by: Tanner Simkins
They are just starting weekend training camps across North America, but the National lacrosse league as it begins season 35 at the end of the month continues to make waves under commissioner Nick Sakiewicz. While the on field product will feature two new cities this year; Halifax and New York, what has been even more impressive in the last month leading up to the season is the frenetic flow of news coming from Philadelphia on the business side that seems to be pushing the bottom line to new heights.
New or renewed deals with Under Armour, Wilson and New Balance’s Warrior Lacrosse brand, and partnerships with digital first companies like Grabyo, Sportlogiq and Genius Sports all show a property, and a sport, again on the uptick and looking for more for the digital natives that crave action, and thanks to their growing partnership with Turner’s Bleacher Report Plus platform, will have even more bells and whistles than in year’s past.
This week also brought another announcement as the NLL looks to keep expanding its footprint with forward thinking owners. The league’s second year club, the San Diego Seals, owner by Alibaba cofounder (and now Brooklyn Nets owner) Joe Tsai announced a plan to move their February 1 game to Las Vegas on Super Bowl weekend, calling the Orleans Arena home for their game with the Colorado Mammoth. What’s even more interesting is that Tsai and his leadership group, to entice more fans on the fence to buy season tickets, is offering free hotel nights for his fans on what is the busiest weekend of the year in the city. Talk about added value, and a way to test a marketplace that suddenly is in love with live sports like never before. While all indications are the Seals will stay put in So Cal, it will provide a nice look see for the city with a sport that draws even more cravers of live action than those with a passion for LAX.
“For 33 years, the National Lacrosse League has brought energy and excitement to millions of fans across North America. We are thrilled to collaborate with the San Diego Seals to create this incredible opportunity for their fans as well as the Colorado Mammoth fans to experience a unique and spectacular event,” said Sakiewicz in a Thursday press release. “As we continue to expand our amazing product to fans across North America and around the world, we are always looking to our future, and are excited to be working with Seals owner Joe Tsai, Steve Govett, the Orleans Arena and all our partners to create this unique event in Las Vegas on the City’s biggest weekend of the year.“
The league, which had struggled mightily to find a place in the past decade, has undergone a renaissance under the former MLS Executive of the Year, ranking third in average attendance for pro indoor sports, and now has 13 teams in key markets across North America. The NLL overall experienced substantial growth last season with nearly one million total ticket sales, a 28-percent increase from 2017-18, and 60 percent of ticket sales were from people who never played lacrosse, all of which bodes well for season thirty four.
The growth of the NLL in the winter also fits well for the lacrosse fan, who seemed intrigued by the launch of Paul Rabil’s Premier Lacrosse League this summer, which garnered a lot of buzz and is still feeling its way along as a startup business playing outdoors. While there doesn’t appear to be any conflict between indoor and outdoor lacrosse, they complement each other in a way soccer in this country never did, a rising tide should lift both businesses going forward at least in terms of awareness.
How will the product on the turf in an expanded and more expansive NLL work out this winter? If the business side in the preseason is any indication, there should be lots of excitement, viewers, and engaged fans when the ball drops.
We have heard for years that lacrosse is a sport on the rise, now it’s looking more like the proof is in the results, not just on the field but in the bottom line. Even in Vegas, it seems like the NLL just may even be a safe bet.