Touchdown Atlantic fails to draw fans

IAN BUSBY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 1:06 AM ET

CALGARY - One thing became apparently clear from the second edition of Touchdown Atlantic, and it won’t make Maritime fans happy.

If Moncton does become the 10th CFL franchise (after No. 9 starts up in Ottawa, as early as 2014, according to league commissioner Mark Cohon), there will be plenty of work to do before it happens.

The lack of a sellout for Sunday’s 55-36 Hamilton Tiger-Cats’ victory over the Calgary Stampeders certainly raised alarm bells.

There were 820 empty seats at Moncton Stadium, but the first Touchdown Atlantic between the Edmonton Eskimos and the Toronto Argonauts sold out in 32 hours.

“If you look around, the empty seats were in the endzone, and not a lot of people want to sit in the endzones,” Cohon said. “Those seats are pretty tight. One of the things we would consider in the future is not having as many people sitting in those endzones.”

Cohon said it’s unlikely there will be a game in Moncton next season, as the 100th anniversary of the Grey Cup will take the league’s priorities in terms of events.

There is still the possibility that in 2013 the Tiger-Cats could play games in Moncton as Ivor Wynne Stadium undergoes a renovation.

Moncton Stadium isn’t ready to host a team full-time. Seating is just one issue. Because it was designed for track and field, the endzones are artificial turf, while there are 112 yards or so of natural grass.

To host the CFL on a regular basis, the facility would need an upgrade of permanent seating, and they would need a capacity of 25,000 to be viable. Tack on a new field, and the cost increases.

Of course, an owner with deep pockets needs to show up willing to inject cash into the league.

Support from the business community would be paramount, which is why Cohon is setting up a council of local leaders to advise him on which direction to go.

The logistics of putting an outpost in Atlantic Canada will also make the other teams suffer, especially the West markets. The Stampeders, who had home games scheduled before and after this trip, took a hit to their routine going out to New Brunswick.

With a three-hour time difference, they were forced to adjust their body clocks to the change, and when they returned, they needed an extra day of rest to recover. Although they play Saturday, the Stamps won’t practice until Wednesday.

If there was a team there permanently, West clubs would need to make two-game road swings to play in Moncton, which would cause a scheduling nightmare.

Plus fans in the Maritimes would have trouble following their team when it headed West. For instance, when the Atlantic team played in Vancouver, night-time kickoffs could be 11:30 p.m. back home.

It would take years for a passionate fan base to be built, and the city would depend on people living within a three-hour radius to get on board.

Maybe these are good first steps, but it will be a long time before a CFL team resides in the Maritimes full-time.

RETURN OF BIG RETURNS

If return coverage teams were lulled into a false sense of security, the last two weeks should have shaken them awake.

Through the majority of this season, there hasn’t been a huge threat to see a spectacular touchdown in the special-teams game.

Well … all it took was for a couple of explosive plays for things to get right back on track, at least to the norm of the past six seasons, not including last year’s 19-touchdown anomaly.

Thanks to Jason Armstead’s 81-yard punt return major against the Alouettes and Marcus Thigpen’s 118-yard missed field-goal return in Touchdown Atlantic, the CFL is back on pace for the usual season in terms of return TDs.

Since 2006, the average is about nine per year, and with six now in the books and one-third of the season left, the league is on pace to maintain that run. Compared with last year, punt returns are actually up this season from 8.8 to 9.3 yards per return, while kickoff returns have stayed steady at 20.1 yards per kick.

For Thigpen, who scored TDs in three different ways, this major was a long time in coming.

“I haven’t had one all year,” Thigpen said. “Coach told me if it wasn’t too deep I could bring it out. I saw it wasn’t deep. I had everybody blocking in front of me, so I went for it.”

ian.busby@sunmedia.ca


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