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NLL's Toronto Rock returning to Hamilton, where they started back in 1998

HAMILTON — The Toronto Rock are returning to their original home.

HAMILTON — The Toronto Rock are returning to their original home.

The National Lacrosse League team announced Tuesday it has reached a five-year agreement to relocate from Scotiabank Arena to Hamilton’s First Ontario Centre, starting with the planned 2021-22 season.

The agreement comes with a team option for a multi-year extension.

"There are a lot of reasons with a lot of layers to this decision, but when all things were considered, we feel this is best for the future of the Toronto Rock and we’re very excited to work with FirstOntario Centre," Jamie Dawick, the Rock's owner, president and general manager said in a release. 

"There is a strong business case behind the relocation to Hamilton, including a significant reduction in game operations costs as well as the opportunities that exist to better connect with our fan base and most importantly grow that fan base and increase revenues."

The franchise played its first season at what was then known as Copps Coliseum after joining the NLL in 1998 as the Ontario Raiders.

The team moved to Toronto the following season and rebranded as the Rock after being purchased by a group led by then-Maple Leafs assistant general manager Bill Waters.

The Rock became a hot ticket in Toronto, with a peak average attendance of 17,123 at the Air Canada Centre (now Scotiabank Arena) in 2005.

But attendance began to steadily decline from that high point. The Rock averaged 10,985 fans in 2011, when they won the last of their six NLL titles.

Toronto averaged 8,339 fans in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, which was fifth out of the league's 13 teams but made for a sparse crowd at the 18,819-seat venue.

FirstOntario Centre has a listed capacity of 17,383 for hockey, so the Rock will still need an uptick in attendance to escape a cavernous atmosphere.

The Rock said in the release, however, the move gives them a better selection of dates for home games. At Scotiabank Arena, they were behind the NHL's Maple Leafs and NBA's Raptors for coveted slots.

"Having access to Saturday night home games gives us the opportunity to become more accessible to even more people," Dawick said. "Fans will be able to travel in and out of Hamilton with ease and enjoy the city both before and after the game."

The team decided to keep its name and branding despite the move.

"We absolutely considered (changing) it," Dawick said. "That being said, we have always represented the (Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area) and nothing’s changed in that regard, just the location of our home games. 

"We're the same team, the same franchise, playing our games in a different building and community.  We are playing in Hamilton because it’s where we want to be for the long-term."

The NLL announced in March plans for an 18-game 2021-22 season starting Dec. 3.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 11, 2021.

The Canadian Press

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