The Stealth have landed in Langley.
Following a nine-year absence, professional lacrosse makes its return to the Lower Mainland as the Vancouver Stealth will call the Langley Events Centre home.
The announcement came on Thursday morning following a unanimous vote from the National Lacrosse League’s board of governors.
The team will be relocating from Everett, Wash. for the 2014 NLL season.
“From an Everett standpoint, we had four very successful years on the floor, and reasonable years of fan support but the growth didn’t seem to be at a level that we expected and would have really needed to sustain the team,” said Doug Locker, the Stealth’s president and general manager, who will continue that role in Langley.
“We looked at what was the next logical move for the franchise and it was kind of a natural looking at the Lower Mainland,” he added.
Locker cited the knowledgable fan base in the area as well as the desire to get a team back in the Lower Mainland.
The Vancouver Ravens played in the NLL from 2002 to 2004 before folding. The team played out of General Motors Arena (which is now Rogers Arena).
The NLL has been looking at returning to the Lower Mainland for a number of years.
In 2011, the LEC hosted a preseason game between the Stealth and Toronto Rock, which filled the 5,200-seat facility to capacity. Another preseason game was held in 2012, this time with 4,100 fans on hand.
And back in May, the Stealth needed a different venue to host the NLL Champion’s Cup with their home arena, Comcast Arena, booked that weekend.
The game was held at the LEC with just a few weeks notice, and it once again sold out.
“I can’t tell you how excited we are are,” Locker said.
“We had two great experiences playing in Langley … the atmosphere was just electric.
“It is a great facility and we are thrilled to be coming up and representing the province and the area.”
A few weeks after that, Locker said the team began having serious discussions about permanently relocating.
“For us, it has been in the backs of our minds since we hosted the exhibition game (in 2011),” said Jared Harman, the LEC’s director of business development.
“And obviously the lacrosse market has been looking for it for a while.
“It is a huge thing for the community and our facility.”
This is the organization’s fourth home.
From 2000 to 2003, they were the Albany Attack and from 2004 to 2009, they were the San Jose Stealth before spending the past four years in Everett.
NLL commissioner George Daniel said the move from San Jose was based on the hope the Stealth would be a regional team for the Seattle area, but that never panned out.
“It was approved on the basis that it was going to be a regional team,” he said.
“Unfortunately, while there were some loyal fans, the team’s attendance just never grew.
“While we are sad for the Stealth’s loyal fans (in Everett), there just wasn’t enough of them.”
According to the league website, the team averaged 4,194 fans per game for a total of 33,475 fans over their eight home games.
The league average was 9,662 in 2013.
Daniel said adding a team in the Lower Mainland will in their quest to get a Canadian television contract.
The Stealth are the fourth Canadian team in the nine-team league, joining the Calgary Roughnecks and Edmonton Rush in the West Division, while the Toronto Rock is in the East.
The Rock had a regional TV deal with TSN and TSN2 while the Alberta teams were with Rogers Sportsnet, Daniel said.
“Being in the number two TV market in Canada should help,” he said.
The Stealth will hold a press conference on Tuesday (July 2) at the LEC at 11 a.m. where they will roll out their marketing and season ticket plans.
The team maintains the same ownership. Denise and Bill Watkins have owned the team since the end of the 2007 season.
The agreement is for five years with two options to extend it for an additional five years each time, Locker said.
“The fans are getting a great product and are getting a team with a proven track record and hopefully that will continue into the future,” Locker said.
The Stealth have been in the Champion’s Cup three of the past four seasons, winning the title in 2010.
Teams play a 16-game season which runs from January until April.
The league consists of nine teams in two divisions with the Stealth, Calgary, Edmonton, the Colorado Mammoth and Minnesota Swarm in the west and the East Division consisting of Toronto, Buffalo Bandits, Philadelphia Wings and Rochester Knighthawks.
The 2013 championship game saw the Knighthawks defeat the Stealth.