CFL commissioner Mark Cohon is ready to focus on putting a franchise in Atlantic Canada.
With the CFL's new TV deal signed, its 100th Grey Cup in the books, the new Ottawa franchise set to make its debut in 2014, and a bevy of new stadiums afoot, Cohon is talking to local leaders in places like Moncton and Halifax about a team that could be embraced by all of Atlantic Canada.
The CFL's third Touchdown Atlantic game will pit the Montreal Alouettes against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats on Sept. 21 at l'Université de Moncton, which played host to games in 2010 and 2011.
Halifax Mayor Mike Savage recently visited Toronto to meet with Cohon about putting a team in Halifax.
"There is a new, very progressive mayor in Halifax who has stated to me his interest in being a strong city builder, and the CFL and a new stadium could be a strong catalyst for urban development in Halifax and the whole region," Cohon said Friday. "There is a lot of interest and encouragement from our owners and board members saying, 'Okay Mark, you've got Ottawa coming back next year, how else are we going to expand and make this league stronger? Part of the national dream has been a team in the Maritimes, so start cultivating the relationships and working on it.'"
Cohon said he foresees an Atlantic team with a home stadium in one city, but which holds some games or training camps in other cities. He added that executives of some CFL national corporate sponsors are interested in being part of the project.
"It would be a great opportunity for the people of the Maritimes to be more connected to the rest of Canada through the power of the CFL, having some 700,000 to 800,000 people each game watch your team play on TV," Cohon said. "Imagine the pride it can bring to a region, the local jobs and impact on the economy and tourism. We really like the idea of the CFL being a part of something like that."
The next step is market research and getting involved with leaders in the Atlantic provinces. Cohon is not putting a timeline on the project.
"We really have to get through Touchdown Atlantic, talk to leaders in Moncton, to the mayor in Halifax and businesses there, and then we would make a decision about what's the right city for us," Cohon said. "Then cultivate a business plan around a possible stadium build and what that project could do holistically for city-building. The message now to fans is that we're serious, and the time is right to get working on this because of the strength of the modern CFL."