Lacrosse offers a ‘test kitchen’ for Vancouver Canucks

Winning is the best sport marketing in this town and Vancouver Canucks president Michael Doyle understands that as well as anyone.

It’s certainly no surprise then that’s immediately where he went when talking about the business of the Vancouver Warriors, the National Lacrosse League team that the Canucks bought in 2018.

“The most important thing for us is to put a winning team on the floor. That’s our No. 1 priority,” Doyle said of the Warriors. “We know that in the city of Vancouver — it’s no secret — to get sports fans out you need to win. We see it in the Canucks, B.C. Lions, Vancouver Whitecaps, everyone.”

There are teams that the fans come out for no matter what. The New York Knicks and the Dallas Mavericks have drawn well with runs in the middle of the pack. The same goes for the Toronto Maple Leafs.

The Canucks are in the midst of their best season since their 2011 Stanley Cup Final run. Attendance is up, interest in the team overall seems to be surging.

The Whitecaps and the Lions are coming off strong years. For the first time in B.C. Place’s 40-year history the stadium had the upper bowl open for back-to-back games for the two clubs. The Lions had an announced crowd of 30,149 for their 41-30 win over the Calgary Stampeders in the CFL Western Semifinal on Nov. 4. The Whitecaps then had an announced crowd of 30,204 for their 1-0 loss to LAFC in the second leg of their MLS Cup first-round playoff series on Nov. 5.

The Vancouver Canadians are the one exception to success in the standings driving success at the ticket window. The C’s had a dismal team in 2016, finishing 29-45, which left them last in the eight-team league. Their announced per game attendance at Nat Bailey Stadium was 6,177, up six per cent from the season before when they won five more games.

The C’s, of course, are the one team in the bunch with Mother Nature on their side, with the warm summer nights, sunsets and The Nat’s vistas helping attract fans.

The Warriors (2-6) host the Saskatchewan Rush (2-4) on Saturday at Rogers Arena. The Warriors had an announced crowd of 9,844 for their last home game, a 14-8 setback to the Colorado Mammoth on Jan. 26.

Vancouver’s announced attendance average at home so far this season is 7,177, which puts them eighth in the 15-team NLL. The Buffalo Bandits, who won the NLL title last season, lead at 16,137. The Calgary Roughnecks, who lost in the West finals last year and have at least 10 wins in the past three full regular seasons, are next best at 11,296.

That’s what the Canucks are looking at. The Warriors have just one playoff game to show for the franchise’s past nine seasons, including finishing five wins out of the post-season last year at 4-14.

The Canucks invested heavily in the off-season on the Warriors. They recruited reigning NLL coach of the year Curt Malawsky away from the Roughnecks and gave him a reported five-year contract to be both bench boss and general manager of the Warriors. The team then attracted notable free agents like forward Kevin Crowley and defenders Ryan Dilks and Matt Beers.

This is arguably the best roster on paper the franchise has had. There’s no word out of the Warriors where they sit with the league’s $556,500 salary cap but it’s easy to assume they’re butting up against it.

“Curt has been given all the necessary tools to do what he sees fit. We’re excited about where this is going. That gives us some runway over the next couple of years to create a championship team,” Doyle said. 

“Curt’s not happy with our record. He knows he has some more work to do with making some moves and getting some other pieces. He certainly has the full support of the organization and ownership to do that.”

Warriors tickets are cheaper than Canucks tickets. It’s a younger demographic. It’s bringing a new clientele into Rogers Arena. That’s an obvious plus.

The Warriors also offer the Canucks a test kitchen to try out things for their own game-day presentation.

“The NHL has a little more strict guidelines on what we can do versus what we can do in lacrosse,” Doyle said. “Part of that is ice quality and you get it. You don’t want to risk the quality of the ice for the play of the game.

“There are things we’ve been trying in lacrosse that we plan to take to hockey. We test them out to make sure they’re going to fit the hockey side.

“It’s a benefit. I would say it’s the same with Abbotsford (Vancouver’s AHL affiliate). We have Abbotsford, the Warriors and the Canucks and we learn from all three of them. You can try things out and it has worked with lacrosse and the AHL.”

Doyle has seen such things before. He was with Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment before coming to the Canucks and says there was an exchange of game-day ideas between the Leafs and the Toronto Raptors.

Brian Burke was the Leafs’ general manager then and he was a traditionalist who wanted strictly classic rock music at games, Doyle said. The Raptors were playing a variety of tunes then, and the Leafs adopted that as a result.

“It drove Burkie nuts but the (hockey) demographic was getting younger,” Doyle said.

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