Stadium Journey's 2023 Ranking of the National Lacrosse League Arenas
Since its inception in 1986 as the Eagle Pro Box Lacrosse League, to its current iteration as the National Lacrosse League in 1997, the NLL has been at the top level of indoor lacrosse competition in North America. Each year the NLL seems to take another step closer to the mainstream, having survived the coronavirus pandemic to signing media deals with ESPN and TSN in Canada.
The 2022-2023 season saw 15 teams hit the carpet for the NLL with some independent ownership groups and some part of larger sports empires. A healthy mix of major league and minor league cities and facilities are represented also. In the end, however, box lacrosse provides an affordable sports outlet, in a world where sporting dollars do not go nearly as far as they once did. We at Stadium Journey have compiled a ranking list for the experiences of the National Lacrosse League based on the reviews of our writing staff. Enjoy!
Dave Cottenie - The year was 1992. The Buffalo Bandits were founded in what was then the Major Indoor Lacrosse League. The fledgling league was only five years into its existence and four from being the Eagle Pro Box Lacrosse League. Of that group of seven teams from the 1992 season, only the Bandits remain, uninterrupted and undeterred. The Bandits even predate the current National Lacrosse League, which is what the MiLL would eventually become. Since then, the Buffalo Bandits have been the crown jewel of the league, which has seen plenty of change, strong years, and lean years, and looks currently to be stronger than ever.
Meg Minard - The Rochester Knighthawks are a member of the NLL (National Lacrosse League), an action-packed game of box lacrosse. This is the second Knighthawk franchise to call the Blue Cross Arena at the War Memorial in Rochester, NY its home.
The first was a very successful franchise that operated from 1995 to 2019. Its owner relocated the team to Nova Scotia and rebranded them as the Thunderbirds after the 2019 season. The NLL granted an expansion franchise to Pegula Sports and Entertainment (owners of four other professional sports teams in Western New York) to begin playing the 2019-2020 season.
Pegula Sports purchased the Knighthawks name to keep that name and lacrosse in Rochester. The organization hired new players and staff and designed new logos and colors for the new team. All championship records of the former team moved with them to Nova Scotia.
Meg Minard - The Las Vegas Desert Dogs are the newest members of the NLL (National Lacrosse League), joining the league in the 2022-2023 season. The team is co-owned by several well-known sports individuals: Wayne Gretzky, Steve Nash, Dustin Johnson, and Joe Tsai. They play their home matches at the multi-purpose Michelob ULTRA Arena, attached to the Mandalay Bay Resort in Las Vegas, NV. The arena also hosts the WNBA Las Vegas Aces as well as concerts, college basketball tournaments, and other entertainment. Box lacrosse is a fabulous, non-stop action indoor sport. It’s one that even leaves fans exhausted after watching a match.
Dave Cottenie - Beginning in 2021, the Toronto Rock is returning to Hamilton, Ontario, where it all began. The Toronto Rock date back to 1998 when their existence began as the Ontario Raiders. After one season, the future Toronto Rock was purchased by Bill Watters, Paul Beeston, Tie Domi, and Bobby Orr and moved to Maple Leaf Gardens for a rebranding.
Two immensely successful seasons at the Gardens saw the Rock close down the iconic arena before moving to the Air Canada Centre, which eventually became Scotiabank Arena. The Rock was sold to Oakville, Ontario businessman Jamie Dawick in 2009. Playing third fiddle in Scotiabank Arena for significant rent became unpalatable for the Rock and the move up the Queen Elizabeth Way to Hamilton was on the menu, back to where it all started.
The Rock is retaining not only the Rock moniker for 2021 but will continue to be referred to as the Toronto Rock. The new home for the Toronto Rock is the First Ontario Centre in Honour of Victor K. Copps. Built in 1985 with an NHL expansion team in mind, the former Copps Coliseum has seen several different tenants over its 35-year lifespan, with the NHL not being one of them.
Dave Cottenie - For many years, the Philadelphia Wings were one of the cornerstone franchises in the National Lacrosse League. The original Wings played in the old National Lacrosse League for the two seasons that they took the floor in 1974 and 1975. When the league resurfaced as Eagle Pro Box Lacrosse League in 1986 the Wings played in one of the original games on the first day.
The league would go through changes, with a period as the Major Indoor Lacrosse League before settling in as the National Lacrosse League in 1998. The Wings were part of all of those iterations. When the announcement was made that the Wings were sold to the Mohegan Tribe and moving to Connecticut to be the New England Black Wolves, it is appropriate to say that the lacrosse community was shocked.
It didn’t take long for the parent company of the Philadelphia Flyers, Comcast Spectacor, to dive right into the NLL and bring an expansion team back to Broad Street. The new Wings took the floor in 2018. The original home of the Wings was the venerable Spectrum. When the Wells Fargo Center opened and the Flyers and Philadelphia 76ers moved to the new venue, the Wings joined them. Opening in 1996 as the CoreStates Center, the building is now on its fourth moniker as a result of numerous bank mergers.
