HALIFAX — CFL fans in Halifax have been told the league is serious about establishing a coast-to-coast footprint, although there is no announcement imminent on a franchise for the East Coast's largest city.
Commissioner Randy Ambrosie and Halifax bid proponents Bruce Bowser and Anthony LeBlanc told a packed hotel ballroom Friday they are maintaining a methodical approach to ultimately landing a team.
Ambrosie assured the largely enthusiastic audience at his commissioner's "town hall" that the league is excited about the prospect after a previous attempt in the 1980s was scuttled because of the failure to land a stadium.
"I feel like it is different this time," said Ambrosie. "I just think the stars seemed to have aligned well for us to take a crack at getting this in. And I don't think we have a completed CFL until we have this franchise in place — it's like the national railroad, you just aren't done until you're done."
LeBlanc said steady work is continuing on what he described as a "thoughtful approach."
"It's no secret that we are having in depth discussions at Halifax Regional Municipality, in depth discussions with the province," said LeBlanc. "My hope and expectation is sometime within the next couple of months we will have something substantive to talk to you about."
Although welcoming a potential CFL team as an "exciting opportunity," Halifax Mayor Mike Savage has previously said the municipality wouldn't be pushing the issue, so as not to put taxpayers at risk over the cost of building a stadium. Premier Stephen McNeil has also confirmed there have been meetings between provincial officials and the bid group, but offered few other details.
LeBlanc, who is the founding partner of the potential ownership group registered as Maritime Football Ltd., later told reporters that no financial commitments have been offered to date.
"One thing I can say that I've heard in particular from the mayor and the premier is it has to be private sector led. They are not saying that they won't be involved in whatever way that will be, but it has to be private sector led."
Ambrosie said the league is in "lockstep" with the bid group, and is working with them to advance business plans.
"But the big hurdle is the stadium," he said. "We are not going to move too far and too fast and get ahead of ourselves, so that it really is the jumping off point to advance this to the ultimate launch of a football team here."
There have also been questions about Atlantic Canada's overall interest in supporting a team.
Both Ambrosie and the bid group said they were encouraged by Friday's turnout in Halifax.
Ambrosie said the event is part of the league's effort to establish more of a presence in the region, and the initiative did seem to have struck a chord with most fans at his town hall.
Evan McFatridge, who grew up in Newfoundland but is now living in the Halifax area, told the commissioner he is an NFL fan who is open to the idea of a East Coast CFL team.
"When you are stuck out here in the east I just don't feel that connection to the CFL," he said. "But if we had a team here ... easy to get to and support, I'd go to the games and start buying some merchandise and watching more."
But one attendee did buck the trend in the room, voicing concerns about the potential sinking of any public funds into a potential stadium project.
Afterwards, Travis Crowell said he had heard little from the bid group to allay those concerns.
"One thing I haven't heard is much in the way of specifics," Crowell said.
Keith Doucette, The Canadian Press