Fans of the Rush in Edmonton saw the best of the National Lacrosse League last season, and the worst.
It’s not often that the championship team of any professional sports league leaves town within months of winning that title, but that’s what happened in 2015 when the Rush bolted Edmonton for Saskatchewan.
But Nick Sakiewicz, the new NLL commissioner, said over the weekend that he’d like to see the NLL return to Edmonton.
“Canada is a high priority, obviously,” Sakiewicz told the Edmonton Sun while he was in town on Saturday to watch the Colorado at Calgary game. “I think there’s many more markets in Canada that we can be in and we’re exploring those. Edmonton is definitely high on the radar. Winnipeg, Quebec, Quebec City, London, Hamilton … these are all markets that are deep in lacrosse tradition and have terrific venues, and we need to marry bluechip owners with those venues. I can envision three, four more teams in Canada someday.”
No timetable was offered, but Sakiewicz did express confidence with where the NLL is as a whole is today. In outlining his expansion checklist, he talked about things like ownership, market and arenas. He held up the Calgary situation as a model, where the Roughnecks are owned by the NHL’s Calgary Flames.
“This is a world-class, bluechip owner,” he told the Sun. “We need more Calgary Flames backing Calgary Roughnecks (models) like that in the league. This is an awesome model and a great market.”
It’s models like this that have Sakiewicz using the term “stable” to describe the NLL, which bodes well for the road to expansion.
“We’re on good footing, with good owners that have a passion to grow the sport and move it forward,” said Sakiewicz. “So that’s a great baseline for me to now take and build the bricks and mortar on top of that foundation.”
The biggest area for improvement, he said, is finding a way to spread the word. Sakiewicz has faith in the product and believes it can sell itself, but exposure will grow the game.
“We have a distribution problem. What happens here in Calgary will probably only stay here tonight, which is a shame,” said Sakiewicz. “We need to build a platform to get what’s going to be created here tonight out to millions of people across North America, and I believe that when they see this product, they’ll get as lit up on it as I have.”
That’s not exactly a secret. Efforts to land TV deals for the NLL have come and gone over the years but for reasons no one has quite figured out yet, the exposure has not been able to translate to viewer ratings, which in turn bring in advertising dollars.
So yes, the NLL today may be stable and that’s great. But ventures don’t grow by remaining stable. They find ways to grow, and this is what will be the biggest and most challenging obstacle for Sakiewicz to solve.
Many before have tried, but it hasn’t quite worked out for the NLL. Today, the league and its fans are turning to Sakiewicz to be the one who figures it out, the one who comes up with that fresh and new approach that sends the NLL to heights that have so far been achieved in dreams only.
And for lacrosse fans in Edmonton, they could very well be part of that.