Stealth’s move to B.C. brought financial success as team struggled

  • By Aaron Lommers Herald Writer
  • Wednesday, April 30, 2014 6:34pm
  • SportsSports

LANGLEY, B.C. — The Washington Stealth’s four years in Everett produced tremendous on-field success. The Stealth won a championship in their first season in the Northwest and advanced to the National Lacrosse League’s title game two more times.

Financial success was another matter.

The game never caught on in Everett the way ownership envisioned. With the team losing money, owner Denise Watkins and her husband, Bill, made the decision early last summer to relocate the franchise to Langley, British Columbia. The team would be known as the Vancouver Stealth and play at the Langley Events Centre.

This past Saturday, 10 months after leaving Everett, the Stealth wrapped up their first NLL season in Canada.

So, was the move a success?

Well, yes and no. The on-field product was miserable. The Stealth finished 4-14, tied with Minnesota for the NLL’s worst record.

Financially, however, the relocation has been a positive move, Stealth president and general manager Doug Locker said.

“It’s been a dramatic swing in terms of being a good move from a monetary standpoint, without question,” he said.

Surprisingly, attendance actually dropped. The Stealth averaged 3,591 fans in their inaugural season in Langley as compared to 4,055 in their final season in Everett. However, the tickets sold in Langley bring in more money, Locker said. The average price of a ticket in Everett was about $17. In Langley, it’s close to $30.

That has allowed the Stealth to increase their revenue, even though the Langley Events Centre seats just 5,400. By comparison, Comcast Arena, the Stealth’s home for their four seasons in Everett, seats 8,200.

“It’s really the revenue that is the thing as opposed to the attendance …,” Locker said. “We could sell out every game and our average attendance would be last in the league, but I would tell you this, our revenue would be significant compared to the rest of the league.”

The Stealth also have a more team friendly agreement with the Langley Events Centre.

“In terms of the building and the relationship with the buildings, we clearly had a great relationship at Comcast as well,” Locker said. “I just think the biggest difference right now between the two situations is, for the most part, we were a tenant at Comcast and clearly at the Events Centre it’s more of a partnership. Structurally that’s a difference.”

By decreasing or eliminating some of the costs they incurred in Everett — such as the rental of office space and practice time — the Stealth saved a considerable amount of money, Locker said.

“Obviously we’re not going to know all the details and the numbers until everything is complete, (but) it could be as much as a million-dollar swing just because of the building arrangement and everything else that was part of the deal,” Locker said. “It’s a significant improvement for us.”

The move also was convenient for many of the Stealth players. Of the 27 on the roster, 16 were born in British Columbia, and many still make their homes there. The Stealth’s practice floor and team offices are located at the Langley Events Centre, making it easier for the players to come and go.

“From a convenience aspect, having your entire facility in your backyard is a great thing to have in this league,” Stealth head coach Chris Hall said. “Not too many teams have that luxury. That’s been great.”

Still, the inability of the Stealth to sell out their games in Langley, puzzled Hall, just as the sport’s lack of growth in Everett baffled him.

“I still think it’s an incredibly entertaining sport played by phenomenal athletes with incredible levels of skill,” Hall said. “It’s entertaining as hell. Why don’t we pack the buildings for a game that’s that fast, hard-hitting and entertaining? I honestly don’t know.”

The Stealth likely will sell more tickets in 2015 if they return to their winning ways. Their major weakness this season was obvious: you can’t win if you can’t score.

The Stealth concluded their season Saturday with a 14-8 loss to visiting Calgary. It marked the 11th time in 18 games they scored 10 or less goals in a game. The Stealth won just one of those contests. Vancouver scored just 181 goals, one better than Minnesota, which finished last in the NLL in that category.

Obviously, adding offensive firepower is a priority.

“You’ve got to have goal-scorers in this league and we need a couple more,” Hall said. “That’s going to be one of the big missions in the offseason.”

The season didn’t start off as poorly as it ended. The Stealth won two of their first four games and in game No. 5, led visiting Edmonton 7-1. The Rush scored eight of the game’s final nine goals for a 9-8 victory. Edmonton went on to win its first 14 games of the season, and the Stealth lost 12 of their final 14.

“I really felt at the time that it was a bad psychological loss,” Hall said. “That seemed to be the beginning of a domino effect and they just kept on falling and they’re still falling right through to the end (of the season).

“From that perspective it’s been pretty frustrating, especially for me, I’m not particularly used to losing.”

Though the season was a struggle on the floor, it appears the Stealth have found the financial stability that eluded them in Snohomish County.

But they still miss Everett.

“There is still a lot of connection for us there,” said forward Cliff Smith, who is from Surrey, British Columbia. “It was definitely disappointing to leave.”

Added Hall: “We established some pretty good friendships there and some pretty good relationships and we all to a person miss that.”

They don’t, however, miss the financial struggles that marked the team’s four-year stay in Everett.

“If the economics would have been better for us, we’d probably still be there,” Locker said. “Everybody has awesome memories of the experience of the four years down there.

“The bottom line is I just don’t think we could have survived.”

Aaron Lommers covered the Stealth during the team’s stay in Everett. Follow him on Twitter at @aaronlommers and contact him at alommers@heraldnet.com.

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