Yesterday, I talked about how I have given up on the idea that the NLL can be the next major North American sports league. There’s just too much team turnover and financial issues that are unrelated to the product on the floor that I’m no longer convinced this is a problem that can be fixed. But I had an idea…
A possible solution
What if the NLL looked to the NHL for ownership of all new franchises?
The top 3 teams in the NLL in terms of attendance are the Mammoth, Bandits, and Roughnecks – the only NLL teams owned by NHL teams. The advantages are much lower costs – all of the non-lacrosse-specific employees (ticket sales, marketing, HR) could be shared between the two teams – and cross-promotion. Buy Sabres tickets, get a deal on Bandits tickets and vice versa. They could have Bandits ads during more heavily-watched Sabres games on TV. Even NHL stars doing ads – “I played lacrosse growing up and it made me into a better hockey player. You should check these guys out”. With costs fairly low, the NHL teams can pump the NLL teams enough to boost attendance to the point that they’re making money, and in return, the NLL teams get to continue to exist. Win-win.
There has been talk of the Oilers offering to buy the Rush from Bruce Urban but he’s turned them down on a number of occasions, and now their relationship is bad enough that they may not make such an offer again. I don’t know if the Stealth and Canucks have ever had any discussions. I also have no idea what kind of relationship the Flyers and Wings had, but with the talk that the NLL may return to Philadelphia, maybe that’s something that could be explored. The rumours for the Swarm moving to Nashville include the possibility of Predators ownership which might end up being a good thing for the Swarm, even if it sucks hard for the fans in Minnesota.
If they do make a change like this, they’d have to add a grandfather clause since nobody wants to get rid of Styres or Dawick as owners (and I’m not sure I want MLSE running the Rock). The Black Wolves ownership is a little different – there’s no NHL team within 100 miles (Boston is just over 100 miles northeast), but it’s not clear they’re really out to make money directly from the lacrosse team. The Black Wolves owners also own the Mohegan Sun casino where they play, and their goal, first and foremost, is to bring people into the casino. They might be quite happy to lose a bit of money on the team in order to do that.
But let’s face it: nobody is going to consider you a major sports league when you have teams in Langley, Uncasville, Saskatoon, and quite honestly, even Rochester. I know Rochester has been looked at as the Green Bay Packers of the NLL, since both of them fall into the “not even big enough to be a secondary market” category. But if you’re trying to get the president of the New York Rangers to take your call about expanding to the Big Apple (again), mentioning that one of your most successful teams is in Rochester may not help your case.
Don’t get me wrong, I love the Knighthawks (as much as a Rock fan can, anyway) and really want the team to stay there, which brings me to my final point.
Despite what might sound like despair above, I am not giving up on the NLL. I will still be tweeting, facebooking, blogging, and podcasting about it. That will not change. What does seem to have changed is my belief that someday lacrosse players will have one job and only one job – that of lacrosse player. As long as the NLL exists, we will still be talking about weekend warriors and how Joe Laxalot is a teacher / firefighter / stockbroker / whatever during the week. There will likely always be teams moving or folding because the owners don’t want to lose money for years before the team gets good or they still can’t get people into the arena despite success on the floor.
Could it be that this is the death knell of the league? I’ve seen lots of comments saying the league only has a couple of years left before it folds entirely. That could be, but given that not all NLL teams are having these attendance and financial troubles, I’m going to remain optimistic. The NHL option would be great for the NLL but how much incentive is there for the NHL owners to get involved? I imagine it would only be marginally interesting for some NHL teams and not interesting at all for most.
The silver lining here is that the NLL is still a great league full of great players and is still a lot of fun to watch and follow. Are they one of the big five leagues? No, but who cares? Other than issues like “Joe Laxalot can’t play this weekend / season because of work commitments”, it’s not a huge deal. With the Rush and Swarm we’re talking about relocating, not folding; as long as the league isn’t contracting, maybe it’s OK if it doesn’t grow. Yes, there will be team movement, but we’ll have to be content with the league in the places it’s in and not turn up our noses at options like Saskatoon. It’s a smaller market but the lacrosse played there will be just as good.
And I really do hope the league can still grow. But that hope is quickly turning into a wish – something I want to happen, but can do nothing about.