The MSL is the best kept secret in Ontario, according to Peterborough Lakers president Ted Higgins. Each season six lacrosse teams attempt to reach out to their communities to introduce them to Canada’s national summer sport.
However, attendance at most MSL games is less than impressive. Four teams* average less than 400 people per game, with the Oakville Rock bringing in only 95 fans per game. With so many other opportunities available for parents and kids in the summer, an indoor lacrosse game just isn’t high on most people’s lists, unless they’re already part of the lacrosse community.
The Peterborough Lakers are at the opposite end of the spectrum. They have pulled in thousands of fans every summer since the Lakers surge to greatness in the mid 2000s. The team is averaging 3158 fans per game this season.
A large part of that number is season ticket holders. But a significant part is also the reputation of the team and the marketing they do in the community.
Several years ago, word of Lakers fever spread to nearby Ennismore, where there is a summer camp for Jewish children called Camp Moshava. In 2007, the camp reached out to the Lakers and ended up bringing their campers to a game. That started a yearly tradition, with over 400 campers coming to one game a season. They even made the trek to Brampton to support the Lakers for a game when they couldn’t work in a home game. Camp Moshava night is one of the most highly anticipated games of the season because of the energy the campers bring.
They cheer, chant, and sing. They’ve even made up their own goal dance, which is passed on year after year from veteran campers.
While their heads are always in the game, don’t think the players don’t notice the extra energy in the arena.
“I love when they’re here,” Lakers defenseman Brock Sorensen said. “The energy they bring, the chants that they bring are awesome. They help us out and get the rest of the crowd going and it’s great to have them.”
Lakers goaltender Evan Kirk, although new to the Lakers, was already familiar with the campers.
“I’ve actually played in front of them like 4 times in my career,” he said, “and every time I come here they’re loud the whole time, it’s a good atmosphere for sure. To be on the other side is way better.”
Two teams add to their fan totals in the playoffs; when the Six Nations Chiefs are in contention for the Mann Cup, their attendance always rises. It has done so in the past two seasons and will very likely do so again this summer, as fans in the small community of Ohsweken rally to support their team.
Kirk, acquired from Six Nations this season, noticed the difference in crowds right away.
“You’ve got 3500 fans here,” he said. “Everyone’s excited to be here. There was virtually no one in Six Nations and it’s a whole different atmosphere for both teams.”
The Brooklin Redmen see something similar to camp kids in early August, as Durham Region hosts the annual Ontario Lacrosse Festival, featuring hundreds of teams and thousands of minor players. The Redmen, many of whom play in the NLL, are the kids idols, and seeing them in the atmosphere of the festival is a dream come true. However, the festival only runs August 1-10 each year, and the MSL’s regular season is finished by then. Brooklin is in a fight to even make the playoffs this year and may not benefit from that moral boost the kids give them.
The MSL has an opportunity, one that is made clear by the Lakers relationship with Camp Moshava, and that opportunity is vital to the longevity of the league. Teams need fans to survive, and currently only the Lakers are drawing in significant numbers. The other five teams in the league need to begin reaching out to various groups in their community and bringing them to games.
The Lakers only add to their embarrassment of riches in fans when Camp Moshava visits.
“I do notice a difference when [Camp Moshava’s] here,” Sorensen said. “They fill up the whole family zone, we notice when they’re here.”
Shawn Evans summed up the feelings of every Lakers player regarding their large fan base.
“Every night the crowd’s into it,” he recognized. “If it’s a hit, if it’s a loose ball, if it’s a good play our fans know what’s going on. We have the best fans in the league and it’s great when we’re out there playing and they’re cheering on all the little things that are happening.”
MSL players are the best in the world at lacrosse, and so many people are missing out on the excitement in this league. All the teams in the league deserve to have large fan bases cheering them on every game like the Lakers do.
*Kitchener-Waterloo’s attendance was unavailable.