By Aaron Lommers Herald Writer
EVERETT — The Washington Stealth have started the 2013 National Lacrosse League season impressively, but what’s more eye-catching than their 2-0 record after a horrible campaign a year ago is this number: 7,023.
That was the announced attendance for the Stealth’s 13-12 victory over the NLL defending champion Rochester Knighthawks in the season-opener Jan. 5 at Comcast Arena.
It was the largest regular-season crowd the Stealth have had since moving to Everett prior to the 2010 season and the second-largest crowd at Comcast Arena. Only the 2010 NLL Championship game against the Toronto Rock, a 15-11 Stealth victory, drew more fans (8,300).
The opening-night crowd was nearly 1,800 people more than the next-closest opening-night crowd the Stealth have had in Everett. The team drew 5,264 for the home opener in 2011.
Coming off a season in which the Stealth had their lowest average attendance since moving to Everett — and were the only team to miss the NLL playoffs, finishing with a record of 4-12 — what has changed so quickly?
“There is no science to it,” Stealth president David Takata said. “We started everything much earlier this season in terms of season-ticket sales, being ready to go almost right after the season ended last year with season-ticket renewals.
“It’s probably a combination of things. If we knew what caused it, we would probably just replicate all of those things for the rest of the season and put 7,000 in the building every night. It’s not going to be like that. … We know that was a high point or one of the high points for the season.”
Another reason for such a large crowd for the opener was an effort headed by Rochester Knighthawks owner Curt Styres, who along with a contribution from the Stealth, made 2,000 tickets available to members of 13 different Native American Communities in the Puget Sound area.
“I think there is a lot of room for growth in the Native American communities with lacrosse,” said Styres, who is of Six Nations of Mohawk descent and is believed to be the first person of Native American heritage to own a professional sports franchise. “We have a lot of possibilities for Native Americans to use lacrosse as a stepping stone for their future.”
It is unclear how many of the 2,000 tickets were used.
“I would like to think all of them were used,” Styres said. “I never really went out and looked, but just sitting where I was sitting, there was a strong presence of different (Native American communities) there.”
Takata estimated about half the 2,000 tickets were used.
Before the season, Stealth owner Denise Watkins said the front office set a goal of selling out the home opener. They didn’t reach that goal, but attendance was still viewed as a success.
“We were thrilled,” Takata said. “We were ecstatic to get that many people in the building.”
The crowd was certainly a step in the right direction for a franchise that has averaged between 3,900 and 4,300 fans (including playoff games) since the team arrived in Everett.
This season, the Stealth have six Saturday night games, two Sunday matinee games, but no Friday games. During the past three seasons, Friday games have had the least attendance, Takata said.
“We’ve got a pretty good schedule this year,” Takata said, adding that the team is eager to “find out how these Sunday matinees work.”
The Stealth get their first chance to see what a home matinee crowd looks like at 2:45 p.m. Sunday when they play host to the Edmonton Rush.
Aaron Lommers covers the Washington Stealth for The Herald. Follow him on twitter @aaronlommers and contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.