CFL's Cohon pitches 'dream' of Maritime team

Canadian Football League commissioner Mark Cohon stopped in Moncton on Monday to pitch the "romantic dream" of connecting the country through football.

1,400 tickets are still available for Sept. 21 game between Montreal and Hamilton

Mark Cohon, the CFL commissioner, said he's having discussions with business leaders and mayors in Moncton and Halifax about a potential franchise in the Maritimes. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

Canadian Football League commissioner Mark Cohon used a stop in Moncton on Monday to pitch the "romantic dream" of connecting the country through football.

The league is preparing to host its third regular season game in Moncton on Sept. 21 at the University of Moncton’s stadium.

But with less than two weeks to go, there are still more than 1,400 tickets available, even with fewer seats than previous games.

Cohon said the upcoming game will be a litmus test for a potential franchise and the league is watching the support the game receives in the city.

While it may take several years for Moncton to land its own CFL team, Cohon said the option is still very much on the table.

"I think this is such a great region. The romantic dream of linking the country from coast to coast with a CFL team has always been there," Cohon said.

"But we are now at the point where we can really start to talk about it, and that is what we are doing. I think it has to be a regional approach. It can't just be Halifax or Moncton. We are starting to have those conversations both with the mayor here, the mayor in Halifax and with business leaders."

Cohon said the community also needs to show it has the fans to fill the seats for 10 games a season.

Moncton Mayor George LeBlanc said he is hopeful there will be a last-minute rush for tickets for the Touchdown Atlantic game, which will see the Hamilton Tiger-Cats play the Montreal Alouettes.

He said he isn’t worried about whether the game will sell out.

"Certainly we do want it to sell out. We want it to sell out in a big way and I'm sure that we will," he said.

"We've got about two weeks until the game and I think now that we're getting closer it's more top of mind and people are excited to go."

Ticket prices range from $49 to $95.

Moncton sold out 2010 game

Moncton sold out its first game in 2010 and sold 97 per cent of the roughly 20,000 tickets for its second event in 2011.

Only 16,000 tickets will be available for this year's game, said LeBlanc.

"In part, it's because the seats weren't working out that well on the end zone," he said. "They were going a little bit too high and so for that reason we've brought them down in order to bring them in closer to the game and I'm absolutely confident we're going to sell this game out. It's going to be a sell-out, it's going to be very exciting."

Dieppe Mayor Yvon LaPierre isn't worried either.

"Generally, in the southeast, people make a decision three, four, five days before, so I would expect and hope that it will be full," he said.

The CFL did not send two teams to Atlantic Canada in 2012 because the league was celebrating the 100th Grey Cup.

Stadium would need upgrades

The idea of a Maritime CFL franchise has been circulating for several years.

Cohon has estimated the Moncton stadium would likely need $100 million in upgrades to meet the league’s standards, including additional seating and better entertainment areas.

"You have to have a CFL-quality stadium," he said. "I think you'd have to have the business leaders on board. I think you really have to think about can the entire community — local businesses and you have to have enough people who want to come to ten regular season games — 10 games you know, one pre-season, nine regular season games."

The chief executive officer of the Greater Moncton Chamber of Commerce says a football team would be nice, but plans for a new downtown sports and entertainment centre is still at the top of the wish list.

"We have to be realistic in our expectations," said Carol O'Reilly. "We also have to have expectations that are going to make us successful. So I think what we need to do is concentrate on one major project at a time, and then move on from that."

Halifax, which is also considered as a contender for a CFL franchise, does not have a stadium that could hold a professional football team.

Halifax Mayor Mike Savage said in July he met with Cohon to discuss the possibility of a new stadium.

Savage said the economic climate has changed in the Nova Scotia capital and there's a strong desire in the city — not just for a football team, but a world-class facility.