Splash over dash?

SCOTT ZERR -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 7:39 AM ET

Money isn't an issue for Bruce Urban.

The Edmonton Rush owner hasn't counted his pennies over the course of the team's first year in the National Lacrosse League, but it's fair to say he's spent way more than the franchise has raked in.

Among his most significant expenses has been game-day entertainment, which includes tonight's visit from model Brooke Burke and singer Suzie McNeil. Other halftime shows have included country stars George Canyon and the Road Hammers, a performance by the Swollen Members (which had as much appeal as swollen wisdom teeth) and Cirque Plus. Next week's game against Colorado will feature a production by the Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders.

Urban figures the entertainment has cost him well over $100,000 and he plans on upping that total next year. That's a huge portion of the team's budget considering the relatively inexpensive player salaries in the NLL, at least compared to those of NHLers.

But could that entertainment money not be spent better on attracting the top NLL free agents to Edmonton?

Would it not be wiser to reduce the sizzle and super size the steak?

"It's been money well spent. We're giving people their money's worth," said Urban. "Players want to play for exciting teams so we want free agents who want to sign here. That will make it so our fans see an entertaining team that wins more."

LEAGUE-WIDE ISSUE

It's an issue for the entire NLL to consider. The on-field product can sell itself. And so far in Edmonton, the extra pizzazz hasn't really resulted in any serious upswing of ticket sales. Now that's not to say 1,000 googly-eyed guys won't be lining up for tickets to ogle Burke or the cheerleaders, but since it seems the majority of the fans are sticking with the team despite their 1-10 record, it must be the game and the action that they're buying into.

If the Rush are really only a player or two away from being a playoff contender it would seem to be the wiser move to spend less on frills and more on substance - a move that should be much easier to pull in Year 2. With Urban's deep pockets, the Rush could afford to dole out the $21,000 US max salary to some talented free agents.

"Because we were an expansion team, nobody knew who we were or anything about our owner," said A.J. Jomha, the Rush's director of lacrosse operations. "Those free agents weren't going to make any big leap until they saw our organization after what has happened with some less-than-successful teams in the past.

"Our best free-agent signing last year was Paul Day."

Day's record as a head coach and now GM gave the Rush a sizable measure of credibility. His in-season acquisitions of Mat Giles, Jason Clark and Rob Williams gave the Rush some much-needed leadership and veteran skills.

While the next entry draft will likely provide the Rush with more youthful talent, the team can't sit back and wait for fresh recruits to carry the load. They can't afford two or three years of cautious development. It's a fine line between sacrificing for the future and biding time, but the Rush must find that line and straddle it.

FREE-AGENT APPEAL

"There weren't a lot of options for us last year, but this year I think we've moved into a more positive position," said Jomha.

"It might be more viable for us to sign some free agents, but they'd have to be the right fit and have the right mindset. The perfect example is Jason Clark. He brought us some maturity that we needed and he's going to be a positive role model."

At 32 and with seven years in the league under his belt, Clark is a good fit being a former 30-goal scorer and having played in three Champion's Cup finals. A team looking to the future can't have a roster full of Clarks but a handful of players like him will pay off. Shelling out for one or two free agents in the off-season wouldn't hurt either.


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