SBJ/Jan. 10-16, 2011/Leagues and Governing Bodies

MLL plots relocation, expansion

Major League Lacrosse is moving its Toronto franchise to nearby Hamilton and soon will vote to add two new markets — Columbus, Ohio, and the Carolinas, most likely Charlotte.

The two new teams would begin play in 2012 if they’re approved at the league’s next board of managers meeting on Jan. 21. A 75 percent majority is required for the 13-member board to approve expansion. In addition to expansion, the league’s board will vote on whether to increase the schedule from 12 to 14 games beginning in 2012.

The league, which plays its games outdoors from May through August, has outlined a plan to grow from its current six teams to 16 by the end of this decade.

Toronto Nationals
Major League Lacrosse’s Toronto franchise is on the move to Hamilton after facing scheduling difficulties at its home stadium.
David Gross, the league’s commissioner, said the league would like to add two teams a year in 2012, 2013, 2015, 2017 and 2019. The league has been asking for an expansion fee of $1.5 million.

“But more important than what they pay is how they operate,” Gross said. “What we’re looking for is the right operator to run a franchise.”

The Toronto Nationals’ move to Hamilton was driven by scheduling difficulties at the previous venue, Lamport Stadium. The team will play in Ron Joyce Stadium in Hamilton, which is about 40 miles from Toronto.

If expansion is approved, the Columbus franchise will play in Crew Stadium, home of the MLS Columbus Crew.

The Charlotte ownership group still is working on its venue agreement. It expects to come to terms with the city on a lease at 20,000-seat Memorial Stadium, said Jim McPhilliamy, a former Charlotte Bobcats and sports marketing agency executive who assembled the local ownership group and will head the franchise. If those talks stall, the team could play in Cary, N.C., where the MLL held a regular-season game in 2008.
McPhilliamy began assembling owners last year in the hope of raising at least $3 million and landing a place in the single-entity league this season. When he fell well short of that goal, raising a bit more than $1 million, league owners agreed to consider the group for an expansion franchise in 2012. The league’s largest stakeholder, New Balance Chairman Jim Davis, will maintain a stake in the franchise to get it up and running, McPhilliamy said.

“We didn’t raise as much as I hoped to run the program profitably, but Jim Davis backstopped it a little,” McPhilliamy said. “Working with us a little, they got us to where we can do a good job and run a really good team.”

The Charlotte group points to strong growth potential, with 60 local high school and middle school boys and girls teams and 11 men’s and women’s college teams, and an estimated 1,900 participants.

“Right now the [lacrosse fan base in Charlotte] is a little small,” McPhilliamy said. “But we’ll have one of the more desirable demographics in the marketplace for sure. I think that’s saleable.”

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