By Rafael Ford
University of Calgary students are finally going to have a cheap winter sports alternative to the hopeless Calgary Flames. The National Lacrosse League is coming to Calgary and starting December 2001 the Pengrowth Saddledome will house the new team, to be named sometime this summer.
The NLL lacks the stuffiness commonly associated with the professional sports business in North America these days.
"It’s really rowdy and it appeals to everybody," said Brad Banister, who leads the ownership consortium, as he emphasized the popularity of the ntertainment aspect of the National Lacrosse League.
"There’s no breaks in the music," said Banister. "15,000 to 18,000 fans show up for the games in Toronto."
Calgary will be the tenth team to join this breakout league, which has been busy hacking its way through Ontario and the Northeastern United States trying to become the fifth major professional sport in the continent. The league entry fee is $500,000 and, according to Bannister, a solid business plan. Calgary is the league’s first stop in their "aggressive western expansion," which may produce franchises in Vancouver, Edmonton and Winnipeg, according to league spokesman Doug Fritts.
The league is part-time professional, which means the players also have jobs outside the sport, meeting only for practices and games. This traditional set-up benefits fans as it keeps salaries low at $10,000 to $15,000 per season, which keeps the price of tickets low. Prices for the general public will range from $10 and $35.
There are currently a number of players in the league from Alberta, like Calgary native Kaleb Toth of the Toronto Rock, who will welcome the chance to play in front of a home audience.
Many players who currently play in various leagues around Calgary and the province will also welcome the new team which gives them the opportunity to lengthen their playing days.
"There has been an increase in popularity in Alberta," said Banister of the interest in the sport. "It’s growing fast."
And the clincher–students torn between studying and going to a game will have no excuse as all seven home games will be played on Saturdays.