SBJ/June 12 - 18, 2006/This Weeks News

NLL gets Saturday slot on OLN

The National Lacrosse League will get a televised game of the week on Saturday nights next season under a new contract between the indoor lacrosse circuit and OLN, marking the league’s most comprehensive TV package ever.

The indoor league will take a whack at regular
national prime-time telecasts.
NLL Commissioner Jim Jennings said the league will pay production fees, while the network and property will split advertising revenue. OLN will sell a majority of the commercial time, with the league selling inventory including print and presenting sponsorship to the broadcasts, billboards, in-game vignettes and some ad inventory. Postseason broadcasts, now on ESPN2, are not included in the OLN deal.

The NLL’s only national U.S. broadcast this season was its championship game on ESPN2 on May 13, and Jennings said the OLN deal marks the first time any lacrosse league will have regular prime-time national broadcasts. The telecasts, which will start in January, will have a 10 p.m. ET time slot.

“We’ll make money and our fans will know when and where to see us,” Jennings said.

“NLL is a nice fit with the sports we have like hockey and PBR,” said Marc Fein, OLN’s senior vice president of programming and production.

The deal comes as the indoor NLL could be ready to challenge outdoor rival Major League Lacrosse in the marketplace.

One of the sport’s worst-kept secrets is the NLL’s desire to launch an outdoor rival to MLL, which would offer potential sponsors and TV networks one-stop shopping for year-round pro lacrosse. Reebok, the NLL’s largest sponsor, needs to make an additional commitment to an outdoor league before NLL ownership will bless the line extension. Officially, Reebok has not yet sanctioned the move, but sources at the company say they have OK’d it and are awaiting the go-ahead from new corporate parent Adidas.

Even with additional sponsorship money from Reebok, the pertinent question is whether two outdoor leagues can co-exist.

“There’s definitely not enough business to support two outdoor leagues,” said MLL founder Jake Steinfeld, “but I guess it’s flattering that they’re coming after us.”

If it does go outdoors, NLL could have many players on its side, since it will offer the ability to play pro lacrosse full time.

“The sport is so hot right now, there may be enough sponsorship dollars for two competing leagues,” said Bill Schoonmaker, vice president at 361 Marketing, which represents U.S. Lacrosse, “but players will decide which league survives, and every one of them dreams about being a full-time pro.”

Russ Cline, owner of the NLL Philadelphia franchise and chairman of the NLL executive committee, said, “There’s a lot of leveraging we could do with players and marketing assets, but our intent is not to get in a war with the other league — we do not want to create chaos, and if and when we do this, it will be more to gain players than to gain markets.”

The NLL board will meet this week, and the outdoor expansion is on the agenda — but it has been for some time.

“If they want to hang on to sponsors and build TV, there will have to be a merger,” said Bruce Lucker, a former owner and executive vice president in the defunct Major Indoor Lacrosse League.

Steinfeld said he has not been approached about a merger. Not yet anyway.

“If we do this [an outdoor league], then we’ll talk about a merger,” Jennings said. “I think we can work it out.”

“I don’t have a crystal ball,” said OLN’s Fein, “but no one wants a repeat of CART and IRL.”

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