Although lacrosse is the national sport of Canada, field lacrosse is a fairly new venture in the Great White North. The Toronto Nationals were founded in 2009 and spent 2 years in Ontario's Capital. They took home the Steinfeld Cup in their inaugural season. In 2011, the Nationals were sold to Curt Styres who moved the team to Hamilton to play on the campus of McMaster University.
Les Prince Field at Ron Joyce Stadium is owned by McMaster University. The field is named after a former athletic director, and pioneer of McMaster Athletics, Les Prince, and the stadium is named after the co-founder of Tim Horten's, Ron Joyce, who made a large donation to McMaster.
The play on the field has been a bit of a roller coaster, with the Nationals making another appearance in the Steinfeld Cup Final, but also finishing in last place in the MLL in 2010. In the stands, the Nationals have had a difficult time gaining their footing. This year (2012) marks the first year that the Nationals have played in the same stadium that they played in the previous year. The Nationals played their first year at BMO Field, and the second year they played at Lamport Stadium.
The Nationals have gone out of their way to embrace the aboriginal nature of the sport of lacrosse. Played by aboriginal Canadians for centuries, even as a means of resolving disputes, it is unquestionable how strong the link is between lacrosse and Canada. When designing the logo for the Nationals, the team consulted and received approval from the Iroquois Six Nations, which have a legendary presence in the Southern Ontario Lacrosse community.
The Nationals do put an entertaining product on the field, and a Nationals game is worth a look. What the future holds for the Nationals, however, is anyone's guess.
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Simple. Beyond simple in fact. The entire menu consists of hot dogs, sausage, nachos, chips, chocolate bars, popcorn, soda, and water. If you are looking for something new, exciting, or different ... don't look here. The prices for concessions are average at best. Your best bet is to probably find someplace before or after the game to grab a bite to eat. There are also no alcohol sales at the stadium.
Ron Joyce Stadium is a great facility ... for Canadian University football. The same could not be said for a professional sporting franchise.
With an evening game, the first thing you notice, is that you are looking right into the setting sun, which is not the most comfortable situation. There is heavy use of the PA during the game, but the acoustics are terrible and there is a considerable echo throughout the stadium, which is very annoying when music is being played.
It also is a little, petty thing, but watching lacrosse on a football field, with the football markings is pretty distracting. When the Nationals played at BMO Field or Lamport Stadium, it was a better situation for lacrosse with no football lines. Field lacrosse is far better suited for a soccer stadium rather than a football stadium. What was really curious was that there is a video board at Ron Joyce Stadium, which is unique for a Canadian University, but it was not used by the Nationals.
The seating at Ron Joyce Stadium is fine. The reserved seats are plastic chairs, and the general admission seats are metal benches. With a ton of empty seats, patrons are able to choose their own seat and get the perspective that they want. Unlike the National Lacrosse League (NLL), the music is not played during the game, and you can hear all of the sounds of the game. After the game, players from both teams are available for autograph signing, which is a great way for players to connect with their fans.
Being on the campus of McMaster University, Ron Joyce Stadium is not too far from local establishments perfect for pre or post game meals. If you hit King Street you will find The Bean Bar, My Dog Joe, Westdale Cafe and the Snooty Fox. Over on Main Street you will find reliable chains like Crabby Joe's and Boston Pizza. On a nice summer evening, a jaunt over to Hess Village to hit a patio bar is well worth it as well.
Fan support has been an issue for the Nationals over their existence. They are averaging just over 2,000 fans per game, which is the worst in the entire MLL, and more than 8,000 fans per game less than the Denver Outlaws, who are at the top. The game being reviewed featured an official attendance of under 1,600. Getting traction has been difficult for the Nationals with the consistent movement of the franchise and lack of media coverage. All of the MLL games are available on the internet on ESPN3, however ESPN3 is not available in Canada.
Getting to a Nationals game is really easy. The campus at McMaster is located close to highways 403 and 6 and main Hamilton roads King Street and Main Street. The campus is easy to manoeuvre, and finding parking is not difficult. Campus lots are available at a price of $6, which isn't great, but understandable on a university campus.
Tickets for the Nationals go for $10-$15, which is a good deal compared to other teams in the MLL. Concession prices are decent and parking is not going to kill you. If you add it all up, a Nationals game is not a huge investment. More fans and a better atmosphere would provide a better return on your sporting investment.
An extra point for the Nationals embracing the Iroquois Nation and representing them on their logo.
An extra point for players being real people. Almost all MLL players hold full-time jobs outside of lacrosse.
The MLL has had difficulty gaining traction in Canada where its brother National Lacrosse League has flourished. Although the future of the Nationals is in question, I hope that they stick around and build a stronger following. The Nationals are a great way to break up the summer which is dominated by baseball, and after all, lacrosse is Canada's national sport!
Follow all of Dave's journeys on Twitter @profan9
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