Tuesday, November 6, 2018
HALIFAX STADIUM BECOMING POLITICAL FOOTBALL
But the critical question - how to fund a new stadium - will likely remain unanswered.
"To make a pro sports franchise work you must have a place to play, it's just that simple,'' CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie said, noting that the expansion team's prospects hinge on a suitable stadium being built in Atlantic Canada's largest city.
Critics call public subsidies for stadiums "sports welfare'' for wealthy owners, with limited public benefits; supporters say it is money well spent to create jobs, boost the economy and generate civic pride.
Maritime Football Limited Partnership, made up of former owners of the NHL's Arizona Coyotes and the head of a moving company, cleared a major hurdle last month after Halifax council voted for city staff to do a through business case study on the proposal for a CFL team.
The group says next steps include launching a name-the-team contest and a season-ticket campaign to gauge local enthusiasm - and more importantly whether people will open their wallets for football.
But the biggest obstacle to securing the league's 10th franchise is building a new 24,000-seat stadium.
The partners behind the bid have proposed Shannon Park, vacant land on the east side of Halifax harbour, as the stadium site, and say the $170-million to $190-million project would need public money.
Fans of the CFL bid say a professional sports team would give the community a sense of civic pride, cementing Halifax's status as a first-tier city.
They say investing in a stadium would have a positive economic impact on the region, creating jobs, spurring economic growth and generating tax dollars.
"There is optimism that we can do this as long as everybody is at the table, understanding what the shared risk is,'' Anthony LeBlanc, a former Coyotes co-owner and one of the three founding partners of Maritime Football, told reporters after council's decision to move forward.
He made it clear that while the group could shoulder the cost of the stadium's operations, construction costs would require public funds.
"I don't see how we can continue with a stadium proposal that does not involve at least (the Halifax municipality) and the province, if not the federal government.''
Opponents of publicly funding a stadium point to stacks of research showing that new sports facilities have negligible effects on the economy.
Leading sports economists have found there is almost no evidence that professional sports franchises and facilities have a measurable impact on the economy, with profits largely going to corporate owners, professional sports leagues and athletes.
"Such facilities generate little new revenue for the region, they simply take recreational spending that previously goes to other purposes,'' Bruce Kidd, a University of Toronto kinesiology and physical education professor and former Olympian, says in an email.
"It will be difficult for anyone to make a sound business case, i.e., that it will add to overall regional GDP, let alone ever make enough to pay back the subsidies.''
Still, sports facilities and professional teams can yield benefits to a community, says Liesl Gambold.
The Dalhousie University social anthropology professor and "huge sports fan'' grew up watching NFL football _ her father coached for the Denver Broncos and the Houston Oilers.
"If Halifax wants to claim its position as the most cosmopolitan city east of Montreal, this would be part of that,'' she says, noting that the football team would complement Halifax's robust culture and music scene.
"It's about being part of something bigger than just Maritime culture that spans the country.''