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NLL tries to keep Calgary team alive

The job of a professional sports commissioner can be sometimes like a fireman's, trying to keep the flames from spreading out of control. George Daniel, the commissioner of the National Lacrosse League, has a good-sized blaze on his hands

right now.

The Calgary Roughnecks are in danger of folding in the middle of the current season. Owner Brad Banister says the team has enough money to play next week in Philadelphia, but can't go on past that. The franchise needs $500,000 to finish the season.

"We're certainly doing our due diligence and trying to understand everything about the situation, trying to understand what role we can play in coming up with a remedy and a solution," Daniel said. "We're working very hard. We hope we can find a solution over the next week to 10 days, to stabilize the franchise. That's our goal. I'm optimistic that we can come up with something."

Time is the major issue with the Roughnecks. A midseason folding of a franchise in a sports league causes all sorts of problems, including scheduling. Daniel agreed that losing a franchise in a 10-team league right now would be a nightmare.

"We are under a tight deadline to get things stabilized," he said. "Whether we can find a long-term solution that quickly is another story. The key thing is - what can we do to stabilize the situation to make sure that the games are going to go on? We're working very hard on that. I'm optimistic that there's a solution out there. ... We have to exhaust all possibilities."

That's not the only problem for Daniel and the NLL - only the most immediate one. For example, Washington, the league's defending champion, is averaging fewer than 4,000 fans per game. Rochester's attendance has dropped noticeably this year, in part

because the Knighthawks are playing five games in a row at home.

"In Washington, it's a relatively new sport that we've brought to the community so we're not terribly surprised by the numbers," he said. "It's still building.

The Stealth brought box lacrosse to Washington state. In Rochester, it's a situation like other cities and other leagues - it's the economy. Everybody is looking to streamline and looking at revenue sources. It's a very competitive environment out there in professional sports and for the entertainment dollar. Our ownership in Rochester

is very strong, and they have a long history there. They'll continue to work at it and built it. The Amerks' American Hockey League attendance is down as I understand it, so it's not just our league."

When Daniel was asked last year about expansion possibilities, he said that he was more concerned with making sure the existing franchise were on solid financial ground. That's still the same now.

"Sometimes expansion and strengthening current teams can go hand in hand," he said. "Expansion can help stabilize things if it's the right market. We're always looking to find the right market. We're still high on cities like Vancouver, that could be great. Our number one goal, now more than ever though, is to stabilize the franchises we have now."

Speaking of ownership, the Bandits picked up a new owner this week in Terry Pegula. While the Buffalo Sabres' franchise has obviously received more attention in the transaction, Pegula acquired the keys to a lacrosse team as well. Daniel has not spoken to Pegula directly yet.

"We welcome them on the purchase," Daniel said. "The Bandits are one of the marquee franchises in the league. We're very thankful to Mr. Thomas Golisano for his support over the years, and now we're very excited about the new owner coming in. I'm looking forward to reaching out to him in the near future."

Perhaps when the two men talk, Pegula will ask Daniel about giving Buffalo the opportunity to host an All-Star Game sometime soon. The Bandits have never been the host team for the event.

"We just couldn't make things work in the past for a variety of reasons," he said. "We'll take it from year to year, and we'll see. Obviously it's a great market for us... We've had wonderful events there over the years, championship games and sellout crowds. If we had 10 franchises like Buffalo, my job would be a little easier."

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