SBJ/May 9-15, 2011/Leagues and Governing Bodies

Third U.S. lacrosse league in the works

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Despite the fact that the two biggest pro lacrosse leagues aren’t models of profitability, another pro lacrosse circuit is being formed in the U.S.

The North American Lacrosse League hopes to begin its indoor season in January, with six to eight teams playing a 12-game schedule that would compete with the National Lacrosse League, the older and established league that traces its roots to the Eagle Pro Box Lacrosse League in 1986.

Former NBA D-League President Phil Evans will serve as North American Lacrosse League commissioner and be based in Somerville, N.J.

“The opportunity we see is for American players, particularly those well-established from their collegiate years,” said Evans, adding that the league’s schedule will enable players from the outdoor Major League Lacrosse to play in the North American Lacrosse League. “There’s a big enough player pool and I don’t see us competing with [the NLL] any more than we are competing with any entertainment option.”

About 22 percent of National Lacrosse League players are American, while the vast majority of North American Lacrosse League players are projected to be American, Evans said. While many in the lacrosse community were already calling the new league a developmental league, Evans said flatly, “We’re not looking to be a developmental league for the NLL. We are looking at providing our own brand of the sport.”

An earlier attempt at an official tie as the NLL’s developmental league had been rejected, sources said.

North American Lacrosse League franchises will cost about $250,000 and players will earn from $200 to $1,000 a week. The Boston NLL franchise that began play in 2009 cost $3 million. NLL players average about $18,000 a season.

North American Lacrosse League will operate with the traditional franchise structure, and officials said they have ownership groups confirmed for teams in seven markets:

■  A team in Charlotte will be headed by U.S. Indoor Lacrosse President Graham D’Alvia and play in Bojangles’ Coliseum.

■  A franchise will play in the Giant Center in Hershey, Pa., and be headed by Ted Glynn of apparel company Glynn International.

■  A team in Lexington, Ky., with an ownership group headed by health care executive Anthony Chase, will play at a site to be determined.

■  A team will play in Orlando, at the Amway Center, under an ownership group headed by Phil Rawlins, whose Orlando City Soccer Club also owns the rights to an expansion USL soccer team.

■  A team in Richmond, Va., will play in a facility being built by development company SportsQuest, with SportsQuest CEO Steve Burton owning that franchise.

■  In Wilkes-Barre, Pa., a team will play at the Mohegan Sun Arena at Casey Plaza under an ownership group headed by Jim Jennings, the NLL commissioner from 2000 to 2009.

■  A New York franchise group headed by Michael Xirinachs of wealth management firm Emerald Asset Advisors has yet to finalize a home, but the new arena in Brooklyn and the Prudential Center in Newark are possibilities.

Of those confirmed, the league would play in arenas with an average capacity of more than 10,000.

Despite its North American moniker, the league does not yet have any franchises in Canada.

The league hopes to differentiate itself from the NLL by offering a considerably lower cost of entry, and Evans said the North American Lacrosse League will be far less tolerant of fighting than the NLL, which permits fisticuffs to the degree the NHL does. “We don’t see fighting as an element that adds anything to the game,” Evans said. “If anything, it detracts, and that will be a factor in attracting American players.”

As for other rule changes? “It will look less like hockey and more like outdoor [lacrosse],” he added.

Reaction from the lacrosse community was mixed. Noting the increased participation in the sport, US Lacrosse COO Bill Schoonmaker said that “assuming the right business model and market locations, another league might be successful.”

“If it’s developmental … this could be good for the sport,” said NLL Commissioner George Daniel, whose 10-team league averaged about 9,700 fans in regular-season attendance this year, up 2 percent, “but there isn’t really room for another league at our level. Obviously we are not the same thing as [the outdoor] MLL, but we still end up chasing a lot of the same TV and sponsorship dollars.”

Jennings’ company, Waterbucket Media, is selling TV and sponsorship rights for the North American Lacrosse League.

Matthew Pace, an attorney with Herrick, Feinstein and the former executive director of Major League Lacrosse, said the most analogous league was AF2 and the Arena Football League. “Without a connection there, it doesn’t make sense to me,” he said. “It hasn’t generally been the case that outdoor players fare well playing [inside lacrosse], with a few exceptions. You’d also have to question whether guys coming out of college will want to play for a few hundred bucks a game after going to some of the big lacrosse schools like Cornell, Johns Hopkins or Princeton.”

“A developmental league could work, but it’s more how much these guys will have to invest than how much room there is for more indoor lacrosse,” said NLL co-founder and Philadelphia Wings owner Russ Cline.

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