When the National Lacrosse League’s Toronto Rock announced it would move from Toronto’s Scotiabank Arena to Hamilton’s FirstOntario Centre, it ignited lots of buzz around the province’s lacrosse team. We asked Jamie Dawick, the team’s president, owner and general manager—and the league’s 2022 Executive of the Year—about the transition and the first exciting season in their new home.
By Wendy Helfenbaum
Moving to Hamilton meant a reduction in game operations costs and a chance to grow revenues and expand your fan base. But was it a difficult decision?
It was definitely a challenge, plus the unknown of going from something you’re used to into something you’re unfamiliar with. It was a long process for us to decide, but we believed it was the right move. Even during the pandemic when we played three games in front of no fans in our building, it ended up being a smooth transition for us.
What’s the strategy behind representing Toronto while playing home games in Hamilton? Did keeping the team’s name after the move stir up controversy?
The Toronto Rock’s been around for 25 years, and it’s about branding. There’s a lot of history with the franchise that we were intent on preserving: As the Toronto Rock, we represented the entire province back then and now. We’re loud and proud that we play our home games in Hamilton. It’s become a great home for us, but we are the Toronto Rock. We’re Ontario’s team and beyond.
Has the team found its audience in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area? And did better access to Saturday night games help build up the fan base?
Having Saturday night games was huge. For people that don’t live in downtown Toronto, the FirstOntario Centre is much more accessible and there’s a huge lacrosse community there. The only challenge in the move was considering our fans east of Toronto, but we felt that with the Saturday night games, the travel time to Hamilton is probably the same if not less than to get [to Toronto] downtown on a Friday night, for example.
How was attendance during the 2021-2022 season at FirstOntario Centre?
It met and exceeded our expectations. Our crowds were similar to crowds we had at Scotiabank. Our season ticket holder fan base has gone up. It seems our game was meant for the Hamilton crowd; it’s the perfect fit for us. The capacity at FirstOntario Centre is just over 17,000, which gives us an opportunity to draw big crowds to our games.
How does sponsorship work now?
Obviously, some companies want to be right in downtown Toronto, but we have a TSN presence coast to coast and lots of companies are interested in being near Hamilton. Sponsorship last year was very successful, all things considered, between the move and the pandemic. Maybe one or two clients weren’t thrilled with it, but three or four were very interested in the location. The price of doing business in general in Hamilton versus Toronto is very different and that’s appealing to a lot of people.
What do you enjoy most about having The Rock in Hamilton?
I love it. I want to experience more of Hamilton—the restaurants and things to do there. Right now, we feel like we’re at home as a team. We’re wanted by the building operators and by the people in the surrounding area. My players feel very welcome there. We’re a part of that building, a part of that city. That was a great feeling from day one.
When announcing the move last spring, you said this was best for the future of the franchise. What are your plans and goals for the team going forward?
This is, to me, a permanent move. This is our home. We’re going to continue to get our brand out there, interact with the community, represent the brand in the best possible way, make connections and partnerships, and keep evolving. It’s not something that has to be done overnight because we’re not going anywhere. We want to have whatever impact we can on the community and the surrounding areas and be good citizens and good representatives of the province, Toronto Rock and the city of Hamilton.
PHOTOS: Toronto Rock/Ryan McCullough
Published October 2022