Last weekend, Capital Region lacrosse fanatics got their fill with three days’ worth of Premier Lacrosse League action at UAlbany’s Tom & Mary Casey Stadium.
On hand all weekend with a booth in the PLL’s fan zone were representatives of the Albany FireWolves, spending three days fueling the hype for the team’s debut in the market with the indoor National Lacrosse League later this year.
It’s another step in the process to build the team’s connection to the community that FireWolves president George Manias said has been going on since the announcement that the New England Black Wolves were being brought to Albany and would be making their home at Times Union Center.
Manias has experience with building a brand for a team in the downtown Albany arena. He was president and CEO of the Albany Empire of the now-defunct Arena Football League — though he’s not involved with the current incarnation of the Empire that won the National Arena League title last weekend — and is hoping the FireWolves can also capture the enthusiasm of Capital Region sports fans with a fast-paced, high-energy brand of indoor “box” lacrosse.
“There’s a reason the PLL comes to Albany annually now, and it’s because of the lacrosse grassroots programming that’s going on here in the Capital Region,” Manias said. “We definitely knew that lacrosse was a growing sport here, but the magnitude of it really showed at the PLL games . . . that was our target market, and we were really able to get out in front of them.”
Coming off the team’s latest chance to connect with local fans during the PLL weekend, the FireWolves earlier this week announced their home opener will be held Dec. 18 at 7 p.m., following a two-week road trip to start the season.
It’s the popularity of the UAlbany men’s lacrosse program and the success the PLL had in its debut at Casey Stadium in 2019 that played the biggest role in convincing the FireWolves’ ownership team to purchase the club and bring it to Albany.
“There’s a fanbase that’s geared toward the outdoor game,” Manias said. “We still have our work cut out to let people know about the indoor game, the ‘box’ game. I think once people realize what we’re all about, that it’s a quality brand of lacrosse — the majority of the players that play in the PLL also play to our league — and we think it’s even a better spectator sport because you bring it indoors, weather’s not a factor, you put it on a [field the size of a] hockey rink, so you condense it and it’s faster.”
Manias hopes to create an atmosphere of “quality fan engagement” inside and outside of the arena on game days, but the most important part of the product will be putting a championship caliber team on the field.
That job falls to head coach and general manager Glenn Clark, who led the then-Black Wolves to the playoffs in each of his first five seasons in New England and had the club at the top of the NLL standings when the league was shut down by the novel coronavirus pandemic in March 2020.
By the time the 2021-22 season begins, it’ll have been nearly two years since the league last played, but with about 75% of the roster still in the fold, Clark expects to be competitive right off the gate — even if the whole NLL has a little bit of rust to shake off.
“We were really rolling at that time [in 2020],” Clark said. “Every weekend is a challenge, and it’s going to be the same [this year], but we’re going to be one of the teams that should be in the mix for a championship.”
Among the players expected to lead the way for the FireWolves are two who were on the field last weekend for PLL teams, Jules Heningburg and Joe Nardella, as well as former UAlbany star Joe Resetarits.
“It’s an entertaining group with lots of different personalities,” Clark said. “I think people are going to be excited once they get to see them go.”
FireWolves season ticket packages are on sale now, with individual game tickets set to be available for purchase by Sept. 1. Most, if not all, of the home games will be on Saturday nights, Manias said.
Meanwhile, the club will continue to be connecting to the community on a grassroots level. They’ve run a successful Junior FireWolves youth summer program, which will return with the start of the season with involvement from players, and the FireWolves will continue to have a presence at local lacrosse camps and showcases.
“Everything,” Manias said, “we’re going to do now is going to be focused on letting people know and putting together quality entertainment, throwing the party for opening night.”
More from The Daily Gazette: