By RICK WHEELER
The first-vear National Lacrosse League has not yet reached its regular-season halfway point, yet the league office in Toronto long ago started thinking in terms of expansion.
In mid-May, a small committee was formed to study the financial stability and attendance potential of some cities that had made inquires concerning a NLL franchise for next season.
But according to league president Spence Lyons, the committee had to be enlarged because the inquiries kept pouring in. “At least six or seven cities have contacted us,” Lyons said yesterday.” We had hoped to have our initial report back by now, but because the thing ballooned the way it did, it probably will be two more weeks before we start to think in terms of what additions we might make to the league for next year.”
New York. Boston. Minneapolis, Atlanta and Miami have been mentioned as interested cities, but Lyons would confirm only the first two. “I don’t want to commit people too soon,” he continued, “but it’s safe to say that the candidates come primarily from the east.”
In terms of attendance, Philadelphia is the top draw at home among the six teams in the league this season. The Wings, who also televise 12 of their 20 home games back to Philadelphia, are averaging over 10,000 fans per game. Maryland is next at 8.000, then Montreal at 7.000, Rochester and Toronto at 3,000 and Syracuse at 2,400.
“Toronto hasn’t drawn too well early for a couple of reasons. “ Lyons explained. “First, 15 of their 20 home games are on television. Secondly, Toronto started off slowly, but now they’re in second place and probably the league’s hottest team, so we expect things to pick up.”
Lyons had a positive reaction to Syracuse’s draw. “They had some internal problems down there with the coaching situation, and they had one of the league’s best players, Jimmy Higgs, in street clothes for quite a while. I saw the team early in the season, and I saw them Tuesday night in Toronto, and they’ve really turned around. “Higgs had one of the best games I’ve ever seen (four goals and three assists), the team was in better condition and you could tell that they were hungry. And Medo (Martinello—the new coach) has really turned things around.” Lyons continued, “And maybe now that they’ve started winning they’ll start pulling in more fans. We like to think so.”
As far as moving any existing franchises in favor of one of the new applicants, Lyons responded quickly by saying, “‘Right now, we have no intention of moving anybody. This league is still in a building process. Every franchise is financially sound, and although a few teams might be disappointed with their attendance to date, we like our setup. Its still early in the season, and there isn’t that much difference talent-wise among any of the six teams in this league, so the standings could turn around quickly and influence the gates.”
The Stingers have drawn 2,557 and 3, 111 to their last two home games. The 2-12-1 Syracusans, saddled with a two- game losing streak after putting together two straight wins last week, will try to turn it around again tonight at the Montreal Forum against Les Quebecois, who hold a 2-0 series edge.
Syracuse will travel to Philadelphia next Tuesday before coming home Wednesday to host Toronto.