By Aaron Lommers Herald Writer
EVERETT — If the Washington Stealth beat the Calgary Roughnecks in this afternoon’s National Lacrosse League West Division final, the Stealth earn the right to host the championship game next weekend.
But the game won’t be played in Everett.
Because of a scheduling conflict at Comcast Arena, the contest will be moved to the Langley Events Centre in Langley, British Colombia. Comcast Arena is booked by a Christian youth conference known as “Acquire the Fire” on Friday and Saturday, and “Cirque Zuma Zuma” on Sunday.
“I would say it is very disappointing (to have to move the game) for our fans that can’t make it,” Stealth president David Takata said. “Particularly our season-ticket holders that have supported the team so much.”
The alternative was worse. Had the Stealth not been able to locate an arena in the Northwest, they would have forfeited home-field advantage to the East Division champion Rochester Knighthawks.
“If we couldn’t find a venue, it was an absolute certainty,” Takata said.
The Stealth placed a hold on Comcast Arena in the event of a championship game, but the hold is “kind of meaningless,” Takata said. If arena officials have an opportunity to book a date, they approach the organization that has the hold to see if it’s willing to put down a deposit for the date. Unsure at the time if the team would reach the title game, the Stealth did not put down a deposit, thereby forfeiting the date.
The Stealth obviously hope to prevent a situation like this from happening in the future, but that can be difficult.
“Hopefully the building, having seen this happen to them in 2010 when we had to play (a playoff game) at (KeyArena) and again in 2013, will be able to set aside those dates for us,” Takata said. “There are constraints with the building as well, though, because they are a city-owned facility that has to pay its bond debts and it’s hard for them to turn down guaranteed revenue.”
The Stealth looked at several other options. The first was KeyArena in Seattle, but the facility is booked by the Rat City Rollergirls. The Stealth also looked into ShoWare Center in Kent, which is booked by the West Coast All-Star Classic basketball game, and the Tacoma Dome, which is not equipped to support lacrosse.
Other arenas in Washington state were considered, but rejected.
“The issue with us going into anything over the mountains is that you are still talking about a couple hours drive and the issue is we don’t know what kind of built-in audience there is for us in those markets because we have never done marketing there,” Takata said.
A similar scenario happened with the 2010 NLL West Division final. The Stealth were forced to relocate the game to KeyArena because Comcast was booked by “Sesame Street.”
The Stealth defeated the Edmonton Rush 12-11 thanks to an overtime game-winning goal by Paul Rabil. Washington went on to win the NLL championship the following week at Comcast Arena, defeating the Toronto Rock 15-11.
Should the Stealth advance to the championship, it won’t be the first time they have played in Langley. They faced the Toronto Rock in a preseason game in 2011. That game sold out the 5,500-seat arena.
Langley also has hosted the Stealth’s preseason training camps, including prior to this season.
“We do know that thousands of people a year come down from Canada to watch our games,” Takata said. “After those other venues kind of became a non-starter, our next obvious choice was Langley because the NLL had played there and they had done such a great job with the NLL exhibition games in the past.”
This past December, Langley hosted a preseason game between the Colorado Mammoth and the Roughnecks.
The league and the Stealth considered changing the day of the championship game, but that too proved not to be an option. The game is scheduled to be broadcast live on the CBS Sports Network, which limits the day and time it can be played.
“Part of this is being dictated by the CBS Sports broadcast,” Takata said. “Comcast Arena was booked for the whole weekend as was KeyArena. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter what the availability on the other days of the week were because the CBS broadcast is scheduled for Saturday the 11th.
“For us and the league, that’s a good thing, right? Getting on national TV — we haven’t always had that.”
Takata said NLL commissioner George Daniel has made it clear that the league would like to have a team in the Vancouver, B.C., market and having a championship game played in Langley might be a step toward accomplishing that goal.
“The positives for the league would be if a championship game were to be played in Langley and it were to sell out, as we all expect it will and be broadcast on national TV, it has the potential to flush out some potential owners in that Vancouver market,” Takata said. “So I think there is at least a silver lining that could come from this.”
Aaron Lommers covers the Washington Stealth for The Herald. Follow him on twitter @aaronlommers and contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.