Grow the Game®

April 29, 2017; De Land, FL, USA; Rochester Rattlers @ Florida Launch at Spec Martin Municipal Stadium.
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Rattlers Bittersweet Relocation To Dallas

The big Rochester Rattlers possible relocation news, which has been developing for well over a year, has now gone from well-founded rumors and sources to straight up fact. There have been questions about how it might take shape, but we can now say definitively: There will be an MLL team in Dallas, and there will not be one in Rochester. At least for now. Rochester did leave and then re-emerge once before!

While it is exciting to see the MLL in a new and growing market, it is happening at the expense of a team in one of the original lacrosse hotbeds. This news is the definition of bittersweet. Before we get too bogged down in the bitter, let’s talk about…

The Rattlers Sweet Stuff

The potential for Major League Lacrosse in the Dallas area is enormous. With Florida, Boston, New York, Atlanta, and Chesapeake already holding teams, this will give the MLL a presence in six of the ten largest metropolitan areas in the United States. The Dallas-Fort Worth area has over seven million people living there, good for fourth largest market in the country, which is a fantastically large base to draw from.

Adding to this general optimism of market size is last year’s championship game, which was held at The Star in Frisco, TX. This venue will also serve as the new home field for the relocated Dallas Rattlers. That creates a few interesting dynamics for the new team:

  • The field showed very well on TV, and there was an excellent crowd in attendance.
  •  With a capacity of just 12,000 seats, it is sized just right for pro lacrosse where a sell-out is both attainable and able to create a great atmosphere.
  • The Star is an indoor stadium, making it that only one in the league.

The lacrosse community in Dallas is growing rapidly, and if this is successful, the indoor arena may become one of the best home field advantages in the league.

According to LSN, Billy Warder has been named the Head Coach of the Dallas Rattlers. Warder has a long history as an assistant coach in Major League Lacrosse, all of it with the Rattlers spread over different seasons. He played in both the NLL (forward) and MLL (midfielder), and was a standout goalie at Hobart College, where he also coached after graduating.

The Rattlers Bitter Stuff

There is no great way to say it, but losing a team from upstate New York is not good for a pro field lacrosse league. Unfortunately, it is also not the first time this has happened. Following the 2008 season, the team was moved from Rochester to Toronto. What really hurt in the 2008 case was that the Rattlers won the Championship that year. They also won it the next year as the Toronto Nationals before moving to Hamilton, where in 2011, they made it to the Championship again and lost to the Cannons. While in Hamilton, the Nationals were remade into a heavy box influenced team full of Canadian and Iroquois players. Which is why it came as a shock when in 2014 they were then moved down to Florida to become the Launch.

Photo Credit: Tommy Gilligan

That last move is more important than the original trek to Toronto because it may be prophetic for what will take place over the coming months. The Hamilton Nationals relied heavily on western New York, Iroquois, and Ontario-based talent. In moving to Florida, many trades took place which is why players like Joe Walters, Brodie Merrill, and Donny Moss found new homes. Others never made the trip, or never played more than a few games in Florida.

In parallel to this, the Chicago Machine became somewhat nomadic in their final season before becoming the newest iteration of the Rattlers in 2011. Once in Rochester, the team remade itself back into Team Upstate, drafting Syracuse players heavily and leveraging a large amount of local talent that has created the core of the team we have come to know. Interesting trivia fact: The last regular season game that the Rattlers played before moving to Toronto was against the Chicago Machine, who would become the Rattlers 3 years later. I’m sure that will be in a trivia game someday.

Because of all these upstate ties, the move to Dallas becomes potentially problematic, much like it was for the year one Launch. While teams do not rely solely on local talent, they do use some. It also means that the travel needs of the team can grow quite a bit. Much of the team is based in New York State somewhere and many work “regular” office jobs, rather than being coaches, running camps, or other lacrosse-centric jobs with more flexibility.

John Galloway Rochester Rattlers MLL Goalie Photo: Major League Lacrosse
Photo: Major League Lacrosse

While this is not an automatic deal breaker, leaving work an hour or two early and driving a few hours to Friday practice for your Saturday game is much different than taking Friday off entirely and flying halfway across the country for half of your games. This has raised the prospect of several players potential calling it a day and leaving the league. While I don’t think that will happen because of this announcement, I do think it will create a trade friendly environment that could completely remake the league as players try to create a better work-life balance. A small example of this would be Texas native Brandon Mullins, who is currently with the Cannons, being swapped for someone like Joel White or Mike Manley, who are based in the Northeast. Much like the Florida move meant some big names shift, this big switch in franchise location will likely do the same.

This will also create a massive vacuum in the lacrosse talent pool. Without an upstate team along the Thruway somewhere (Buffalo to Albany), one of the richest lacrosse hotbeds in the world is without a pro field team. Keep in mind, the NLL is able to support two teams in this same region and at one point had four. This is the ancestral home of the game and a spot where the MLL absolutely has to be.

The easy counterpoint to this is that the Rattlers did struggle with attendance. The league would likely not have found themselves in this position of looking to move the Rattlers had the western New York crowds shown up regularly to Rattlers games like we hope they would. Unfortunately, the effort to draw in fans were severely hamstrung due to very little front office support and lack of strong ownership. The team ran on a shoe string budget and on the impossible efforts of just a few, namely coach Tim Soudan. This whole dynamic could be an entire separate post, as the stadium leases, ownership structure, and front office were in what seemed like a constant state of flux for the Rattlers’ entire existence in Rochester.

Despite this, the Rattlers were able to put together one of the best teams in the league over the past handful of seasons, making the championship game in 2014 and 2015. Along the way, they picked up several individual awards for top defenseman, offensive player, goalie, and coach of the year, as well as the team sportsmanship award. If you are a fan in Dallas, there are not many better groups of players you could ask to have in place to form your new squad. Barring a flurry of trades for draft picks and a massive rebuilding effort, the Dallas Rattlers should be instantly competitive, bringing high quality lacrosse into their new home.

As painful as losing a team from upstate is, hopefully it is just temporary like before. Until then, we need to hope the potential that is present in Dallas will turn into one of the strongest franchises in the league. Congratulations to Dallas, but Rochester will be missed.