On Tuesday, Feb. 23 the National Lacrosse League (NLL) announced the sale of the New England Black Wolves to a group headlined by former NLL player Oliver Marti.
The new ownership group will relocate the franchise immediately to the lacrosse-forward community of Albany, New York, where the team will play downtown at the recently-renovated Times Union Center. The transition represents the return of box lacrosse to the Capital Region for the first time in nearly two decades when it served as home to the Albany Attack from 2000-2003.
Committed to working with and “hearing” the Albany and greater New York lacrosse communities, the franchise fielded team name suggestions on its newly-launched website Feb. 23-28. Turning the power over to the club’s fanbase, the Albany franchise is investing in its community with hopes of a packed arena upon the NLL’s resumption of play this fall.
“We want this to be the Capital Region’s team, and giving the fans a voice and having them lend a hand in the direction of our brand identity will ensure that,” team President George Manias shared in a press release Tuesday. “We are excited to start receiving submissions, make our ultimate decision based on fan and ownership input and ultimately see what our team name, logos, colors and overall brand identity will be. This dictates everything for us moving forward.”
With the exciting growth and relocation announcements taking place this offseason, we thought it would be a great time to turn the page back and look deeper at our own GLOW UP. So; grab some popcorn, hop in the time machine and let’s explore a few stories from our own relocation success!
In recalling the transition our franchise experienced in the early 2000s, ColoradoMammoth.com sat down with former Mammoth President and General Manager Steve Govett.
Govett has been involved with the National Lacrosse League for parts of four decades and has excelled in a variety of roles on the turf and in the office. The former Mammoth shot caller currently serves as President of the San Diego Seals and Vice President, New Business with JTsai Sports USA. Govett was also recently named to the World Lacrosse Board of Directors in Sept. 2020.
Powerful Transition, Mammoth Results
Spring 2002: Govett is serving as President and General Manager of the Washington Power. The combination of average on-field production and subpar attendance is beginning to force the franchise to consider options to financially justify its efforts.
On the outskirts of the then-dominated East Coast lacrosse scene, Govett and the organization knew some sort of change was inevitable. What they didn’t know was their upcoming franchise relocation would not only help to shape the NLL’s presence in the western United States, but would create waves in the collegiate lacrosse world and eventually establish Colorado as the lacrosse mecca of the west.
The Colorado Mammoth continues to partner with a variety of youth, adult, recreational and professional lacrosse entities in growing the game of lacrosse. A great narrative, but we’re here to share the stories of how the dominoes fell.
Recognizing the opportunity and weighing the challenges, Govett began reaching out to contacts with a vision; a product that had a majority of the pieces together which needed an avenue, a home, a community and an ownership group that would allow it to spread its wings and take flight.
Govett, a former player and experienced executive, understood the excitement, physicality and raw athleticism the sport presented. His task was identifying an opportunity to make the situation work. Instead, Govett stumbled upon the league’s next home run.
(Enter Kroenke Sports & Entertainment)
After months of chatting and receiving a series of recommendations from business folks, sports professionals and beyond, Govett eventually crossed paths with an entertainment group in Colorado which became growingly interested in adding another high-intensity source of entertainment to be featured in the beautiful, new Pepsi Center (Ball Arena).
“The entire experience started with one phone call; that conversation arguably ended up changing the trajectory of lacrosse out west and helped establish Colorado as a franchise that represents the state and league respectively while continuing to grow and execute the game at high levels,” Govett shared.
Described as “the market coming to the community” Colorado was ready for some more action-packed fun in downtown Denver. What they didn’t know was that Mammoth games at Pepsi Center (Ball Arena) would eventually average higher per-contest attendance figures than neighboring residents in the Denver Nuggets and 2001 Stanley Cup Champion Colorado Avalanche.
“We knew what we were bringing to the table, but credit goes to Stan (Kroenke) and the leadership team for getting all of the pieces right,” Govett shared. “We created a niche product that provided affordable, family-friendly entertainment which also allowed folks to experience the Pepsi Center.”
Following Kroenke Sports & Entertainment’s official acquisition and relocation of the franchise, the Colorado Mammoth was born. Working with sales and marketing departments to produce noise for the new team in town, the Mammoth brand would soon be passionately embraced by the Colorado community.
