Published on September 27, 2011 11:45 PM by dbo.
Sunday’s wide open 55-36 victory by the Hamilton Tiger-Cats over the Calgary Stampeders capped off another successful Touchdown Atlantic weekend for Moncton, the region and the CFL. Along with the attention to the CFL this event brings there is also the analysis of the Canadian Maritime market and the questions of when does the CFL expand to the Atlantic provinces. While the league hasn’t strayed from the script, journalists look a little deeper at the possibility and obstacles.
First, there was the game. The week’s activities for the region and visiting players were the focus leading up to the game. CFL alumni found time to enjoy the Touchdown Atlantic Festivities, mingle with old friends and praise the second foray into Moncton. The on-field action scored high marks with its showcase of CFL speed, razzle dazzle and scoring.
As for the future of Moncton in the CFL, both short term and long term, there was much said. The enthusiasm and desire to support Touchdown Atlantic and a permanent franchise are there. Fans from the region expressed their interest and appreciation of the Canadian brand of football. Moncton Mayor George LeBlanc says they can support team. League executives are positive about the Moncton fan base and opportunity but acknowledge the requirements to be met are a long way off.
Still, Commissioner Mark Cohon hinted that the league may take a break from Touchdown Atlantic in 2012. While every reporter was hoping the commissioner would answer their question about when the CFL would place a 10th franchise in Moncton with a date, Mr. Cohon continued to answer with the reality of the situation.
Post-game, the reasons the game failed to sellout were reviewed. Others crowned Moncton for another successful event. Greg Frers examined the perfect position of an Atlantic excursion in terms of schedule, publicity and exposure for the Maritimes.
From Calgary, a review of the Atlantic market highlights some issues and obstacles facing expansion to the East coast. In the wake of this year’s game, Jan Carinci called for Moncton and Halifax to team up for a CFL bid. These comments, if they lead to regional cooperation, provide more hope to a long-term plan being implemented than all the declarations from politicians and successful Touchdown Atlantic events.
After all the discussion, where does Moncton, Halifax and Touchdown Atlantic stand in the short and long term? While both sides have their extreme comments, some insisting should be awarded today based on Montreal’s experience with a 20,000 seat stadium and others chastising Moncton for wanting a franchise when they cannot sellout their small stadium, these can be ignored. Moncton and all the Maritimes must accept this is a long journey, at least seven to ten years or more from the current standpoint, and must decide to start the hard work of that journey today. Planning to get on-board when the journey is complete will not result in the desired destination.
Examining the disappointing attendance, while a sold out game would look better, it is not an end to the experiment. The CFL did not throw Moncton under the bus regarding the 820 unsold tickets and instead praised the region for its support of the event and CFL. However, a base of 20,000 fans will not support a permanent franchise for a season. Somehow the region will have to show there will be 25,000 in the seats regularly for games for a whole season. Whether there is ever an attempt to reconfigure the stadium to determine this or ticket reservations are made, they CFL will want to see extraordinary demand. Teams don’t come on the basis of 5,000 deposits.
Other criticisms of the market such as scheduling, time zone differences, etc. are so minor they are not to be worried about now. When all other requirements in place, corporate and fan support, an owner and a suitable stadium, the league will be happy to grant a franchise and work on the other issues that a 10th team in a new time zone brings.
The league not committing to a Touchdown Atlantic in 2012 became reported as an almost certainty the East coast event would be skipped next year. I don’t think the odds are any different for 2012 now than they were for 2011 following the first Touchdown Atlantic. The idea that the 100th anniversary of the Grey Cup would affect a 2012 version doesn’t hold water. The 100th anniversary mandate of a cross-Canada celebration only provides additional reasons to return. While the team logistics and market/attendance concerns are considerations, the CFL is not in any position at this time to commit to come or stay away from Moncton next year.
Overall, there is nothing to indicate the CFL is ready to abandon testing the Atlantic market. If the leaders in the Maritimes put forth the commitment to create a road-map to a franchise and the public is willing to see it through, it will happen. In today’s age of instant results, can people get excited about something that could be ten years away?