The CFL would be better off with 10 teams in the league. And the CFL wants that 10th team to be in the East, more specifically, the Maritimes.
If a team is going to be in the Maritimes, that team will either be in Moncton, New Brunswick or Halifax, Nova Scotia. With the 2013 Touchdown Atlantic in Moncton after a year off, I wanted to see first-hand whether the CFL can find a home in the Maritimes.
Halifax is the bigger city, while Moncton has a potential stadium. Both cities have a fine airport and Via Rail stops.
Moncton is heralded as a city in the middle, being able to draw from New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island. Having traveled around the region, Moncton is definitely centrally located. And Moncton has hosted these three Touchdown Atlantic games.
Here are some of my observations:
-- If you sat in the main seating structure, you would find Moncton Stadium to be delightful. Some shade, actual seats, no sun in your eyes for late afternoon contests. Concession stands and rest rooms. Not a bad setup.
If you sat on the opposite side, you got bench seating and the full brunt of the sun and wind. You had to rely on portable potties and temporary food stands. Yikes. Even with hurrying to the portable potties, I still missed the second half kickoff.
That situation would have to change … and quickly.
I saw jerseys from every team including the Ottawa Rough Riders and the RedBlacks. Yes, fans traveled from around the Maritimes (saw a few New England jerseys, too). But this game drew fans from Hamilton and Montréal, well a lot more fans from Hamilton. Yet, attendance was under 16,000.
The crowd in Moncton was still higher than any game in Guelph. But Guelph is a temporary solution.
I am surprised Moncton got as many fans as they did. I paid $69 plus fees well in advance for my seat on the goal line at the highest row on the crappy side of the field. I could not have done worse if I tried. Yes, this was a special event, but if I had to pay that much for that poor of a seat, I'd be watching the game on TV.
The sun was so bright that you thought that the yard markers hadn't been put on the field. Wasn't until the second half that fans on that side could finally see the yard markers. Hard to watch a game where you don't know where the ball is.
The end zone seats were obviously worse, but chances are they were overpriced, too.
There aren't seats that wrap around between the two sets of stands and the end zone seats. Some of that open space would have to be sacrificed to get the capacity to 25,000.
Putting a CFL franchise in the Maritimes is a wonderful idea, but Moncton Stadium — even with capacity improvement — wouldn't be able to host a Grey Cup. That would be frustrating as a CFL fan if my team couldn't ever host the Grey Cup.
Despite the lukewarm reception, I think Moncton or Halifax could support a team of its own. Having its own players, better accommodations, and cheaper ticket prices would encourage 25,000-30,000 people to make a trip 9 times a year to watch the CFL.
The stadium is at the Université de Moncton, centrally located in the city. I did find a bus route that went to the stadium, but there were no additional buses. Parking was an issue as drivers were told to park at the Moncton Coliseum and take a shuttle bus. Also much harder to tailgate if your car is nowhere near the stadium.
The university couldn't handle parking for 15,000 spectators.
Starting times will be curious for a potential CFL team in the Maritimes. The 5 pm kickoff was a curious pick until you realize that the games started in Vancouver at 1 pm. If the weather were less than ideal, that starting time would have been brutal. I did get to watch a Moncton sunset thanks to the western view from the crappy seats.
Night time games couldn't start earlier than 8 pm local time.
Moncton Stadium was built in 2010. You look at the good sideline and you totally understand how new it is. But this stadium doesn't compare to Investors Group Field in Winnipeg or the new stadiums in Hamilton and Regina. This doesn't even compare to Empire Stadium in Vancouver or BMO Field in Toronto or Saputo Stadium in Montréal. The part that is supposed to be beautiful is very very nice. The rest of it needs a lot of work.
If Moncton gets a CFL team, that work shouldn't be that difficult. But the bigger question is why the city/province didn't build a ready-to-go stadium in 2010?
Halifax has places the stadium can go, but hasn't had the will to make that happen.
Vancouver built a temporary stadium (Empire Stadium) for not that much money that had great capacity and looked great on television. Why couldn't Moncton or Halifax build something similar, except a more permanent structure?
Quebec City is building a new NHL arena, even without a guarantee of getting a team (though it probably will get a team at some point). Moncton and Halifax have a virtual guarantee of a CFL team, a much stronger guarantee than Quebec City will ever have. Universities can play on that field. Concerts and mass events can also go in these stadiums. A stadium can serve a community purpose well beyond sports, especially in these communities.
The Maritimes are characterized as being economically disadvantaged. And you certainly don't want a syndrome where the funding rests on the shoulders of these communities. But a larger stadium in Moncton or a large stadium in Halifax can bring prestige, opportunity, and, more importantly, tourism bucks. I wanted to see New Brunswick for a lot of reasons. But the Touchdown Atlantic CFL game got me to make plans for a trip.
CFL Commissioner Mark Cohon has talked about a CFL that stretches coast-to-coast. For all the talk about hockey being Canada's game, the nearest Canadian-based team is in Montréal. You can understand why a number of people in this community root for Boston teams. This is the opportunity to showcase a beautiful part of Canada and give people the opportunity to see the area in a different light.
No disrespect intended to Saskatchewan fans, but my potential interest in making a visit to Saskatchewan is to see the Roughriders and their fans up close. The CFL has inspired me to consider a potential trip. Without the CFL, I don't know if that would have happened.
Moncton or Halifax could be that place for the Maritimes. All they need is a CFL-worthy stadium. They have everything else.
photo credit: me; map credit: Google