The Portland Lumberjax of the indoor National Lacrosse League arrived in the City of Roses as an expansion franchise in the spring of 2005. The Lumberjax made their home at the Rose Garden arena, a venue which had seen more than its fair share of quixotic sports concepts come and go since opening in 1995. Arena Football’s Portland Forest Dragons, indoor soccer’s Portland Pythons and the WNBA Portland Fire had all learned the cruel lesson that it’s hard to turn a profit playing a minor league sport in another man’s building. None lasted more than three seasons.
Initially, the team attracted moderate media interest due to the youth (and gender) of its owner, 24-year old Angela Batinovich. Batinovich was a relative lacrosse novice, but became enamored with the indoor version of the sport after attending a Colorado Mammoth NLL game. Batinovich had some independent business experience with her Bat’s Daughter clothing line, but could not have approached the personal net worth requirement for an NLL franchise on her own. Her expansion bid was backed financially by her father Robert Batinovich, founder of the San Mateo, California-based Glenborough real estate investment trust.
The new franchise conducted the typical Name The Team contest, with “Lumberjax” outpolling fellow finalists “Shadow” and “Fear” in the final online voting. The Lumberjax debuted at home on January 21st, 2006, on their way to a winning record of 11-5. The club announced an average attendance of 8,332. The strong showing on the carpet and solid box office numbers led to Batinovich’s selection as the 2006 NLL Executive-of-the-Year.
The Lumberjax regressed in 2007, posting to a 4-12 record and seeing a 10% drop at the gate to 7,527 announced per game, about 25% below the purported league-wide average of 10,283.
Following the 2007 season, in what may well be a professional sports first, owner Angela Batinovich married one of her players, transition player Adam Bysouth. The pair met in 2005 when Batinovich visited the since-defunct Anaheim Storm NLL club to research her expansion interest. The Storm folded following the 2005 campaign and many players on the first-year Lumberjax roster in 2006 were Storm refugees.
Against the backdrop of the 2007 season and its aftermath, the NLL negotiated with the Professional Lacrosse Player’s Association (PLPA) to renew an expired collective bargaining agreement. Philadelphia Wings owner Russ Cline provided some transparency into National Lacrosse League finances in an October 2007 interview with The Philadelphia Inquirer. Cline claimed that the 14 member franchises lost $750,000 on average per season. Cline’s 21-year old Wings franchise, considered the NLL’s model of stability with a base of 5,000 season ticket holders, lost half a million dollars in 2007. Dave Succamore, executive director of the PLPA, countered with the claim that none of the league’s 14 teams spent up to the $500,000 salary cap limit.
On October 16, 2007, the NLL announced the cancellation of the 2008 season due to the labor impasse. Nine days later, the league reversed course, proclaiming an agreement had been reached and the 2008 season was back on. The remarkably clumsy negotiation cost the league two franchises, as the Arizona Sting and expansion Boston Blazers both decided not to return from the nine-day hiatus (Boston forestalled its debut until 2009, while the Sting ultimately folded).
The Lumberjax entered their third season in January 2008 with 1,700 season ticket holders. The team made a commitment to cheaper tickets, offering $5.00 seats in the Rose Garden’s 300 (upper) levels. Previous stated minimum pricing had been $10.00. Announced attendance rose back to 8,104, essentially even with 2006 levels. The on-field product also improved, as the Lumberjax qualified for the playoffs with a 9-7 record and a fourth place finish in the West division. The Lumberjax then upset the both the first place San Jose Stealth and the third place Calgary Roughnecks on the road to earn a berth in the 2008 NLL Championship game. The Lumberjax lost to the Buffalo Bandits 14-13 in the final before 18,690 at HSBC Arena in Buffalo.
For the Lumberjax’ fourth and final season in 2009, season tickets increased from 1,700 to 2,200. But the convulsing U.S. economy hit the club hard, as corporate sponsorship revenue declined by 50%. Equally important, Angela Batinovich’s father, now retired, absorbed a substantial hit to his investment portfolio and lost his appetite to continue sustaining the operating Lumberjax’ operating losses indefinetly.
The Lumberjax played their final game on May 1st, 2009, a 20-16 home playoff loss to the San Jose Stealth before 6,053 at the Rose Garden. The club ceased operations three days later on May 4th, 2009. Preliminary efforts were made to sell the club to another Pacific Northwest community, but went nowhere and the Lumberjax roster was submitted to a dispersal draft in July 2009.