Halifax bid picks up steam as CFL announces Atlantic Canada game

Randy Ambrosie tosses a football as he speaks during a press conference in Toronto on July 5, 2017. The Canadian Football League's commissioner will be in Halifax Friday, for what's expected to be a morale booster to those hoping the city will gain a professional team. Randy Ambrosie issued a news release noting the league has made the Nova Scotia capital the sole non-franchise city on his national tour. (Frank Gunn/CP)

TORONTO — The Canadian Football League will stage a regular-season game in Atlantic Canada in 2019, continuing the drive to put a franchise in Halifax within a few years.

The 2019 schedule, unveiled on Thursday, will see the Toronto Argonauts face the Montreal Alouettes on Sunday, Aug. 25 in an undetermined location in Atlantic Canada.

The "Touchdown Atlantic" game will be presented by the owners of the proposed Halifax CFL franchise, the Atlantic Schooners.

Schooners Sports and Entertainment (SSE) says it will unveil the location for the game in the new year.

"We’re expecting it will illustrate to the CFL and the local powers-that-be that there’s very strong support for the CFL in the Atlantic provinces," SSE founding partner Anthony LeBlanc said in an interview.

"It whets the appetite of the local football fans to go out and watch a regular-season game."

LeBlanc said several potential sites are being considered, including venues in Moncton, N.B., Halifax and at St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish, N.S.

While some sites can hold up to 14,000 fans, LeBlanc said temporary seating could be used to expand some locations to accommodate up to 20,000.

"That’s really the challenge right now — figuring out which location has the best expandability and a community that can support this," he said, adding that the CFL asked the Schooners organization about hosting the game only two weeks ago.

LeBlanc’s group will be responsible for sponsorships, ticket sales and supplying food, beverages and merchandise.

The Argos, who had the worst home attendance in the nine-team league this year, will serve as the home team and will give up a game at BMO Field.

"As the oldest professional sports team in North America and one of the most storied franchises in Canadian football, the Argos feel a special responsibility to grow our great game," Argos president Bill Manning said in a statement.

"That’s why we agreed to move one home game out east, to contribute to the momentum behind the Schooners’ bid to make a CFL dream come true by making ours a coast-to-coast league."

The CFL will return to Atlantic Canada for the first time since 2013 when the league staged the last of three regular-season games in Moncton.

The regular season kicks off June 13 when Hamilton plays host to the Saskatchewan Roughriders in Tiger-Cats head coach Orlondo Steinauer’s debut.

A Grey Cup rematch follows on June 15 when the reigning champion Calgary Stampeders entertain the Ottawa Redblacks. Later that night, new B.C. coach DeVone Claybrooks will guide the Lions for the first time against the visiting Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

New Argos coach Corey Chamblin waits until June 22 for his first game after Toronto gets a bye in Week 1. The Argos play host to the Tiger-Cats in their season opener.

The league is holding 20 "Saturday Prime" games, all starting at 7 p.m. ET. "Friday Night Football" makes 24 appearances and there are Thursday night games the first 10 weeks of the season.

The traditional Labour Day weekend clashes also are on the schedule — Winnipeg at Saskatchewan on Sunday, Sept. 1 and then Toronto at Hamilton and Edmonton at Calgary on Monday, Sept. 2. The Argos-Ticats Labour Day game is the opening game of a doubleheader with a 1 p.m. ET start after the league drew criticism for having it start in the evening last year.

The Argos also will have a home game on the opening night of the Canadian National Exhibition, facing Edmonton on Aug. 16. Toronto’s largest crowd in 2018 came during their CNE game.

"As soon as the Grey Cup trophy is presented, we switch from football season to business season and the release of the schedule is a highlight," CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie said.

The final 12 games of the season are all divisional contests.

The Grey Cup is Nov. 24 in Calgary.

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