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Rock solid vs. falling Leafs: a tale of 2 Toronto sports teams

01/23/2015 01:42 EST | Updated 03/25/2015 05:59 EDT
Tonight the Toronto Rock play host to the Buffalo Bandits in the home opener of their National Lacrosse League season.

Like the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Rock play their home games at the Air Canada Centre, but there the similarities end.

You might have read that the Leafs are wilting right now. The Blue and White are in danger of missing the playoffs for the ninth time in their last 10 seasons while disgruntled fans are throwing the team jerseys onto the ice.

In what is admittedly an apples-to-apricots comparison, here's an unscientific look at how these two Toronto pro sports teams stack up.

Cost to the fan:  An outlay of $495 is enough to buy a season ticket to the Rock. That's nine home games. It also includes a ticket to the team's first playoff game, if the Rock qualify. The online site StubHub lists comparable single game tickets for the Leafs' Jan. 29 home game against Arizona Coyotes in the $250 dollar range. A ticket to tonight's home opener also includes a GO Train ticket back to the suburbs, where much of the Rock's fan base resides.

Offence: According to the NLL media guide, about 23 goals combined are typical for an NLL game. The Leafs have scored 14 times in their last 10 contests.

Winning: Since starting their franchise in 1998, the Rock have won six NLL titles, their last coming in 2011. The Leafs have won 13 Stanley Cups since starting play in 1917. Toronto's last NHL title came in 1967. The Rock enter Friday's game with a 2-0 record. The Leafs limp into the all-star break having lost six straight.

Player pay: The top NLL players take home about $25,000 a season, making lacrosse a part-time gig for most. Buffalo Bandits sniper John Tavares — still playing at 46 — is the NLL's all-time leading scorer. By day, he's a school teacher in Oakville, Ont. His 24-year-old nephew, also named John, makes US$5 million playing hockey for the NHL's New York Islanders. Tavares the younger was an excellent lacrosse player before taking notice of this pay differential and concentrating on hockey year-round. “If he stayed with it, he’d be dominating in the NLL," the elder Tavares recently Toronto the Vancouver Province. Taking this comparison back to the Leafs, Toronto's sniper Phil Kessel makes about US$8 million a year. Some speculate Kessel may be trade bait if the Leafs continue to slide.

Atmosphere in the arena: While the Leafs play to full houses no matter what their record, the Rock have seen their attendance dip in recent years. Still, the NLL's policy of playing music while play is underway ensures an upbeat atmosphere, even when the Rock have an off night.  

Team value: Here the Leafs are clear winners. Last summer Forbes estimated the team to be worth $1.15 billion, making Toronto's the only NHL team to crack the magazine's list of top 50 sports franchises in value. The Rock? Their value is hard to estimate. The Calgary Flames bought the local NLL franchise in 2011. The sale price wasn't reported but at the time the NLL's expansion fee was $3 million, which offers a sense of what NLL teams might be worth.

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