Atlantic Canada CFL team now eyes 2021 start in Moncton, N.B.

Anthony LeBlanc has tempered his enthusiasm.

LeBlanc said Friday the expectation now is for the CFL’s Atlantic Schooners to be ready to play in 2021 in Moncton, N.B., while a new stadium is being built in Halifax. This past winter, LeBlanc contended if all went well, the expansion franchise could begin play in 2020.

“We want to get started as soon as possible but we have to be cognizant of the work that goes into this,” LeBlanc said in a telephone interview. “It’s not a surprise it’s taking longer than we expected … and we just need to be realistic.

“I don’t think it’s realistic at this point to even consider 2020. Look, nobody’s more frustrated with the timing than I am but the last thing we want to do is rush this. We’ve got ensure we’re good partners and whatever we provide we want it to be fully baked and give us the best shot at this working.”

LeBlanc is co-founder of Schooners Sports and Entertainment (formerly Maritime Football Limited), which is the group looking to secure a CFL franchise for Halifax. Also on Friday, LeBlanc announced SSE has lowered ticket prices for the Aug. 25 Touchdown Atlantic game in Moncton between the Montreal Alouettes and Toronto Argonauts.

Admission now will be as low as $29. When the game was confirmed in March, tickets started at $65.

“Whenever it’s a single event versus season tickets or nine regular-season games, there’s always going to be some level of uptick,” LeBlanc said. “But I think we were way too aggressive when we first went out.

“Admittedly when the prices were suggested to me, my initial thought was, ‘Those seem high.’ It’s one of those cases that I wish I would’ve said something then but we still have two months to go so I think it’s fine.”

LeBlanc said early ticket sales were solid, especially with the higher-end ones, before fans in the region began voicing their concerns. The $29 tickets are in a general-admission area in one of the end zones at Croix-Bleue Medavie Stadium while those in the other end zone, also general admission, are $45.

“We started hearing from many people throughout the region that the ticket prices were just not accessible, in particular, for families and students,” he said. “So we decided to create a family zone so people could bring their kids.

“That allowed us to put together a much more fan-friendly price point. Then many key sponsors who we’re working with on this game put their hands up to help be a part of the ticketing package to kind of cushion the blow and it was their support that allowed us to come out and kind of re-launch.”

The cheapest grandstand ticket is $65. The stadium has 10,000 permanent seats and can be expanded to a capacity of 20,725.

The Ticketmaster seating map for the game Friday had large chunks of unsold seats on the sidelines.

Original ticket prices for the game — which will be the fourth CFL regular-season contest in Moncton — were significantly higher than what both the Argos ($21) and Alouettes ($26) have as their cheapest seats for their next home games.

Fans who purchased tickets at higher prices will be offered credit towards additional tickets, season tickets for the Atlantic Schooners inaugural season or a refund for the difference between the price points.

However, the biggest hurdle facing SSE is the construction of a suitable stadium for the CFL franchise.

The initial proposal called for a facility to be built at Shannon Park for between $170 and $190 million. In April, SSE unveiled a proposal for a scaled-back stadium that could be built for $130 million but expanded in the future.

SSE has signed a letter of intent with Canada Lands Company, the federal Crown corporation that owns Shannon Park.

“We’re basically hunkered down with Canada Lands Company,” LeBlanc said. “What we’ve done jointly is hire two or three best-of-breed consultants to come in and assist us with the business plan that we’re putting together for HRM (Halifax Regional Municipality).

“Basically when we present this to Halifax, it will have independent third-party analysis of what that site can support along with other things like traffic studies and environmental studies. We still feel confident we’ll be able to present and have Halifax senior staff review and hopefully get a recommendation to council by the end of the calendar year.”

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