June 9, 2002: Govett and the gang are preparing for the team’s introductory press conference. Transitioning from a program in Washington which struggled to stay relevant and attract fans to its arena, Govett quickly realized the levels of support and excitement were a bit “elevated” in the 303.
“I kid you not, there were a few hundred people in attendance (at the press conference) that day,” Govett shared as he laughed and reflected on the day. “Between KSE employees, lacrosse fans, media members and executive support, we had a packed house that day, and that seemed to be the pattern for the ensuing future.”
Referenced as a unique combination of proper pricing, access to a state-of-the art building, the excitement surrounding the sport and a little bit of good timing, “the rest is history, really,” Govett shared. “We also had Gary Gait.”
As we continued picking Steve’s brain, he shared anecdotes and memories from the first season debuting at the Loud House, including a few that stood out from the rest:
- Midnight at the Loud House (A drastically-delayed exhibition game at Pepsi Center which didn’t begin until after midnight the following morning: Served as the organization’s first contest in Denver and as a testament to the fan base’s interest when more than 12,000 stayed for the late night action which concluded nearly three hours later)
- Opening Night at the Loud House (Served as Colorado’s first regular season contest at Pepsi Center: Govett and the Mammoth front office had to work with the NLL in pushing the game’s start time back thirty minutes because “fans were literally lined up outside the door” and the organization wanted to ensure its entire family was present for the big night)
- Overwhelming Fan Support (Fans realizing the Mammoth were providing an action-packed adrenaline rush and refreshing form of affordable family entertainment: Eventually, in growing the sport and producing on the field “we didn’t solely have folks who were seeking entertainment, we had lacrosse fans in the building.”)
While the on-field results wavered in the organization’s first three years, after producing 9, 13 and 8-win seasons in 2003-05 respectively, the support within the Loud House did not. The Mammoth captured the NLL’s Champions Cup the next year in 2006 and completed its goal of bringing a championship to Colorado.
“It was awesome to see all the hard work, the growing fan base, all of those elements eventually culminating in capturing that 2006 championship,” Govett shared. “We had a special group that year; a healthy mix of quality Americans and some veteran Canadian guys kept the young guys accountable and motivated, and overall an awesome experience.”
Up Next: Albany!
While the excitement of the league’s announcement welcoming Albany was executed with grace and integrity, there’s a lot behind the scenes that must occur before the league, owners and respective city/counties give the green light.
Detailed feasibility studies, endless visitation and exploration experiences and countless conversations with local economy, transportation and other government experts come first. The Albany community presents several opportunities for the franchise and league to continue to thrive in the Northeast region while welcoming a club back to the lacrosse-friendly Capital Region.
In regards to some of the challenges expansion or relocation teams face: “This group has experience from the top down; players, coaches and staff have all excelled in the NLL, so they aren’t starting from scratch by any means,” Govett explained. “The PLL recorded its largest attendance of the year during its inaugural season when they played in Albany, so the fans will show up.”
Not to mention the program that’s been established at University at Albany.
“They’re used to seeing the amazing talent at the collegiate level, so it’ll be an awesome opportunity for some of the guys that have their roots up there to play in front of friends, family and fellow alumni,” Govett said. “Between Blaze (Riorden), the Thompsons (Lyle and Miles), Connor Fields, etc. – there’s a great awareness and track record of quality lacrosse in the Albany area.”
Acknowledging the program’s pedigree and athlete’s skills alike, Colorado selected University at Albany midfielder Ron John with the 18th overall selection in the 2020 NLL Entry Draft.
With the proper pieces in place for the Albany franchise to compete in the NLL’s 2021-22 season, the group has the support of an established ownership group and enduring community.
“This situation is real and the league is bringing lacrosse back to Albany for a reason; a real community, real ownership and ultimately a real big story for that region and our league – hopefully they can capture that lightning in bottle like we did with the Mammoth and how Saskatchewan and Halifax have continued to showcase tremendous success in new markets.”
After finishing in first place of the NLL’s East Division in the shortened 2019-20 campaign, the franchise announced plans to remain committed to its core on-field talent upon returning to play during the team’s introductory press conference Tuesday.
For more information on the franchise’s announcement and upcoming league initiatives, please visit NLL.com or AlbanyNLL.com.