By Kevin Brown and Michelle Dunlop Herald Writers
The Washington Stealth’s four-year stay in Everett is over.
The National Lacrosse League’s Board of Governors on Thursday unanimously approved the franchise’s relocation to Langley, British Columbia, for the 2014 season.
“When the franchise first moved to Washington, we saw it as a regional team,” NLL commissioner George Daniel said. “We had hoped for more support from Seattle and other areas in the Puget Sound region. The crowds in Everett just didn’t increase enough to make the franchise sustainable.”
The Stealth notified Comcast Arena general manager Jeff Schumacher on Thursday morning of the decision to relocate. The team is required to let Schumacher know each July whether it will play another season in Everett.
The Stealth moved to Everett from San Jose, Calif., following the 2009 season. Although the team enjoyed considerable success on the field — appearing in three NLL title games and winning the Champion’s Cup in 2010 — it struggled financially. Stealth president David Takata said the franchise consistently lost money in Everett.
“(Moving) is strictly financial,” he said. “The team loses a lot of money every year. Growing at single-digit rates wasn’t fast enough to recover the losses that are occurring on a yearly basis.”
Discussions of a possible move began about two weeks after the 2013 season ended, Takata said. Talks with officials in Langley began in late May.
The Stealth eventually secured a “better financial agreement” with the 5,200-seat Langley Events Centre, Takata said. He declined to discuss specific details.
Comcast Arena could not match the agreement without losing money, Schumacher said. “We wish them the best,” he added.
Despite considerable success on the field, the Stealth never cashed in at the box office. In their first season in the Northwest they won the NLL championship but drew a league-low 3,944 fans per game. This past season, they again ranked last in attendance at 4,184. The NLL average in 2013 was 9,662.
“In our four seasons in Washington the attendance numbers and sponsorship dollars remained virtually unchanged,” Takata said in an e-mail to fans. “Ultimately, it was time for us to make a business decision to avoid losing the team altogether.”
Stealth head coach Chris Hall expressed disappointment that the franchise didn’t work out in Everett.
“The attendance just seemed flat and we just couldn’t seem to find the magic potion that would kickstart us and get us to fill that rink,” Hall said. “We loved playing there. … We loved the people and we loved the rink, but economically how long can you expect an owner to continue to lay out capital when the returns just aren’t there.”
The Stealth reached the NLL championship in May, but the game had to be moved because of a scheduling conflict at Comcast Arena. The Stealth looked into playing at KeyArena in Seattle or at the Showare Center in Kent, but both facilities were unavailable. The Stealth finally settled on the Langley Events Centre, located 80 miles north of Everett. Although the Stealth lost the championship game 11-10 to the Rochester Knighthawks, they came away impressed with the staff of the Langley facility.
“They put a ton of effort into (the championship) game with very little notice, so we knew that they ran a good operation,” Takata said. “The ticket sales were very strong for that game for being done in just a week’s time. I think it helped (the decision) in some respects. In terms of ‘Was there any preconceived idea prior to that we would move to Langley?’ The answer is ‘No.’”
Stealth owner Denise Watkins thanked the team’s Northwest fans in an e-mail sent out Thursday morning.
“I would really like to thank our loyal Washington fans for their support and commitment,” she said. “I know that many of our fans have done their utmost to help us grow and bring new fans into the game. The loyalty and passion of our Season Ticket Holders is unquestioned by the players, coaches and staff of the Stealth organization. We considered a number of options and Langley gave us the best chance to move forward as a business while keeping the Stealth close to its impassioned fans in Washington.”
Fans who put down deposits on 2014 season tickets will have the option of getting their money back or having those deposits “rolled up to Langley,” Takata said.
The Vancouver area last had an NLL team in 2004. The Vancouver Ravens ceased operations in 2004 after three seasons.
The loss of the Stealth means Comcast Arena has an additional eight open dates on its 2014 calendar. Schumacher didn’t sound worried about making up the revenue, suggesting that booking a couple of events should suffice. The arena now will have several Saturdays available for events in Everett.
Schumacher said he isn’t interested in booking another sports team for Comcast unless he can find the right match.
“Right now, there aren’t a lot of good options for minor-league teams,” he said.
Herald writer Aaron Lommers contributed to this report.