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Tuesday, November 23, 2010

A Shocking MLL Development

On the heels of the news about the Machine moving to Rochester as the Rattlers 2.0, Inside Lacrosse has reported that the Toronto Nationals (Rattlers 1.0) are on the move as well. After leaving Rochester for Toronto two years ago, the Nationals are now moving to Hamilton, Ontario.
The Nationals franchise moved from Rochester to Toronto before the 2009 season and has taken on a Canadian and Iroquois flavor. The Nationals played their first season at BMO Field, the brand-new 20,000-seat home to MLS's Toronto F.C., averaging 3,846 fans a game (fifth in the league). Last year they moved to Lamport Stadium, a 9,600 capacity stadium in Toronto that was built in the 1970s, and averaged 3,009 fans a game, finishing fifth again in MLL attendance.

No word has been given in regards to where the Nationals will play in Hamilton, but there are a few suitable venues to choose from. Though some would surely like the team to play at Ivor Wynne Stadium, my gut says the 30,000 seater is too cavernous and expensive for the team; its AstroPlay surface would be ideal, however. Given the typical MLL attendance (and the numbers in Toronto), the 5,000 seat Brian Timmis Stadium seems to be an ideal venue, but it may be considered too small or "amateur" for the pro team. Ron Joyce Stadium seems to be the most likely candidate since it has a flexible capacity of 6,000-12,000 seats. This puts it in the same neighborhood as Marina Auto Stadium in Rochester, which makes sense for this league.
This move puts the team halfway between Toronto and Buffalo, which means there is strong potential to draw lax fans from both cities in addition to the Hamilton residents. The team will also be significantly closer to the Six Nations, which will definitely tap into one of their core audiences and bring the league closer to the sport's roots and the team's namesake.
Time and time again the city of Hamilton has appealed to the NHL as a possible expansion/relocation city. The acquisition of the MLL franchise might work well for the city in its attempt to prove worthy of an American major league franchise, outside of the Canadian Football League. Granted the MLL is small potatoes compared the hockey league, but this is still a step in the right direction.
Placing a team in a city like Hamilton is also a great move for the MLL as it struggles to find its footing. Whereas most professional leagues (this one included) seem to target the same cities like New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago, moving to mid-size "minor league" markets allows fan bases to develop without competition from the more established teams in Major League Baseball, Major League Soccer, and Arena Football League. Hamilton, Rochester, Annapolis, and Long Island all bit this bill nicely. Through the Machine's travels this past season, we learned that the league is already looking at similar markets in Columbus, Cary, Albany, and Virginia Beach. While Denver and Boston remain as the only successful major markets in the league, it will be interesting to watch how future expansion efforts proceed.

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