February 10, 2009

Report: MLL to Relocate Rattlers to Toronto

by Matt DaSilva | Lacrosse Magazine Online Staff

Gavin Prout tosses his gear to fans following the Rattlers' victory on the 2008 MLL championship game. Prout could be one of several Canadians playing closer to home this year with the franchise's reported relocation to Toronto.
© Bryce Vickmark

Investors and Major League Lacrosse are finalizing a deal that will relocate the Rochester Rattlers to Toronto, the Toronto Globe and Mail reported Tuesday.

Rochester won its first MLL title last year largely behind the efforts of Canadian stars like John Grant Jr., Gavin Prout, Brodie Merrill, Jeff Zywicki, Jordan Hall and Colin Doyle. According to sources, the league entertained both Toronto and Orlando for relocation of the ownerless franchise.

Grant, for one, called the potential move bittersweet.

"I moved to Rochester. We won the championship with Rochester," the Peterborough, Ontario native said. "I think it would be devastating for the fans of Rochester, but if the MLL can't make it work here, then the next logical choice would be to move the team closer to where the players play."

Stuart Brown, spokesperson for the proposed Toronto ownership group, told the Globe and Mail that the organization's goal would include showcasing Iroquois and Canadian talent and creating an element of continuity for the Canadian national teams program.

"We're looking at it as an opportunity for both the Iroquois and [Canadian] national team to use the pro team as a development tool, absolutely," Brown said. "For coaching development and player development and team concepts. The approach is to help improve the national program by getting as many national team players playing together in the four years between national championships."

The Rattlers' previous ownership under Steve Donner became tenuous due to his deteriorating relationship with city officials over other area pro franchises he owned and the facilities they use. The team's Web site still lists Donner as the owner, but Donner had lost interest in Paetec Park when he sold the Rochester Rhinos pro soccer team.

Donner also sold the National Lacrosse League's Rochester Knighthawks.

Rochester is not alone in its struggle to sustain an MLL franchise. Already this offseason, the Washington Bayhawks have relocated to Annapolis, Md., while league officials confirmed with the San Francisco Chronicle that the Dragons "are going through an ownership transition."

The Rattlers would also be the second straight MLL champion to relocate after winning the title.

The Philadelphia Barrage's unhappy ownership bowed out before the 2008 season. Operating under league control, the Barrage played its five "home" games in MLL test markets Dallas, Seattle, Cary, N.C., St. Louis, Virginia Beach and Portland, logging over 20,000 miles.

The New Jersey Pride, which draws the league's worst attendance (about 1,900 fans per game), is among a few teams that the league is "monitoring," according to general manager Stephen Ferretti.

"The continuing trend is, as the league gets bigger and the sport grows, that you're looking toward the large conglomerates that can absorb a lot of the costs that you need to grow," Ferretti told LM in August.

MLL commissioner David Gross did not confirm or deny the report, and declined further comment.

"A deal is not signed," Gross said. "Until the deal is done and complete from our end, we don't want to comment."

While hoping to remain in Rochester, Grant, the two-time MLL MVP, did not rule out that an MLL team in Toronto could do for the league what the five-time champion Toronto Rock did for the NLL.

"The Rock basically saved the league," Grant said. "They did a professional job marketing the indoor game to Ontario. I can't see why that wouldn't work for the field game."

There is no relationship between the two pro lacrosse entities.

"I think the [MLL] should go there no matter what. Whatever team they move out there is out of my control," Grant said. "I think Canada's ready for field lacrosse."

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