LeBlanc: TD Atlantic bringing added hype to Maritime expansion effort

TORONTO — The Canadian Football League will return to the Maritimes for another edition of Touchdown Atlantic for Week 11.

Unlike some of the other games that were played in Moncton, N.B. in the past, now there’s a real chance that there could be an expansion team coming to Atlantic Canada in the near future.

In the latest edition of The Waggle presented by Sport Clips, Donnovan Bennett and Davis Sanchez spoke with Anthony LeBlanc, a founding partner of Schooners Sports and Entertainment, to discuss Sunday’s game, the excitement surrounding the event, and the potential of an expansion team landing in Halifax.

Episode 172: Drama in T.O. + Time for TD Atlantic

EPISODE OVERVIEW: Schooners Sports and Entertainment co-founder Anthony LeBlanc jumps on the pod to talk about this weekend’s Touchdown Atlantic in Moncton.  Listen to the interview below (at the 52:00 mark).

“(The hype) has really started to pick up these last few weeks,” LeBlanc said. “Admittedly, out of the gates, there were a couple of missteps in regards to the same time in the evening, which we’ve been able to to move to the afternoon, which has really helped. A Sunday afternoon game with tours of people from where I am right now in Halifax that can make it to the game and not have to worry about missing a day of work on Monday.

“… We’re really starting to see a lot of excitement so we can’t wait.”

Sunday’s showdown between the Montreal Alouettes and the Toronto Argonauts will be the fourth installment of Touchdown Atlantic. However, the first two games that went to Atlantic Canada were played in Halifax, where Schooners Sports and Entertainment is trying to bring CFL football full-time.

The city does have the University of Saint Mary’s — the preseason games were played at Huskies Stadium — as well as the QMJHL’s Mooseheads and the Canadian Premier League’s Halifax Wanderers FC.

“There is a pretty strong football culture here in Atlantic Canada at the youth level and the university level. But I think what this will do is just take it to the next level, and there’s no question,” LeBlanc said. “My full-time residence is in Ottawa, and there was a real pickup and enthusiasm when the REDBLACKS returned to the league.

“When you look at those examples, you get excited for what’s possible here in Halifax.”

One of the biggest obstacles surrounding the discussions for a team in Halifax is the lack of a stadium. LeBlanc revealed that the city considered bidding for the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup as well as other big events, but without a facility, those dreams fell by the wayside. They’ve teamed up with Sport Nova Scotia, who represents every sports organization in the province, to come up with a plan to help bring larger spectacles to Halifax.

“We think that, by working with Sport Nova Scotia, we’ve developed a model that de-risks the city and province, and most importantly, people that live here in the community and pay their hard-earned taxes,” he said. “We’re really excited and we think that when people see the analysis and the thoughtfulness that went into this proposal, that there should be pretty strong support.”

LeBlanc says that they are planning to split the stadium in half. One sideline, which they refer to as the community side, will feature 14,000-16,000 seats and have all the required facilities. The other sideline that’s required for CFL readiness will be funded exclusively by Schooners Sports and Entertainment.

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So with all the excitement surrounding Touchdown Atlantic this weekend, how close are we to seeing the 10th team join the league?

“I can share that we have provided an update to the staff at the Halifax Regional Municipality that they will have our full-documented report, proposal, and business plan by the end of this month,” LeBlanc said. “We’re working very closely with our partners at Canada Lands Co. right now, as well as third-party groups.

“We are confident and that’s why we’ve provided that update, that in the next week to two weeks, they will have that business plan that everyone has been waiting on.”

This will be the fourth Touchdown Atlantic game to be played in a CFL regular season. The previous three games took place in 2010, 2011, and 2013. This will be the second time that both Montreal and Toronto feature in the spectacle. The Argos played in the inaugural game against the Edmonton Eskimos back in 2010. The Als played the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in the 2013 iteration. Neither squad left Moncton with a victory.

The Alouettes and Argos will go head to head for the first time this season at Croix-Bleue Medavie Stadium in Moncton on Sunday. Opening kick-off is slated for 12:00 p.m. ET.