MSL: Ontario senior lacrosse fans facing uncertain times

Like Broedie Birkhof of the Six Nations Chiefs, seen here in a June 2019 game, MSL fans are looking for answers. (Photo credit: Anna Taylor)

Just when you thought the cancellation of an entire summer of Senior, Junior and minor lacrosse and an open-ended, abridged NLL season weren’t enough, 2020 has again come for Major Series Lacrosse.

It started on November 11 with the news whatever the 2021 season may look like could be the last one for the Six Nations Chiefs, who cited a lack of fan support and sponsorship in a blog post on their official website.

Seven days later, it was announced the Brampton Excelsiors would be moving to Owen Sound, also blaming lack of fan support and a diminished market.

Two historic franchises. Two shocking press releases. In the span of a week.

But is there more to it than lack of fan support?

While the Chiefs’ own website touted that as the issue, that post was followed by an article in the Brantford Expositor in which team president Duane Jacobs said, “It’s hard for us to see any future in the league, really… The league is in a tough spot. The league has a lot of things to figure out.”

So is it fan support for the team or is it issues in the league itself?

One of those possible issues was discussed on this site earlier this month: the MSL cannot compete with the NLL, whose schedule is set to mirror that of the MSL this summer, costing the summer league approximately 200 players. The Chiefs will lose most of their roster.

However, the NLL expects their delay to be one season only; they plan to return to their regular schedule for the 2022 season.

A second issue could be the Excelsiors’ relocation to Owen Sound, where owner Joe Norton also controls the Sr. B North Stars. Having both his teams in one place would make life easier.

The Chiefs are 214km, or a three-hour bus ride, away from the Harry Lumley Bayshore Community Centre in Owen Sound, and they are geographically the second closest team in the MSL trailing only Oakville, at 185km from Owen Sound. Peterborough is the farthest at 300km. Owen Sound is 109 kms away from Brampton’s Memorial Arena, roughly double the travel. Brampton was Peterborough’s shortest bus ride (they drive their own cars to Cobourg and Brooklin) – Owen Sound will be their longest at seven hours round-trip.

Furthermore, should the transfer be approved, it sets a precedent for future teams to be bought, sold and moved on a whim to anyone with the deepest pockets (or $1500) in any corner of the province.

Given this information, are the Chiefs serious with their threat to fold? Or is it a plea to the OLA to reject the transfer to help safeguard their future? Considering they were part of the unanimous vote to relocate the team, that doesn’t seem likely either.

But without knowing the true issues, could we be looking at even more uncertainty?

Consider this example from the Ontario Junior Hockey League: The Milton Icehawks were purchased in June 2018. New ownership attempted to relocate the franchise to Brantford following a full season in Milton. This relocation bid was approved by the league, but later overruled by their governing body, the Ontario Hockey Association (OHA) igniting a legal battle over which organization held the authority to make such a decision.

In the end, the matter was settled out of court and the Icehawks officially became the Brantford 99ers, where they play today. However, since the legal battle, two more OJHL teams have changed hands and cities, while a third is scheduled to move for the third time in four years prior to the upcoming season.

Unfortunately, as fans, we’re left to sit back, watch and express emotions on social media.

Or are we?

What can we, as fans, do?

We can make ourselves heard.

Earlier this month at the OLA’s annual AGM, four new board members were elected, along with the acclamation of new president Jim Bomhof. Contact information for the entire board, as well as OLA staff, is listed online. Reach out, and make your voice heard. Influence their vote.

Above all else, when we’re safely allowed to do so again, GO 👏TO 👏A 👏DAMN 👏GAME 👏. Support your local centre. Bring your friends and family – buy them season tickets for their birthdays. Or volunteer – offer to donate time, fundraising items, or, if able, finances. Go. To. A. Game.

Lacrosse fans are very good at yelling on social media when things don’t go their way. How many of those do the things listed above? Many do, but others prefer to be heard, not seen. But keep yelling, anyway. Sometimes the right people listen.

Two historic franchises. Two press releases. In the span of a week.

Both citing fan support and market base as potential reasons for moving on, either to a new region, or straight out of the league. Whether accurately, or as a ploy to mask the real reasons.

At the very least we can make sure that statement is called for what it is, if not silencing it altogether.