The big woe for the Edmonton Rush was lackluster attendance numbers, and it was a point of conversation throughout 2015. Of course just when the future of the club looked its murkiest, the organization’s 10th season in Alberta turned out to be fruitful, as the Rush won the NLL Champion’s Cup.
Unfortunately, the league championship just wasn’t enough to save the failing marriage between Rush owner Bruce Urban, the team, Rexall Place (their home arena), and the City of Edmonton. In the 2015 regular season, the Rush averaged only 6,578 fans over their 9 home games, which was down from 7,844 in 2014. These numbers, if duplicated, could look a lot better in a more compact arena, but it just wasn’t getting the job done in a major arena.
After a couple weeks of media speculation, it was made official yesterday on the Rush website that the team will relocate to the SaskTel Centre in Saskatoon for the 2015-16 National Lacrosse League season and will re-brand themselves as the Saskatchewan Rush.
So What Happened?
Urban has been vocal about his displeasure with the local government’s efforts, and their lack of support for the NLL franchise after 10 seasons.
Mayor Don Iveson of Edmonton acknowledged that no solution or consideration was offered by the City of Edmonton because his office stated that negotiations were to be left between Oilers’ owner Daryl Katz, Rexall Place ownership group, Northlands, and the Rush.
Mayor Iveson also claimed that Urban and the Rush insulted the city’s staff by leaving the negotiations that the city tried to set up. In a CBC report, Iveson claimed, “We were talking to them and they walked away.”
In the past, deals regarding the NHL’s Oilers buying the Rush would pop up from time to time, but the deals always found a way to fall through. Interestingly enough, the Oilers will also be moving to a brand new arena for the 2016-17 hockey season in Edmonton and it was reported that no invitation was extended to the Rush to move to the new Rodgers Arena, nor was any sort of negotiation between Rexall Place (the former Rush arena which will stay open) and the Rush put into action to keep them.
If you start to compare both sides of the story, it becomes an even bigger mess of who did what wrong, but really it just leaves me scratching my head. According to public comments, the Rush wanted to stay, Edmonton wanted them to stay, and Rexall Place wanted them to stay. How did this not work out?
So why Saskatchewan?
Saskatchewan has a solid history of supporting their local sports teams, but without a major pro-sporting franchise other than the CFL’s Saskatchewan Roughriders, it appears that the local Saskatoon market is hungry to show support on another level.
What else does Saskatoon have to offer? A 12,000+ seat arena owned by the city of Saskatoon that serves as a home to the WHL’s Saskatoon Blades (averaging 4.5k fans per game) and teams from the University of Saskatchewan. Clearly this smaller arena can be affordable to smaller leagues.
From Prince Albert to Regina, box lacrosse has been alive for decades in Saskatchewan. Although British Columbia and Ontario may have deeper roots, the game is still growing in the province, and a pro team could help that growth continue. Yorkton, Estevan, Moosejaw, Regina, Prince Albert, Saskatoon and other towns are proudly operating field and box lacrosse programs and the numbers are on the rise.
Around 3,000 people or so are registered as lacrosse players in the province, but I wouldn’t be concerned about the low participation rates as the area has a strong dedication to watching the local hockey teams compete. Participation numbers in Alberta nearly exploded through the years the Rush were located in Edmonton, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see similar results in Saskatchewan. Exposure helps!
Okay, so there’s a case for the NLL to move to Saskatoon, but…
Did Edmonton turn their backs on the NLL?
If there were no negotiation efforts to keep the Rush in Edmonton, it’s peculiar that Northlands CEO Tim Reid claims that Rexall Place reached out many times to Urban to work out a deal keeping the Rush from moving.
Reid made it clear to the Edmonton Journal that he was ignored by Urban and that they are expressly interested in bringing a new NLL franchise to the arena to replace the Rush.
If that’s true, it’s a real bummer for the lacrosse fans in Edmonton and an absolute head-scratcher for the rest of us to figure out while Urban and company took their toys and moved 5 hours east to Saskatoon.
Only time can tell if Saskatoon will turn out to be the best choice for a sustainable Rush future and we will also keep an eye on Northlands to see if the possibility of bringing another NLL team to Edmonton could be a reality. What we do know for sure, for most of us it’s going to be weird getting used to hearing Georgia Swarm and Saskatchewan Rush for the 2015-16 season.
**No word yet as to whether or not Grandma Rush will move to Saskatoon. We hope we haven’t seen the last of her!**