Published on July 18, 2018 9:25 PM by dbo.
The process for an Atlantic CFL franchise took another step forward recently with Halifax council voting unanimously to start discussion with Maritime Football Ltd. and the province about the opportunities and risks of a stadium and CFL franchise for the Halifax municipality.
To fill in the progress since the last update, here’s a quick run down of how we got here. Go ahead and read, I’ll wait here.
With a council vote set for July 17th to grant city administrators permission to start formal discussions with the group and province, information and opinions started to surface.
First, councillor Tim Outhit “surveyed” his constituents on Facebook about the stadium. As an aside, for politicians to believe there is no issue with performing “surveys” on Facebook or other social platforms is naive and lazy. Any results are worthless due to the nature in how they were gathered. Also, by providing his “guess” as to what will be asked for, he influenced the results unnecessarily. Such a polling of constituents before the vote seemed unnecessary, and certainly did not need his “guesses” to get feedback on whether he should vote for or against a no obligation entering of discussions.
Next, calls for public debate on a Halifax CFL team, again with an assumption over the city bearing stadium costs. Certainly, any stadium agreement and city contribution, whether it be land, tax abatements, contributions against future tax revenue or other details should be debated by the public and weighed against the merits of the proposal and long-term benefits. Comparing against a failed three levels of government project is misdirection. Visionaries would see how the convention centre projections could be affected by hosting a Grey Cup and other spin offs from games and concerts held at a stadium instead of passively accepting forecasted losses.
The province had to reiterate that it would not use tax dollars on a Halifax stadium. Halifax’s mayor and deputy mayor provided some insight into the possibilities when it comes to funding, but also laying out the facts that a privately led stadium project would select the stadium location, which is a consequence of the city not leading the project. In an op-ed piece, a call for no taxpayers money on a CFL stadium was made out of an assumption that council was ready to vote on funding a stadium.
Prior to the vote, a councillor asked for a public report on a CFL franchise and stadium. A lack of details raised suspicion amongst many that an agreement was going to be forced upon the municipality without their knowledge or public debate. The purpose of allowing administrators to enter in discussions with the private sector is to hammer out one proposal (or the administrators can walk away if there is no common ground based on the guidance given them) and bring that forth to the public and council for debate, modification and approval. The negotiation cannot take place in public, with 400,000 voices asking for something different. One proposal, which is either too far from what the city has the stomach for and rejected outright, or close enough to try to negotiate changes, is all that is needed. At the end, the council will be required to approve what is the final proposal, and will control when that vote occurs and how much time for public consumption and debate there is. That is democracy at work.
Potential fans are enthusiastic about the progress and believe now is the time. The vote scheduled for July 17th and the subsequent six weeks are designated as a crucial crossroad by the persons behind Maritime Football Ltd.
The vote to start discussions with Maritime Football Ltd. and the province “to explore the opportunities and risks related to a CFL franchise and stadium in the Halifax municipality” passed unanimously 16-0. Councillor Craig, the introducer of the motion, warned the discussion was for staff to look into the viability of a stadium, not to dive into the details of making it happen. A faction of councillors indicated their pessimism over the success of the venture. Additional councillors were posing a lot of detailed questions before the vote unnecessary to enter discussions (such as HRM giving money to a private corporation, which is illegal), raising conjecture on my part that providing the detail needed to satisfy them in six weeks might be difficult.
A step forward, which will allow the details many have been clamouring for since last year to come out, has now been taken. Based on Maritime attitudes, vocal opponents, councillor pessimism, and a lack of understanding of public-private partnerships and leaving details on how to the expert city staff, there is still a lot to overcome to get a stadium plan approved. The odds do not look greater than 50-50 right now, and not to move forward rapidly, no matter a Sept. 1 plan for a report from discussions.
In the event of a rejection, what does Maritime Football Ltd. do? Theoretically, the opportunity in Halifax and likely all of the Maritimes is not ready and they would not spend any more time on it. However, does that mean they move on to other ventures, or do they parlay what they’ve learned about the CFL into another CFL franchise venture, Quebec City being the most likely in my mind. Certainly not a slam dunk any more than Halifax, but they could check the temperature and conditions to determine if proceeding at this time was opportune. The major issue that may dissuade them is they are not Quebecois and may find it hard to find a Quebecois partner, or may not want one.
The CFL landing in Quebec City first would be the worst case scenario for Halifax, as the 10th franchise has great advantages over being 11th plus franchise, as it is likely 11th and 12th would be desired to join close together in time but a decade or more from the 10th. Right now, being a Maritime team and 10th franchise makes Halifax a highly desirable location for the league. Rejecting a franchise now is not delaying it on their timetable. For another opportunity another group with capital would need to come forward, and another stadium proposal developed and voted on. All after they rejected one venture in 2018. Not likely someone new will try again in a short time, it was 35 years between efforts last time. This is where I thought they were four years ago, but an owner with a vision came along. With a rejection now, I will return to my prediction of at least two decades before anyone wants to test the waters in Halifax again.
Ideally, as I’ve spoken of before, the CFL would be in a position to offer something to get a stadium in Halifax done, as a beneficiary of the additional franchise. However, no sports league thinks like this, and the CFL is not about to break new ground. The CFL cannot think like other leagues, however, as the capital cost for the stadiums they play in exceeds the capabilities of their revenue base, and the appetite for public funding stadiums has diminished. Nevertheless, if with foresight the CFL had targeted funds set aside specifically for stadiums in the last 10 years, they might have a sum to offer to Halifax as a token gesture in a funding deal. I’m sure the worry is about setting precedent, yet any funding would come out of the pockets of fans across the country and no one else. There are many fans who wish to see that 10th franchise and the benefits it brings to the league, and the opportunity to grow, and a way to help with that is to pool those resources, which would reflect the grass roots character of the league and its fans.