From fan to owner

Some young Vancouver Stealth fans follow the action during the home team’s 14-13 overtime victory on Friday night at the Langley Events Centre.  - Gary Ahuja/Langley Times
Some young Vancouver Stealth fans follow the action during the home team’s 14-13 overtime victory on Friday night at the Langley Events Centre.
— image credit: Gary Ahuja/Langley Times

While she is a sports fan, Denise Watkins never imagined she would one day own a professional lacrosse team.

Watkins, along with her husband Bill, were San Jose Sharks season ticket holders when the National Lacrosse League’s Albany Attack relocated across the country to California as the San Jose Stealth in 2003.

The Watkins —who have two daughters and a son — wanted to learn more about the sport their son has signed up to play. So while attending a Sharks game, Bill signed up for season tickets to the Stealth as a way to learn more about the game.

The Watkins were immediately smitten.

“For a couple of years, we were just rabid fans and had fun at the games,” explained the mother of three.

“And we were still mystified that no one was there.”

Over time, the community-minded Watkins got involved with a charity Sticks-2-Schools, which delivers lacrosse to local school shops and communities to get active and to fight childhood obesity.

And then at the end of the 2007 season, the Watkins purchased the Stealth.

They gave it a go for a couple of years in California, and while there was some improvement, they still faced many of the same challenges as the previous ownership group.

“We didn’t really move the needle in terms of attendance,” she said.

That prompted a move to Everett, Wash. for the 2010 season.

On the floor, the team was been a model of consistency, reaching three of the past four NLL Champion’s Cup. They won the title that first season in Everett but lost in both 2011 and 2013.

A big difference this time around is having the Langley Events Centre on as a true partner.

“The first two go’s at it, the arenas we were in, they were not partners, we were just renters,” Watkins explained.

Gary Ahuja/Langley Times

Vancouver Stealth owner Denise Watkins flies in from the San Francisco area for every Stealth home game at the Langley Events Centre.

That meant the team had little or no help with the promotions or ticket sales.

“With the Langley Events Centre, I would consider it a true partnership,” she said.

“They have some skin in the game and are putting some real money on the line and we work together.

“It certainly helps that they are into it and a part of it.”

The Stealth have played a pair of home games so far at the LEC, winning both.

At their home opener on Jan. 11, they drew 5,031 fans. Capacity is 5,276.

The hosted another game on Jan. 17 and drew 2,981 fans.

The latter game was on a Friday night with an 8 p.m. start time while the former was a Saturday night at 7 p.m.

Out of the remaining seven home games, only one is a Friday night.

Another reason for optimism is the market they now play in.

“I know this is the home of lacrosse; it is Canada’s national summer sport,” Watkins said.

“Clearly up here, we don’t have to explain the game, which in the U.S. we were having to do.”

The Watkins family remains in California, living in a town called Pleasanton, which is on the east side of the San Francisco Bay.

Watkins attends all of the Stealth home games, and some of their road games as well.

She has also previously been out to B.C. previously and attended Western Lacrosse Association games to scout players. She has also been out east to watch some of the players who compete in the Ontario Lacrosse Association.

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