As American sports begins its upcoming lean into franchise relocation and expansion, it is good to remember that the greatest expansion team of them all still doesn't actually exist and never did. You know them, you love them, you just can't see them: they are the Atlantic Schooners—the ghost ship of the Canadian Football League.
But it’s not news that they don't exist, given that they don’t exist for the 41st consecutive year. The news is that someone has a bold new idea for ending their nonexistence.
The temporary permanent pop-up stadium.
The Schooners were granted conditional entry into the CFL back in 1982, with the only hang-up being a stadium in or near Halifax, Nova Scotia. The stadium was adjudged to be absurdly expensive by Nova Scotian economic realities, and the team never actually formed into a tangible thing. And there it sat locked in stasis until Wednesday, when CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie enthusiastically entertained the idea of a pop-up stadium on the grounds of the local soccer team that would seat somewhere between 15,000 and 20,000. A pop-up stadium is basically a much glorified non-Texas high school stadium that wouldn't cost even remotely what your standard American stadium runs—think low tens of millions rather than billions.
And it seems to invigorate Ambrosie, as well as the Halifax stadium geeks who have been dogged in seeking a place to vivify the Schooners and the stadium dream described by one local publication as "decaying but persistent." "Decaying" is not an ideal way to describe any architectural project, but this has been on someone's drawing board for four decades, or twice as long as it takes for an American stadium to be built, filled, and declared obsolescent by the people who wanted it in the first place. I mean, that's pretty temporary too if you think about it, at only 90 times the cost.
“I think we’ve recognized that asking a region to build a (more traditional) stadium when they never had a team before may be a stretch," Ambrosie said in January in talking up this summer's Toronto-Saskatchewan game at Halifax's Huskies Stadium, which seats 2,000 but will be expanded to 11,000 for the game. "But could we expand the stadium using a temporary-permanent concept? Could we do that and use that as a platform to build a future for football in a marketplace? That conversation has helped this and we hope that that’ll advance discussions in the Maritimes.”
In other words, a stadium expansion made largely of metal bleachers that will seem like torture devices when the wind comes in off the Atlantic with the force of Satan's lungs, but a lot kinder to the city than a nine-figure permanent stadium that may not ever be satisfactorily filled. The temporary-permanent pop-up is a way to gauge longer-term interest without flirting with provincial bankruptcy, and if it seems small-time, the alternative has been no time. And for those few of us who have reached out for Schooners gear just out of sheer perversity and won't ever have to sit in the bleachers on a rainy Friday night in mid-October when winter turns to Norway, the pop-up is a grand idea to whet the Maritime attitude for what they really want:
NFL football. Which would utterly and comprehensively eat kebabs of scorpion venom–infused chicken and rotting pork, because the Schooners must not be sacrificed on the aluminum upholstery of the relocated Jacksonville Jaguars.