Rebel ‘missed the boat’ with marketing

By Travis Webb

Interest in minor lacrosse in Ottawa has expanded dramatically in the past three years, but the Ottawa Rebel aren’t capitalizing on the boom, youth organizers say.

“I think they’ve missed the boat from the marketing perspective,” says Andy Mutch, president of the Nepean junior B lacrosse team. “I’m not sure what market they’ve gone after, but they’ve ignored the lacrosse people in Ottawa.”

The Rebel have seen their attendance dwindle over the past three years. In four games this season, the team has attracted 3,000 fans to the Civic Centre. That’s down from 5,900 last season and 8,000 two years ago.

According to Andy Watson, recreational lacrosse registration in Nepean and Gloucester has tripled since the Rebel arrived in Ottawa. Watson, who coaches and referees in both associations and works part time for the Rebel, says the club’s arrival played a role in the boom.

“I think part of it is the

Rebel . . . getting exposure for the sport,” he says. “I think it had an effect in Ottawa because the game is still relatively new to people.”

Despite the overall growth, Watson says there isn’t much lacrosse interest in Centretown. He says the sport is played in hockey arenas that remove their ice surface in the summer and he doesn’t see that happening in Centretown. He also says that there may not be enough families in the area to sustain a league.

Mutch says the Rebel need to work more with the minor lacrosse leagues that do exist if they want to see any benefit from the sport’s expansion. Mutch says he and many of his colleagues stopped renewing their season tickets in part because of the Rebel’s marketing strategy.

“[The Rebel] should be coming out to lacrosse people,” he says. “We’ve asked them to come to some of our games during the summertime to help promote the team, but they’re not interested at all.”

Mutch says that the Rebel should focus more on bringing players into the community on game days. He also suggests resurrecting a program that allowed minor associations to take a cut of any season tickets they sold.

Pat Dannenberg, president of the Gloucester Lacrosse Association and a former Rebel employee, agrees that bringing back the ticket program would be a good move. She also says the Rebel initiative of hosting minor lacrosse matches at the Civic Centre before each home game is great for the kids. That said, she doesn’t think it represents enough of an effort by the Rebel.

“I think there’s a lot more they could have done last summer,” she says. “It really bothers me that they didn’t do anything with all the people from lacrosse.”

Dannenberg says the Rebel should be working with the minor associations during the summer to sell tickets and drum up interest in the team.

Shawna Brownlee, event and marketing manager for the Rebel, says the time lag between the seasons can make it difficult to promote the team in minor lacrosse circles. She says minor lacrosse is played in the summer when the Rebel staff are tied up in the operations of their sister club, the Ottawa Renegades CFL team. Similarly, many of the minor lacrosse players are deep into hockey season when the Rebel begin play.

According to Brownlee, in recent years Rebel players have attended minor tournaments and two players even coached a team in Nepean.

Still, she says she’d like to work more with the associations if possible.

“We did try and create a relationship in the beginning,” she says. “[Minor lacrosse] needed to support us just as much as we needed to support them.”