SBJ/January 30-February 5, 2012/Leagues and Governing Bodies

NLL happy with season’s start

George Daniel, commissioner of the National Lacrosse League, had reason to be concerned when the season opened a few weeks ago. The scheduling gods weren’t working in the NLL’s favor.

A crowd of 16,356 greeted the Bandits’ opener in Buffalo.
Photo by: BILL WIPPERT
One of the league’s top draws, the Colorado Mammoth, had its first game in Denver’s Pepsi Center in the same time slot that the Tim Tebow-led Broncos played at New England in the AFC playoffs. But, as usual, the Mammoth and their loyal fan base came through. Despite the distraction caused by the NFL, the Mammoth drew 14,106 fans, which remains the second-highest attendance figure two weeks into the NLL season.

“We’re off to a really good start and we’re seeing attendance numbers on the rise,” Daniel said. “We give teams a lot of latitude with their tickets, but having said that, most teams are being very strict with their comp tickets. We’re a ticket-driven league, and our teams put a very high premium on the value of the tickets. That’s our major source of revenue.”

The NLL began its season earlier this month with nine teams, most of them based in the lacrosse hotbed of the Northeast U.S. and Canada. It also leaped into 2012 with a new TV deal on CBS Sports Network that will put eight games, including the league’s championship contest, in prime time.

Most notably, the two-year barter arrangement gives the league a consistent 7:30 p.m. ET time slot. Both the league and the network are selling advertising.

Last year’s games were on Versus.

“We’ve never had a live prime-time window in our 26 years, so this is a very good fit with CBS,” Daniel said. “There’s also going to be a lot of college lacrosse on the network that will serve as a great lead-in for us.”

Nine games into the season, the league is drawing an average of 9,960 fans, slightly up from last year’s average of 9,722. Crowds have solidly been in the 8,000 to 9,000 range, with Buffalo, another traditionally strong draw, bringing in 16,356 for its home opener at the First Niagara Center.

The only soft spot has been the Washington franchise, which drew fewer than 5,000 fans for its first game. The only team that didn’t play a home game in the first two weeks was Minnesota, which typically draws well.

In Canada, where the league has franchises in the Calgary, Edmonton and Toronto markets, TSN will carry 11 games. The league also has its eyes on Vancouver as another potential franchise site north of the border.

The NLL has done well with dual ownership models in concert with NHL owners. Three of the nine NLL teams are owned and operated by NHL teams — Calgary, Buffalo and Colorado. “It brings a certain level of credibility, stability and marketing expertise to the teams in those markets,” Daniel said. “If you can get it, it’s good to have.”

In the U.S., the NLL sees potential in Pittsburgh and Detroit and would like to return to the New York market.

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