It was widely speculated after last year's successful Touchdown Atlantic game (pictured above, with Toronto's Jeff Johnson hurdling Edmonton's Roderick Williams) that there would be a second one this coming season. That was made official today, with the CFL releasing an announcement that there will be another neutral-site regular-season game in Moncton sometime this year. Dates and the participating teams are yet to come, but it's worth keeping in mind that the initial rumours mentioned the potential involvement of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats as the "home team". At least they aren't threatening to move there permanently any more, though.
The deal was announced today after Moncton council officially ratified an agreement with the league for the 2011 game. Scotiabank will again be the presenting sponsor of the game and the festivities around it, and it looks like there will be plenty of surrounding events again. That could be crucial to making this game a success, as it no longer has the novelty value of being the league's first neutral-site regular season game.
In fact, the response to this event may wind up telling us quite a lot about if Moncton has the capability to have its own year-round CFL team, or if it's just a convenient location for special events like this. Here's what CFL commissioner Mark Cohon said on that subject in the league's release:
Cohon said the CFL continues to evaluate the opportunity to play more games in Atlantic Canada in the years ahead.
"Time will tell whether we are expanding our footprint in the region, or in a position to consider actual expansion to Atlantic Canada," Cohon said.
"What we do know is the first Scotiabank Touchdown Atlantic was a huge hit, and working with our civic and corporate partners in the region, we're going to strive to make Scotiabank Touchdown Atlantic Two even better."
As I've mentioned before, it's good to see that the league's going slowly and carefully here. The terrific fan response last year, where tickets for the game sold out in 36 hours and people flocked from all around the Maritimes to catch the action, might have motivated a more expansion-inclined league to instantly promise a new franchise, and that would have been the wrong move at this point. The CFL's been hurt before by expanding rapidly without a lot of thought, and while Moncton isn't Shreveport or Las Vegas, the area still hasn't proven yet that it can support a CFL team year-round. It might be able to do so in time, and one of the first key steps along that path will be a strong performance in a Touchdown Atlantic reprise.
This game is going to be one of the critical moments for the CFL this year, and it's great to see that it's back on the schedule. A lot depends on how it goes, though. If last year's success was based on the novelty value and the reception to this one is more muted, that may doom the hopes of expansion to Atlantic Canada for the foreseeable future. If it goes well, that may prompt serious talk of establishing an expansion franchise in Atlantic Canada. Regardless of the outcome, all eyes will be on Moncton at some point this year; we'll just have to wait a while to find out when.