Naylor: Is Moncton a viable option for CFL expansion?

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Dave Naylor
9/27/2010 2:30:36 PM
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There's almost no one who doesn't want to see the Canadian Football League expand to Atlantic Canada.

Not fans in any of the CFL's existing eight cities, not the league head office in Toronto and certainly not the folks in New Brunswick, PEI and Nova Scotia who snapped up 20,000 tickets for Sunday's game between the Toronto Argonauts and Edmonton Eskimos in about 30 hours back in the spring.

What the CFL has proven so far is that it's possible to stage a neutral site CFL game in Atlantic Canada and make it a roaring success. But the question on everyone's mind this weekend is 'could this city and this region support its own team?'

And make no mistake, with Ottawa on schedule to return to the CFL for the 2013 season, there would be nothing better for the CFL than expansion to 10 teams, balancing the schedule with five games every week, creating two five-team divisions and immediately making the playoff chase more competitive.

Never mind the fact that having a team on the East Coast would allow the CFL to brand itself as a truly national league.

First the positives on Moncton as a potential CFL site.

Moncton Snapshot

City Population (2006 census) 64,128
Metro Population 126,424
Population within 1 hour drive 250,000
Population within 2.5 hours 1.3 million
Building permit growth 2008 to '09 78.5 per cent
Percentage of metro population age 20-39 28.7 per cent
Median Family Income (2005) $59,813 (NB -- $52,500, Can -- $60,600)
Unemployment rate (Dec. '09) 5.5 per cent (Canadian average 8.4 per cent)
Moncton Distance from Halifax: 273 km | Fredericton: 182 km | St. John: 152 km | Charlottetown: 172 km

To the surprise of many across this country, Moncton is a bit of a hotbed of minor and high school football. The city's minor football has been around for 50 years, with its original teams all named after CFL clubs. High school football regularly draws crowds of 2,500 to 3,000, with crowds so rabid they're more likely to make one think of Texas than New Brunswick.

There is strong political support behind the idea of having a team in the city and word that potential investors have already stepped up, at least ready and willing to have the conversation. And consider that the 20,000 tickets sold for Sunday's game likely represent the largest paid gate for an Argo ''home'' game this season, in a market with a metro area that is 1/45th the size of the Greater Toronto Area.

The CFL has proven that size really doesn't matter as much as passion. The Saskatchewan Roughriders, playing in a city of just over 200,000 are the league's most profitable team while the Toronto Argonauts, playing in a market of 5.7 million, are its biggest money losers.

Now the downside.

There's no stadium suitable for hosting a team and it's hard to say whether the 10,000-seat track-and-field stadium at the University of Moncton is reasonably expandable to CFL standards on a fulltime basis. The better option might be to start from scratch but that likely means an investment of at least $75 million from the public and private sectors.

Modular stadiums might come cheaper but you're still talking about a $50 million investment.

Revenue

Gate Revenue $7 million
Sponsorship $3 million
Game Day proceeds $1 million
League Distribution $2 million
Merchandise/Misc $2 million
Total $15 million

Expenses

Football Operations $9 million
Marketing $1.5 million
Administration $2.5 million
Miscellaneous $2 million
Total $15 million

With about 125,000 people in its metro area, Moncton would obviously have to pull from the larger population that surrounds it, as it has for other events such as huge rock concerts featuring the Rollting Stones, ACDC and The Eagles. But there's some concern that folks in such places as Halifax won't necessarily jump on board a CFL team in Moncton, especially when it comes to season tickets.

As a comparison, about 85 per cent of Saskatchewan Roughrider season ticket holders live in Regina, about 5 per cent in Saskatoon and the rest scattered across the province. So even if you can successfully regionalize your team's brand, as the Roughriders have done in Saskatchewan, the majority of support has to come from close by.

And that's leads us to the question of corporate support. Moncton, by professional sports standards, has a tiny corporate base, smaller than Saskatoon or Regina. That might make things challenging both for sponsorship and season tickets, since corporate clients are need to buy up the expensive seats.

Maritimers love to think big and show they can do more than the rest of the country believes is possible. The CFL is happy to let them try to turn this dream into a reality.



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