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SBJ/20110103/This Week's Issue
NLL celebrates 25th season as IMG represents indoor league for TV, sponsorship deals
Published January 3, 2011
It's probably best that Russ Cline's original idea for the National Lacrosse League never got off the ground. His vision: Lacrosse played on roller blades. That was back in the mid-1980s when lacrosse was more of a Canadian passion and a northeast U.S. fascination.
Twenty-five years later, the National Lacrosse League is celebrating its silver anniversary with 10 teams across two countries, as well as a new marketing relationship with IMG and potentially a new TV deal that will enhance the league's visibility.
"When we started out, we didn't know how to play it and we weren't sure how to spell it, but we were sports entrepreneurs and we thought this was a great sport," said Cline, who co-founded the four-team Major Indoor Lacrosse League in 1987 with Chris Fritz. The two remain involved as co-owners of the Philadelphia Wings.
The MILL later became the NLL and it has flourished as a major league sport for lacrosse at minor league prices, says current NLL Commissioner George Daniel. Ticket prices start at $6 and average about $20 across the league, which plays its games in NBA and NHL arenas.
When the league begins the 2011 campaign this weekend, it will mark the 25th straight season for the indoor lacrosse league. Secondary leagues, even ones like the Arena Football League, which used to be considered the standard, just don't last that long.
"It's a real testament to the sport, the owners, and the passion of the lacrosse fans," Daniel said.
Reebok has been with the NLL since 2005 and recently extended its partnership as the league's official uniform, equipment and footwear supplier through 2013.
"The league really lends us a lot of credibility and authenticity in the marketplace," said Chad Wittman, senior product manager at Reebok and the brand's liaison with the NLL. "When the best lacrosse players in the world are using the equipment, that's a strong message when you launch new products and the players are helping you develop new products."
IMG also has agreed to represent the league in its TV talks and sponsorship negotiations beginning this year. While brands such as Dodge, Progressive Insurance and Super Cuts have been league partners in the past, the NLL is currently without official sponsors to help spread the word of its 25th anniversary.
IMG Media's Hillary Mandel, senior vice president of programming and distribution, has been leading talks with potential TV partners to carry an expanded schedule of regular-season and postseason games.
The NLL's title game last season was televised by Versus, while other broadcasts have been time-buys in the past.
"What we find encouraging is that we draw well, about 10,000 on average, for our games," Daniel said. "But we've had little to no TV presence over the years. If we're able to get on TV and build awareness, that could create a great upside for us."