June 28, 2013

Stealth Confident on Thriving in New Vancouver Home

by Neil Stevens | LaxMagazine.com | Twitter

Stealth head coach Chris Hall believes the fans in Vancouver will support his team after it appeared in three of the last four NLL finals.
© Clint Trahan 

The former Washington Stealth will gain some new fans with their move to Langley, British Columbia, from Everett, Wash., and maybe they'll retain some of their old ones, too.

The National Lacrosse League franchise's relocation, which was approved Thursday by the NLL Board of Governors, appears to be a smart move. It came as no surprise, of course. It's a wonder that owner Denise Watkins stuck it out as long as she did in the Seattle suburbs when there was a beckoning venue within 90 miles that offered a chance of an improved bottom line.

The Stealth averaged 3,944 fans a game in their inaugural season in the Northwest in 2010. They won the Champion's Cup on their home floor and everybody connected with the team expected a surge in attendance. It did not happen. The Stealth got to the 2011 final only to be edged by one goal in Toronto. Attendance still remained static. They again advanced to the final this year, averaging 4,184 fans during the regular season, and didn't get to play it at home because their arena was rented to somebody else. They moved the game to the Langley Events Centre and more than 5,000 spectators let them know the grass could be greener in Canada.

Attendance had gone up by only 240 in Everett from 2010 to 2013, although there was a solid core of avid lacrosse fans holding season tickets.

"Those people who came out to support us were passionate about the game," coach Chris Hall said. "They wore our sweaters and were huge supporters and they went in great numbers to Langley for the championship game in May.

"I've had the pleasure of building relationships with many of our season ticket holders and sponsors. We built with some strong relationships with the hotel we used there and with arena staff and ushers. It's sad that we have to leave. We loved the building. It was a great lacrosse rink. We worked hard with the community to grow the game. It's sad to leave that all behind. It simply came down to a business decision. Our attendance was flat. It wasn't growing in spite of all the effort that was put into running the team. It's hard to leave those people behind but, by the same token, we are excited to go to a place that has been very good for us. We filled the building the two times we played games there and the lower mainland of British Columbia has a great lacrosse community.

"One saving grace having to leave Everett is that it is only 90 minutes from Seattle to Langley and it's a straight drive. I've been doing it for four years in reverse [from Victoria on Vancouver Island], and I've always enjoyed that drive. Ninety minutes, and you're there. Our fans can still stay connected with us without a huge expense or a lot of time in terms of travel."

It has been nine years since the NLL lost the Vancouver Ravens. The Stealth represent a chance for Canada's West Coast lacrosse fans to prove by packing the LEC that they deserve another shot at supporting a pro team. With the continued support of their fans in the Seattle region, the Stealth feasibly could play every one of their nine home games next season in front of packed houses. At least that's the hope.

"Our owner is very passionate about the game," Hall said. "The Watkins family has spent a lot of money promoting lacrosse. They're passionate about growing the game.

"This time, the lower mainland is getting a team that has had success in the past. We're a strong organization. A winning franchise is coming to the lower mainland. There seems to be a desire that there should be a pro lacrosse team in the greater Vancouver area. There seems to be a taste for it right now. I think it'll be a link to the teams in Edmonton, Calgary and Toronto that will open up opportunities for television and sponsorships for Canadian teams in the league. The timing is right, and the LEC is highly interested in the product. They'll work hard to make it a success. There's a combination of things that are markers that say we should be successful there."

The franchise started out in the capital of New York as the Albany Attack in 2000, then moved to California in 2004 and became the San Jose Stealth. It was on to Washington in 2009, and now it is based in Canada. One might say the Stealth are the Harlem Globetrotters of the NLL. Despite all the change, one thing has remained the same: quality.

"The team has managed to stay successful on the floor," Hall said. "We're still a relatively young team with a great young goaltender and lots of offensive firepower, and we had a great draft last year. We'll continue to be a contender. Our management team is resilient and strong. Denise has been fantastic. Many owners after that many moves might say, 'I've had enough.' But she's firm in her belief that lacrosse is a tremendous game with great entertainment value, a great product."

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