**This isn’t about hockey. It isn’t about lacrosse. It is about a bad decision by the city.**
The Edmonton Rush won the Champions Cup on June 5th, and I knew then it would be the final time the Rush played at Rexall Place. The writing was on the wall well before Chris Corbeil hoisted the Cup.
When city council negotiated the existing deal with the Oilers Entertainment Group for a new downtown arena, it was the unofficial end of the Rush in Edmonton.
The deal allowed OEG to run the building. They decided who could play in the facility and they had no interest in having the Rush play there. Former mayor Stephen Mandel, the city councilors and city administration did not think about the lacrosse community during negotiations. They were so focused on making a deal with the OEG they didn’t bother ensuring the Rush had a home to play their games.
You will hear a lot of white noise during the next few days about why the Rush left, but none of it will focus on the real reason. They had no place to play long term.
Some will blame owner Bruce Urban. Urban, like Daryl Katz, can be hard to deal with at times, but he always paid his bills. I have openly disagreed with how he marketed the team for years. He and I discussed it on my show many times, but he never begged the city for money. He never made a dollar on the Rush during the past ten seasons, and even though the city treated him differently than the Oilers and Oil Kings, he kept paying his bills.
The city has refused to answer why the Rush never received the same deal regarding money from the ticket tax as the Oilers and Oil Kings. Think about that for a second. Why would the city offer a better deal to one private company, but not another?
If Urban was willing to lose money, that was his prerogative, but the Rush aren’t leaving because of money. They are leaving because the city didn’t think about a home for the Rush and OEG was unwilling to let them play in “their” rink.
If OEG tries to say they wouldn’t have signed the existing deal, because it wouldn’t be cost effective for them if it meant giving up a maximum of 12 dates to the Rush, they are simply not telling the truth, or even worse, plain greedy.
The Calgary Flames have managed the Saddledome for years, similar to the deal OEG has with the new arena. While the Flames managed it, the Rougnecks were a tenant up until before the 2012 season when the Flames purchased the Roughnecks. Before owing the NLL team, the Flames managed the building and thrived doing so, even though lacrosse played there. I don’t buy the theory the same couldn’t have happened here.
When City council and OEG signed their agreement they boasted the new rink would benefit all Edmontonians, but if that was the case they would have welcomed the Rush with open arms. That never happened.
The simple truth is many people can’t afford to go to an Oilers game, or even a music concert, but they could have afforded to go to one or two Rush games. Not to mention not every Edmontonian is a fan of hockey. Vibrant cities offer variety, and losing the option to go watch lacrosse disappoints me as an Edmontonian.
From day one the Oilers have had an adversarial relationship with the Rush. Even though they didn’t “own” Rexall the Oilers never let the Rush use the suites during NLL games. It was simply bully tactics.
The Oilers had zero reason to be worried the Rush would impact their bottom line. It was never going to happen. The Oilers are the big dog in town, and they always will be, but from the moment Urban announced the Rush was coming to Edmonton the Oilers didn’t play nice.
Keep in mind, this occurred before Katz was the owner, so I don’t blame the existing ownership for the first few years, but the relationship between both teams never improved. Both parties are to blame.
The Rush is not free from criticism. I did not agree with their marketing plans. I’d rather have seen them spend money on ad campaigns within the city to generate excitement than bring in the Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders or other “popular” acts.
But, again, it was Urban’s right to market the team how he saw fit. He was paying the bills and he was the one who was losing money. If the Rush was averaging 10,000 fans last year, would the deal suddenly have changed? No chance.
Urban’s best decision was hiring GM and coach Derek Keenan in 2009. Since Keenan came on board their on field product improved. He and Urban have built the best team in the NLL. The Rush are the champs and they are built to be dominant for at least five more seasons.
Edmonton sports fans could have had the pleasure of watching the best young offensive player in the NLL, Mark Matthews, and potentially the best young player in the NHL, Connor McDavid, for years to come.
