January 27, 2011
Rush owner in for long haul
By TERRY JONES, QMI Agency
EDMONTON - Bruce Urban figures it’s now more than $5 million.
“I’ve lost money five years in a row,” said the Edmonton Rush owner on the eve of the home opener of a sixth National Lacrosse League season here Friday.
“It’s ranged from a half million to $2 million a year. I’d say five million for sure. It doesn’t feel good.”
Add the cost of buying the franchise in the first place and maybe, he says, it’s as much as $7.5 million.
“After five years, we haven’t had much success. Talk to my wife. I told her when I bought this team that it would be a fun hobby, it would break even and we’d have a legacy of bringing professional lacrosse to Edmonton.”
The thing is, this was the year it was supposed to start to be fun and start to break even.
This was the year the Edmonton Rush looked to be on the verge of breaking the barrier and becoming a relevant entity on the local landscape.
After a fractured first four years of their existence, with a 16-48 record, a failure to make the playoffs and monumental marketing mistakes, the Rush finally began to figure it out last season.
The team had a 10-6 regular season with the first playoff appearances in team history. A first-ever playoff game victory over the Roughnecks in Calgary was followed by a loss in overtime to the Washington Stealth in the NLL semifinal to come within a goal of ending up playing host in the league championship game against the Toronto Rock.
That could have been it. They’d likely have filled Rexall Place and launched the franchise forward to a future much like Calgary did when the Roughnecks won their first of two NNL titles in front of 19,000 in Calgary.
But it was still good. The team acquired a top talent last year in Brodie Merrill. And they were finally under a quality coach and general manager in Derek Keenan.
This was going to be the year.
“Our corporate support is up 35%. We’ve added Crystal Glass, Booster Juice and the Brick,” he said of major companies which all came into being in Edmonton.
“Our season tickets are up 24%. Minor lacrosse registration has more than doubled since we started. We have all our away games televised on CITY-TV this year.
“In Brodie Merrill, I think we have the best lacrosse player in the world and in Derek Keenan I believe we have a real pro who has brought to the team what we needed.”
But there’s been a malfunction at the junction to success.
The Rush take to the floor at Rexall Place against the Roughnecks tonight, with a rematch set for the Saddledome in Calgary Saturday, and they have an 0-3 start to the season.
They’re the only team in the league without a win.
That all-time regular season record now stands at 26-57. Rexall Place will likely have as many empty seats as full ones, and if they lose these two, that would be 0-5 and Bruce Urban could lose a lot more money.
You could make a case that Friday is the most important game and this is a very important weekend in Edmonton Rush history.
But on the eve of Friday’s tilt, Urban wants Edmonton to know he has every intention of hanging in until one day his team becomes the success he envisions.
“I’m sticking to the plan. I’m not going to be throwing in the towel.”
A significant percentage of the population used to paying to attend sports events in Edmonton has managed to ignore professional lacrosse with the idea the Rush would probably go the way of all those roller hockey, indoor soccer and short-white-guy basketball leagues, etc.
But Urban believes that kind of thinking has to eventually go away when people finally see that he’s not going to go away.
Urban, a Calgarian, says he doesn’t have any interest in dropping the Rush and taking over the Roughnecks, a team which has won two NLL titles and made money once again last year, but now has a “For Sale” sign up in Calgary. Urban figures the Flames will buy them from current owner Brad Banister and is OK with that.
“Edmonton should be where the Roughnecks are in attendance because it’s a better sports town,” he said.
He says that’s where the real challenge exists.
“I was hoping the losses would not be what they are. But at the same time my RV dealerships and real estate businesses have been very successful over that span.
“I live with the belief that if we can get most sports fans in Edmonton to just take in one game, we’re going to get there. Edmonton will fall in love with lacrosse one person at a time. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.”
With this team it’s looked more like the hurdles.