Canadian Football League hopes to score Touchdowns across the country

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When the Canadian Football League takes its show on the road in 2024, it might try to score a Touchdown outside of Atlantic Canada.

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Commissioner Randy Ambrosie said Tuesday that the success of past Touchdown Atlantic games held in Halifax, N.S., Moncton, N.B. and Wolfville, N.S., has generated interest in three other communities across the country. Atlantic Canada is still very much interested in hosting again, but league planning for 2024 and beyond will now include the possible expansion of the Touchdown series beyond the region.

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“There are other markets that we have visited with, who have reached out to us and indicated that they and their tourism groups are very interested in us bringing a Touchdown festival to their community,” Ambrosie said. “We are now looking well into the future at the possibility of expanding our Touchdown program and making it a bigger platform as a way to increase fandom, increase relevance. To make sure we’re in the hearts and minds of Canadians in all corners of Canada.

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“I think this Touchdown concept is one that is going to be a growth opportunity for the league going forward.”

Touchdown Quebec City has to be a given. But how about Touchdown Vancouver Island? Or Touchdown Okanagan?

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“I won’t name them all,” Ambrosie said.

The league on Tuesday announced the 2023 Touchdown Atlantic game will feature the Toronto Argonauts as home team and the Saskatchewan Roughriders as the visitors and will be held July 29 in Huskies Stadium on the campus of Saint Mary’s University in Halifax.

The same two teams hooked up last summer in Wolfville in a game that sold out in a single day. Ambrosie said the league could have sold another 3,000 tickets had they built more capacity than the 10,886 seats available.

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The Touchdown game is a league-run property rather than a typical regular-season game produced by the home team, and the ancillary festival is a key component.

“We kind of think about it as a bit of a miniature Grey Cup,” Ambrosie said. “We run a festival, which is such a great opportunity to bring football fans together in a very unique and special way. It’s a way to engage that community in Atlantic Canada and punctuate how important they are to our league. We want Atlantic Canadians to know they are part of the CFL family.”

The hope, of course, is that the region eventually becomes home to the 10th CFL franchise. If the league is to grow even beyond that number, ownership groups in other regions of the country have to show interest and an ability to join the club. Expansion of the Touchdown series games could therefore play a role in gauging that capacity.

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“(B.C. Lions owner) Amar Doman coined the phrase ‘games before teams,’” Ambrosie said. “It is a remarkably interesting way to think about the rationale for these events. Take a game there, have a great success, create a lot of energy. You also have an opportunity to create an economic benefit to those communities, which speaks well to the long-term opportunity to potentially bring a football team to those markets. I’m a big supporter of Amar’s ‘games before teams’ vision.”

He’s also grateful to the Riders and their loyal fans for their interest in crossing the country to play as the visitors on a recurring basis.

“Their fans have been a remarkably positive part of Touchdown Atlantic. There’s no mistaking that having the Riders back for another game was an easy decision,” Ambrosie said. “But I can promise you this, we could have easily selected the (Winnipeg Blue) Bombers, for example. That passionate fan base would have travelled well and I can say with confidence that applies to a number of our markets.”

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The Argonauts have been an even more important element in the success of the Touchdown series because they continue to offer up a home game away from BMO Field.

“One of the things I love about the Argonauts is they have a big-picture view of our future, and like the league they really see this as a way of growing our fandom, making us relevant in an entirely new region,” Ambrosie said. “And their fans also travel very well and we’ve seen a large group of Argonaut fans at the last two Touchdown events.

“It really starts with Toronto’s leadership offering us a game to take to Touchdown Atlantic, and then it kind of goes into the scheduling matrix. We had a number of teams put up their hands.”

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