Nothing like talk of a franchise relocation to ruin a perfectly good playoff season.
That's what the National Lacrosse League has been looking at this week. With the Edmonton Rush in the middle of a series with Calgary, the Rush owner announced that he was about ready to give up on having the team in Edmonton. That no doubt did wonders for morale on the roster.
Edmonton didn't really have a fair test as a lacrosse market until recently. The Rush usually was at the bottom of the standings. But in the last couple of years, the team has been great. Edmonton hasn't won a title yet, but that's almost an accident of the format. There is plenty of talent there. Still, attendance has been low - under 6,500 this season. That's seventh in the league.
The tough part is - we know what the problem is. We know what the business model for success looks like in the NLL. It's the one used by the Buffalo Bandits and Colorado Mammoth. The NHL team owns the NLL team, thus saving all sorts of money in a variety of ways. The Bandits don't need a separate ticket staff, separate marketing staff, etc. They just piggy-back on the Sabres' operation. Then there's the little matter of rent, which isn't so little. It can be mid-to-high five figures per game. I'm not sure how the Bandits or Mammoth handle that, but any money in that department at least doesn't leave the building.
The teams that have had problems in the last few years have been the ones in big buildings for the most part. Philadelphia was in that boat last year, and moved to New England. The Black Wolves have become something of a loss leader for the casino so far. Boston was in the same classification. I believe San Jose was too, going back a while.
I'd like to see a franchise succeed in Edmonton. Supposedly the Oilers have an expressed an interest in the past; we'll see if anything can be done in that area now. Certainly moving a franchise from Edmonton to, say, Saskatoon, might not be in the best interests of the league.
The playoffs have gotten off to an exciting start this season. I'm just hoping we get to see a lot more games from Edmonton in the years to come.
-- Budd Bailey