantic region," said LeBlanc. "You can be sure that Moncton will be top of mind in every conversation that happens in the media about the CFL coming into the Atlantic region. People will be taking notice of Moncton and what we do at this game."
- Neil Hodge is a Times & Transcript sports reporter.[/i]
Times & Transcript, Dec. 29/09