Monday, March 21, 2016

Edmonton May Be Ready to Welcome NLL Back

There’s no rush, but professional lacrosse could be back in Edmonton by 2018.
The National Lacrosse League is seeking to expand by at least one and as many as four teams that season, and the Oilers Entertainment Group is interested in discussing the possibility of owning a franchise that would call Rogers Place home.
The nine-team league already has franchises in Calgary, Vancouver and Saskatoon, where Edmonton’s former team, the Rush, now resides. The Rush, owned by Bruce Urban, played in Rexall Place for 10 seasons, beginning in 2006.
“We’ve had some interesting conversations and look forward to talking more about bringing lacrosse to Edmonton,” said OEG vice-president Tim Shipton. “It’s interesting. It’s not a done deal, that’s for sure. The conversations have been positive. It always comes down to the details. But there is interest there.”
And it’s on both sides of the equation. NLL commissioner Nick Sakiewicz toured Rogers Place and Ice District last Friday, en route to a Roughnecks game in Calgary. He came away impressed and excited about a potential return of the league to Edmonton.
“In one way,  I’m sorry that the Rush left,” said Sakiewicz. “But I’m excited for Saskatoon because they have a terrific team and a good thing going there and I hope Edmonton is an opportunity for us down the road. We would love to be there.
“My vision for the league is to bring more Calgary-like ownership groups into the league. Buffalo, Calgary and Denver are three flagship franchises in terms of the way they operate the model. They have the NHL back office and NHL leverage. I think it’s a great model.
“My No. 1 priority is to talk to NHL teams and NBA teams that have venues that need programming, because it’s great programming. It’s a great product. We don’t have a product problem, for sure. We have a distribution problem.”
He wants to take that product to three or four new cities in 2018, give them 2019 to find their feet, then expand again in 2020.
“We’re not going to be expanding recklessly and just taking anybody’s cheque for a franchise and getting them rolling right away. We want to give each group of franchises a bit of a runway to launch their teams. We’re not going to expand in 2017. It’s too soon. Teams couldn’t get up and running. It just wouldn’t be right to launch a team in a year or less. The markets we’re talking to now are positioning for 2018.”
He said he is in active conversations with eight prospective owners in six cities, that the league’s franchises are generally on solid footing and the owners have provided him with a mandate to expand, but only if the landscape can support lacrosse. He is new to the league and is critical of its past expansion efforts.
“We want to do this right. Our league has had a bit of a checkered history in expansion. Either not the right owners or not the right market, or not the right building deal. We’ve had to move teams and shut teams down and disqualify owners.
“We’re not going to do that anymore. Those days are over. That’s why I’m really high on the NHL and the NBA, and the sports entertainment companies. Not only are they blue-chip owners but they have the operations behind them. Then we’ve got to have a good market that will embrace the team. Then we have to have a great building to play in.
“If those three criteria are not in place, we’re not going. We’re going to say no more often than we say yes. That’s just the discipline we need to have to build the league in the right way.”
That plan will take time and the OEG is prepared to be patient. They are focused on opening Rogers Place in September. They know they have an ardent suitor in the NLL and that they can accommodate a franchise in Rogers Place, where the Oilers and Oil Kings will also play.
“We have to see where it goes,” said Shipton. “It’s still in the early days. And we want to see where the NLL goes as well. They’ve got some big decisions in front of them, about where the sport is going.
“But it’s something we could do at Rogers Place. And it’s certainly something that we’ve heard from NLL that if it’s going to work in Edmonton, it’s going to work at Rogers Place affiliated with the Oilers.”

(Edmonton Journal)

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