Professional football in Fargo?…..
Anyone who is a football fan probably remembers the Canadian Football League expanding into the United States in 1993 with seven teams.
By Marvin Baker
One of them was the Sacramento Gold Miners, a team that existed prior to 1993, playing in a league called the World League of American Football as the Sacramento Surge.
It was a precedent-setting step, and after the Gold Miners officially became part of the CFL, six additional teams in Baltimore, Shreveport, Las Vegas, San Antonio, Birmingham and Memphis, popped up for the 1993 season. During those first two years, plans were to also have teams in Miami and Jackson, Miss. Four years later, the American expansion was a failure, and all the teams had folded, even Baltimore, which had the best attendance and won the Grey Cup in 1995.
Before any of that ever happened, there were a lot of pie-in-the-sky ideas about where the CFL should be going. One of the places under consideration was Fargo, primarily because by 1990, just about everybody in southern Manitoba was driving to Fargo to spend weekends and shop retail. As we all know, a team didn’t materialize.
Fast forward 25 years, and the CFL is once again expanding with a team in Halifax called the Atlantic Schooners. When the Schooners become part of the league, they will join the other nine teams in British Columbia, Edmonton, Calgary, Saskatchewan, Winnipeg, Hamilton, Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal. But the CFL’s Board of Governors is looking to expand again, and you guessed it, into the United States.
According to news reports, the board of governors learned a huge lesson in 1993 by placing teams far away from the border such as Birmingham and Shreveport. This time around, the intent is to locate teams that are close to the border such as Detroit or Niagara Falls. Also, this time around, the possible expansion locations aren’t pie-in-the-sky ideas but solid plans pushed forward by the CFL Board of Governors.
Yes, Detroit would be a good option, but teams might also be placed in Anchorage, Spokane, Boise, Salt Lake City, Syracuse, Portland, Maine and yes, Fargo. The proposed Fargo franchise already has a nickname. It would be called the Fargo Railroad.
Everyone understands there is a strong college football presence in Fargo, and I’m sure you’re first question is how does a CFL team compete with NDSU for attendance, TV contracts and spinoff dollars?
It turns out the Fargo idea is the brainchild of David Asper, one of the most influential businessmen in the city of Winnipeg. Asper is part of CKND-TV in Winnipeg, the flagship station of Canwest Global, Canada’s third national television network. Mr. Asper, who is a member of the CFL Board of Governors, said the Fargo Railroad would be a great rivalry for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. There’s no doubt about that as Fargo and Winnipeg already have a strong rivalry in baseball in the Winnipeg Gold Eyes and the Fargo Red Hawks.
If you crunch the numbers, Fargo, Moorhead, West Fargo, Dilworth, Horace and all the rest of the small towns around such as Mapleton and Casselton, represent about the same population as the city of Regina where the Saskatchewan Roughriders play. Bring in bus loads of people from southern Manitoba and northwestern Ontario and a Fargo team is theoretically possible. And the reason this op-ed was even written is because David Asper is no dummy. When he talks, people in Winnipeg listen. He knows a lot about Manitoba and North Dakota economics.
There is no time line for expansion beyond the Halifax franchise. But in the coming years, expect there to be a new cluster of teams in the CFL. We’ll just have to wait to see if a Fargo franchise does materialize. However, time is of the essence for a Fargo team because it’s also been reported that interest is quickly growing for a Fargo team in the XFL.
Remember the XFL, a league that existed in 2001 and folded? It’s coming back in 2020, and Fargo has been identified as a possible franchise location, although it won’t be one of the inaugural teams. A Facebook page has been established called XFL, Put a Franchise in Fargo. All this was announced about the same time the Alliance of American Football was gearing up to start play.
Perhaps there will be competition for a Fargo team. May the best league win.