Big CFL news broke Monday, as Sportsnet's Arash Madani reported that the long-awaited 2013 schedule will be released Tuesday. The schedule has typically been released in early- to mid-February, but has been delayed substantially this year. That's reportedly thanks to several complicating factors, likely including the Hamilton Tiger-Cats' move to Guelph as well as issues with the differing amounts of rest teams had between games. It seems the league's found a way to work things out, though, and while the official release hasn't happened yet, we're already starting to see some details of the new schedule leak out. One of the most interesting? Drew Edwards of The Hamilton Spectator reports that the Touchdown Atlantic game is back on the calendar, with Hamilton hosting Montreal in Moncton on Sept. 21. The key question there is if this year's contest will serve as impetus to hold more CFL games in the Maritimes and perhaps eventually put a team there, or if this will be a one-off that doesn't mean anything in the grand scheme of things.
For a while, the momentum seemed to be building towards an eventual Maritime team. The first Touchdown Atlantic game in 2010 created a huge amount of buzz, started discussion of the CFL's long-term prospects in the Maritimes and led to the creation of another Touchdown Atlantic event in 2011. That one resulted in a pretty amazing game, with Hamilton beating Calgary 55-36, but it didn't seem to be a real step forward for the cause of a permanent Maritime franchise, and no Touchdown Atlantic was scheduled this past year. In fact, CFL commissioner Mark Cohon even said during 2012's Grey Cup week that Quebec City was being considered for a 10th team as well, a stark change from his 2010 comments where he put Atlantic Canada at the forefront and dismissed Quebec possibilities. The 2013 return of Touchdown Atlantic could potentially rekindle Maritime momentum, though.
If this is going to be a serious step towards an actual Atlantic Canada team, a few things will need to happen. First, local fans will have to support this en masse; if the tickets sell out quickly (and are mostly bought by locals, not Hamilton and Montreal fans coming in), that would be a much more impressive statement of the Maritimes' appetite for CFL football than if demand is sluggish. Even more importantly, local companies have to get on board. One of the biggest issues with putting a team in Atlantic Canada isn't about fans at all, but about corporate sponsorship. As remarked upon this morning, the CFL can be an attractive target for corporate sponsorship, but a Maritime team isn't going to get off the ground if local companies don't demonstrate that they want to get involved.
Of course, much more than that will be needed to actually have an Atlantic Canada team. In particular, they'd need an owner (deep pockets and local ties preferred) and a stadium: Moncton's would need massive upgrades to support a regular team, and while Halifax may be a better option from a marketing standpoint, they have no stadium even close to CFL standards at the moment. Moreover, the return of Touchdown Atlantic doesn't necessarily mean momentum is back on the upswing; keep in mind that it's Hamilton sacrificing a home game here, and they're in rather different circumstances than normal thanks to the move to Guelph. In a typical year, it may prove even more difficult to get a team to give up home-field advantage to go play a neutral-site game in a different time zone. Thus, this could well prove a one-off. However, if this edition of Touchdown Atlantic gets huge fan and corporate support, that may well build momentum for the idea of a Maritime franchise. One regular-season game alone isn't going to give us an Atlantic Canada team, but if this goes well, it might give that concept a substantial boost.