Jim Flannery - The Calgary Roughnecks are one of the most successful franchises in the history of the National Lacrosse League. Since they started playing in November 2001, they have only missed the playoffs once (their first year) and they have won two championships (2004 and 2009). This makes them the winningest professional sports franchise in the city’s history.
Needless to say, their standards for performance are high and their fan base is dedicated and enthusiastic. While the Saddledome was state of the art when it opened for business, it is starting to be a little long in the tooth more than 30 years later. Consequently, the Flames have begun talking about building a new facility in the not-too-distant future.
Greg Johnston - Halifax, Nova Scotia has quickly become an enticing city for attracting professional sports franchises. Curt Styres pursued an opportunity to relocate his National Lacrosse League’s (NLL) franchise. The Halifax Thunderbirds commenced play at Scotiabank Centre in 2019 after twenty-five seasons competing in Rochester, New York.
Formally known as the Knighthawks, the team celebrated much success on the field winning five championships (1997, 2007, 2012, 2013 & 2014) and ten division titles. In an unusual turn of events, the Knighthawks are still in existence, but now as an expansion team with new owners, players, and logo. The records and championships belong to the Thunderbird franchise.
David Welch - Lacrosse has long been popular in the mid-Atlantic, northeastern states, and throughout Canada, but the sport’s popularity in the south has just started to blossom in the last decade. The growth of lacrosse in Georgia has been helped by the addition of the Georgia Swarm of the National Lacrosse League. The NLL is a 15-team indoor lacrosse league with teams throughout the United States and Canada, playing their inaugural season in 1987. Indoor lacrosse is a combination of field lacrosse, played within a hockey rink on sports turf, with the production level of professional basketball.
Jim Flannery - Until 2016 the province of Saskatchewan was home to just a single professional sports franchise: the Roughriders, playing in Regina as part of the Canadian Football League. That is no longer the case as the Saskatchewan Rush are now residing in Saskatoon.
The Rush had a busy and exciting 2015. In their 10th year of operation in the National Lacrosse League, they won their division for the third straight season, went to the Champion’s Cup for the second time, and won their first championship. A few weeks later, the team announced that they were relocating from Edmonton to Saskatoon. As a result, folks in Saskatoon are not only getting their first pro sports franchise, but they’re getting to see it played at the highest level, with a top-ranked squad coming to town.
The Rush now play indoor (aka ‘box’) lacrosse at SaskTel Centre. The arena has undergone several renovations, expansions, and improvements since it opened its doors in 1988, with seating capacity more than doubled in that time, such that the facility can now hold more than 15,000 people.
Meg Minard - The Mammoth put on a good show; it is all very well coordinated. The introduction includes motorcycles on the court and smoke and fire when the Mammoth players are announced. The young, pretty, athletic Wild Bunch dancers entertain the crowd during breaks in the game. And, a halftime show includes various entertainment acts.
Meg Minard - The San Diego Seals are one of the newer members in the National Lacrosse League (NLL) beginning play in the 2018-2019 season. They have been successful, making it to the West Division semi-finals in their first season. So far in this early part of the 2021-2022 season, they are continuing their winning ways. The Seals play their home games at Pechanga Arena in the Midway District of San Diego, CA. Built in 1966, the arena is set up to be functional; not the whiz-bang marvels built these days for sports facilities. It serves the Seals well from a fan perspective.
Dave Cottenie - In 2021, the National Lacrosse League returned to the Capital Region. From 2000 to 2003, Albany was home to the Attack, who would relocate to San Jose, California, and eventually settle in Vancouver. Albany has been home to several minor league hockey teams, most notably the Albany River Rats.
However, the departure of the Albany Devils in 2017 left the area without a professional team to call their own. The New England Black Wolves would relocate in 2021 to Albany and the team would be cleverly named the Albany FireWolves. At one time the Arena Football League’s Albany Firebirds were a popular draw and the wolves' name was kept from the Black Wolves days. The mascot of the old Attack was also a wolf.
Dave Cottenie - The connection between New York and the National Lacrosse League is a long and significant one. The New Jersey Saints were one of the original Eagle Pro Lacrosse League teams and won the original championship in 1988. They immediately moved to Long Island to become the New York Saints, where they continued to participate in the various iterations of the league until 2003.
The New York Titans would split time between Long Island and Midtown for their three seasons before moving to Orlando in 2009. In 2018, New York would once again be awarded an expansion team in the NLL and a return to Long Island was in the cards for the newly minted New York Riptide. The return to Long Island would bring with it a return to the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum.
Famously the home of the NHL’s New York Islanders during their four Stanley Cup run in the eighties, the Nassau Coliseum received a significant facelift in 2017. Originally opened in 1972, the county-owned Nassau Coliseum experienced a massive renovation which included a significant reduction in capacity, deadly for NHL hockey, but perfect for NLL lacrosse.
Michael Davis - Panther City lacrosse is trying to compete in a state that is very unfamiliar with lacrosse. Although lacrosse is played in high school there isn’t much of a fuss over it, especially in a football state. There is some interest, however, and the fans that show up to the games are vocal and know the game.
N/A Vancouver Warriors - Rogers Arena
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