New Vancouver franchise in position to succeed, says NLL commissioner

Associated Press

LANGLEY, B.C. - Denise Watkins is banking on Canada's rich lacrosse history making a difference as the National Lacrosse League ventures into Vancouver for a second time.

Watkins is the co-owner, along with her husband Bill, of the new Vancouver Stealth, which has relocated to suburban Langley, B.C., after it could not find its niche in Everett, Wash.

"I don't think anything per se went wrong," Watkins said Tuesday following an introductory news conference. "The difficulty in the United States, still, is that the sport is not well known."

Lacrosse in Canada dates to the 1850s and is the country's official summer sport, although the NLL season covers winter months.

Watkins, a California native who lives in San Jose, got involved in the sport because of her son T.J., who is now a player with a Burnaby, B.C.-based junior team.

Bill Watkins is a retired Silicon Valley tech company CEO who is now involved with an LED lighting company.

The couple bought the Stealth in 2007 while the team was still located in San Jose, Calif. They moved the Stealth to Everett in 2010.

Things did not go right for the former Vancouver Ravens franchise, either. The club, which operated from 2002-2004, was forced to fold after its ownership ran out of money. Efforts to revive the team in subsequent years were unsuccessful.

The Ravens operated out of what is now known as Rogers Arena, the home of the NHL's Vancouver Canucks. But Watkins believes a shift to the Langley Events Centre, which seats 5,276 and is smaller than the homes of other NLL teams, will make a difference.

Operators of the LEC, which is owned by a local municipality, have agreed to share some of the team's costs, said Watkins. LEC offered plenty of incentives to move after the former Washington Stealth played before sellout crowds at LEC in an exhibition game against the Toronto Rock and last winter's NLL championship game against Rochester, because the club's arena in Everett was not available.

"The challenge of a big arena is, you have to fill it," said Watkins. "And, the bigger arenas are more expensive. So, I think, the advantage of the smaller arena is that it's a bit more cost-effective."

Watkins also expects to save money because most of the club's players are from B.C., and the club will be able to reduce travel expenses.

"It's been a long wait for me to be back here, and I couldn't be more thrilled," said Stealth coach Chris Hall, a Victoria native.

He suggested the club's on-floor success will also pay off at the box office. Despite its financial troubles, the Stealth reached the NLL championship game in three of the past four years and won the title in 2010.

"The great thing for the Vancouver Stealth is that we're not an expansion team," said Hall. "We've got a championship pedigree."

NLL commissioner George Daniel said the Stealth will increase rivalries within Canada as it competes against the Calgary Roughnecks, Edmonton Rush and Toronto. The league, he added, also has a chance to increase its TV revenues now that it has a coast-to-coast presence in Canada.

Daniel said Calgary and Edmonton had a regional deal with Rogers Sportsnet while Toronto had an agreement with TSN, but the yearly contracts have expired and the league as a whole plans to negotiate a new arrangement.

Noting the Watkins are "terrific owners," he contended the club is in Vancouver to stay this time. The NLL also wants to expand elsewhere in Canada.

"We're not done," said Daniel. "We'd like to have more Canadian cities."

View Comments