Hamilton

Toronto Rock moving home games to Hamilton, but won't change team name

The team has signed a five-year agreement to play at the FirstOntario Centre starting in December, with the possibility of a multi-year extension, according to owner Jamie Dawick.

Team has signed a 5-year deal to return to the city where the franchise was launched

In this May 15, 2011 file photo, Toronto Rock goaltender Bob Watson hoists the National Lacrosse League trophy. The team announced Tuesday that it will play its home games in Hamilton. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press)

Toronto's professional lacrosse team will soon play its home games in Hamilton.

The Toronto Rock, which is part of the National Lacrosse League, announced the relocation during a virtual news conference on Tuesday morning.

The team has signed a five-year agreement to play at the FirstOntario Centre starting in December, with the possibility of a multi-year extension, according to owner Jamie Dawick.

"The opportunities for growth are incredible and I can honestly say it's given us a shot in the arm, especially during these difficult times," he said during the news conference.

Team name won't change

Despite the move, and a history of intense sports rivalry between Hamilton and Toronto, the team's name will remain the same.

Dawick said a change was considered, but stressed that even though the team is relocating, he believes nothing has really changed.

"I do get the rivalry between Hamilton and Toronto but it's bigger than that," he said, adding that as the only team in Ontario, the Rock represent the entire province, especially the GTHA.

The owner said he's from Oakville, and that when he travels outside the area he tells people he's from Toronto.

"When you're travelling and you have a brand … no disrespect to the people in Hamilton … but around North America a lot of people would look at you and think you're talking about Bermuda or something like that," he said.

"I would say to anyone that's worried about the team name, come out and come out and see what we're going to do in this community. It's who we are. We are the Toronto Rock."

The FirstOntario Centre is shown in downtown Hamilton in 2019. (Dan Taekema/CBC)

The relocation will see the team return to the city and stadium where the franchise was founded.

The Ontario Raiders started in Hamilton in 1998, playing at the then-Copps Coliseum, before being sold to a group of investors who moved the franchise to Toronto and renamed in the Rock.

Greg Gillis, president of the Hamilton Lacrosse Association and Junior B Bengals, said the team coming to the city will help inspired players and raise awareness of the sport locally.

"Honestly I'm not a big person that shows emotion … but I'm very excited about it," he said. "We're going to reap the benefits of that for sure."

Move is a business decision

Dawick said the franchise broke the news to fans during a town hall Monday night. 

He acknowledged that the Rock knew some supporters "weren't going to be thrilled," particularly those who live east of Toronto, but said the relocation was a business decision.

"Right off the bat we will have a better selection of home games … with the mass majority of our home games in '21-'22 played on Saturday nights," he said.

The owner said weekend games mean fans can travel into Hamilton where they'll immediately find lower prices for parking and concession.

The change also means the team will see a "significant reduction in game operation cost" and an opportunity to grow its fan base, Dawick said.

Andrew Nash, general manager of the FirstOntario Centre, said the COVID-19 pandemic has decimated the sports and entertainment industry, but pointed to the Rock as an opportunity.

Final details of the deal are still being worked out.

Nash said being able to offer professional lacrosse in Hamilton will strengthen the city's sports market.

"When doors can safely open again we can't wait to see this building filled with passionate rock fans from all over Hamilton and all over Ontario."

Rock captain Challen Rogers took part in the announcement and said he and his teammates are excited to make the move.

"I know this wasn't an easy decision, but it was one that had to be made and one that's going to benefit everyone involved."

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