Olympic Stadium is lit to the colours of the rainbow in solidarity to healthcare workers in Montreal, Monday, April 6, 2020. Operators of Montreal's Olympic Stadium say they are interested in hosting NFL games. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson

Officials at Montreal’s Olympic Stadium, BC Place express interest in NFL

Officials at Montreal’s Olympic Stadium, BC Place express interest in NFL

Operators of Montreal’s Olympic Stadium and Vancouver’s BC Place say they are interested in exploring opportunities to host NFL games.

The provincial body that runs Olympic Stadium for the Quebec government and the provincial Crown corporation that runs BC Place said in separate statements Wednesday the NFL could be a good fit for their facilities.

On Tuesday, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said the league has set its sights on playing in Canada as part of it expanding its regular season from 16 games to 17. Starting in 2022, every franchise will play a game internationally at least once every eight years.

The NFL says it will focus initially on playing games in Canada, the United Kingdom, Mexico, Europe and South America.

Most of the biggest crowds in CFL history have been at Olympic Stadium, with the league-high being 69,093 for a Montreal Alouettes game in 1977.

The Alouettes now play at outdoor Molson Stadium, a smaller venue.

“We’re always open for opportunities to host sporting events,” Alain Larochelle, vice-president of business development for Olympic Stadium operator Olympic Park, said in a statement. “The Montreal Olympic Stadium has a rich history with North American football, especially with the CFL, the Grey Cup and the Montreal Alouettes, who still hold the record for the largest sport attendance in the history of the stadium.

“We would be very interested in hosting an NFL game and we are eager to show the numerous planned investments and the many possibilities of the Montreal Olympic Stadium to the promoters around the globe.”

BC Place, which is operated by B.C. Pavilion Corporation, released a similar statement.

“The NFL’s international game scheduling plan is an exciting and interesting development for sports fans in Canada,” the statement said.

“As British Columbia’s premier, best in class stadium with a successful track record hosting some of North America’s greatest sporting events and live entertainment, BC Place is ideally suited to hosting major events of this scale and format. While no discussions have been entered into at this time, we look forward to exploring any potential opportunities this announcement offers for BC Place and football fans in B.C.”

Meanwhile, an Edmonton spokesperson said the city would be open to hosting the NFL at Commonwealth Stadium, but has not been approached about the possibility.

Officials at Toronto’s Rogers Centre did not immediately respond to an interview request.

Olympic Stadium, BC Place, Commonwealth Stadium and Rogers Centre are Canada’s biggest stadiums that can host football. The CFL’s B.C. Lions and Edmonton Football Team play at BC Place and Commonwealth Stadium, respectively, while the Toronto Argonauts play at BMO Field, a smaller venue than Rogers Centre.

The idea of playing an NFL regular-season game in his hometown is something that definitely appeals to Montreal’s Benjamin St-Juste. The six-foot-four, 200-pound cornerback at the University of Minnesota is projected as a third- to fourth-round selection in this year’s draft.

“It would be amazing,” St-Juste told reporters during a videoconference Wednesday, the day before he’s scheduled to audition for scouts at Minnesota’s pro day. “That would be great representation for Canadian football and Canadian players.

“The whole family, friends would be able to come see. That would be a great opportunity for me.”

The NFL played a full season in 2020, while the CFL cancelled its campaign because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The CFL announced recently it is in discussions with the American-based XFL about a possible partnership.

“While we have a great deal of respect for the NFL, we’re focused on our own schedule as we busily prepare for our return to the field in 2021,” the CFL said in a statement when asked about the NFL’s comments by The Canadian Press.

The NFL has held numerous exhibition games in Canada, but the Buffalo Bills were the only team to play regular-season contests north of the border. They staged one regular-season game annually from 2008 to 2013 at Rogers Centre as part of the Bills Toronto Series, an eight-game format (later reduced to seven) conceived by former Bills owner Ralph Wilson, Ted Rogers of Rogers Communications and Larry Tanenbaum of Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment.

The league has played at least one game every year (except last year) in London, England, since 2007 and has staged three games in Mexico in recent years.

Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver, Ottawa, Hamilton and Winnipeg have hosted NFL pre-season games.

Winnipeg did so most recently in 2019, but it wasn’t a good night for game organizers.

The game between the Oakland Raiders and Green Bay Packers was played on a shortened field because of concerns about the turf in the end zones.

Minutes prior to the opening play, the Packers announced they would not dress 33 players.

— with files from Dan Ralph

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 31, 2021.

The Canadian Press

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