The Rush is a great team, and the Oilers might become one. It would have made for many exciting evenings in Edmonton watching both teams. It would have provided different options at different price points for fans.
IMPACT IN THE CITY…
I would have liked to see the Rush do more in the city. It was a bad decision to cancel their lacrosse school program. That hurt their connection within the lacrosse community. I would have marketed Matthews, Kyle Rubisch (best defender in the NLL) and their other top stars much more. The Rush needed to do more in the community, but I don’t believe their actions warranted the city pushing them out of town.
I didn’t know much about lacrosse before the Rush came to town. I had watched a few games on TV, but was far from a fan of the game. During the past ten years, I’ve come to love lacrosse. It is a great game, and it inspired many young lacrosse players.
When the Rush arrived in Edmonton, fewer than five lacrosse players had NCAA scholarships. This past season, 43 kids had a lacrosse scholarship. The Rush can’t take all the credit, but when kids see a pro team live, it adds fuel to their dreams of playing pro or going to college.
Minor lacrosse registration has increased dramatically since the Rush arrived. My nephew plays and he loves it. He asked to play after going to a few Rush games. It is a fun game and it really helps young players improve their hand-eye coordination. It also helps kids learn how to spin off of hits, which helps them when they play hockey.
- It is disappointing for the city. Whether you like lacrosse or not isn’t he point. (Save us from reading pointless comments about how you couldn’t care less about the team.) I don’t go to the Citadel or the museum or many of the other art and musical options in our city, but I realize their importance. Maybe my son will be into arts and theatre, or my neighbour’s child or one of your children. I want to live in a city with different options, and to lose a championship caliber team over the unwillingness to ensure they have 12 home dates in a brand new, state-of-the-art facility makes my stomach churn.
- I fully expect the NLL to return to Edmonton for the 2017 or 2018. The OEG will want an expansion team, because, (and here is a shocker) they will need to fill dates in the new facility. Ticket prices for the expansion team will be similar to a Rush game, but the quality of play will be significantly lower. So lacrosse fans will lose again. It takes time to build a winner, and as Oilers fans have witnessed it can take a long, long time.
- I’ve heard many suggest Urban should have sold the team to OEG.
First off, he would have needed to receive a fair offer, which never happened. I know the OEG tried to reach out in the last few weeks, but Urban did not return their calls. He had made his mind up, plus their previous talks had never led to anything constructive in terms of a deal.
Secondly, why did he have to sell? It was his company. He paid all the bills for the past decade and he incurred the losses. The city and OEG didn’t go out of their way to help him, so I don’t see why he needed to sell the team. The sad reality is two years ago, if the Oilers had made him a fair offer, he would have sold. He was beaten down from the losing, but they never submitted a respectable deal. There is no doubt OEG would have done a better job marketing the team, but unlike the sale of the Roughnecks to the Flames where the Roughnecks owner was in bad financial situation, Urban was not in a position where he needed the money.
- I wish the Oilers and Rush had had a better relationship. It was disappointing to see two teams in the same market unable to work together. Both sides messed up, but the biggest error was made by the city. The never once considered an option for lacrosse in the new arena. Mayor Don Iveson showed he didn’t understand the entire situation as recently as late May, when he made a comment about the Rush’s low attendance, after Urban had unwisely complained the mayor didn’t tweet any support for the Rush.
It was more “headline” arguing from both sides instead of focusing on the real issue. The mayor tweeting about the team wasn’t going to increase ticket sales, but the Rush leaving town wasn’t about fan support; it was about a lack of support from the city to ensure they had a place to play.
I enjoyed watching the NLL, and I’ve had a great time calling games on radio and now on TSN. I will continue to call games in western Canada on TSN, but it is disappointing Edmonton fans won’t be able to enjoy watching a dominant lacrosse team. The chances are extremely low a new team will ever be as good as the lineup Keenan has built.
Edmonton’s loss is Saskatoon’s gain.
It never should have come to this, especially with a brand new arena set to open next October.
Recently by Jason Gregor: