MLL's David Gross Discusses The State Of The League Heading Into ASG Weekend
Major League Lacrosse is in Charlotte this weekend for its annual All-Star Game, presented by Moe’s Southwest Grill, and MLL Commissioner David Gross spent an hour with the SBD/SBJ editorial staff Thursday afternoon discussing the state of the eight-team league. Gross tackled several different issues, including expansion, TV exposure and expectations for Saturday’s game.
On emerging markets:
“We see the South as an emerging market for lacrosse and we’ve done everything we can, really since 2008, to plant our flag in the Southeast. We played a game in Cary, N.C., in 2008 and went back in 2010. We put the team in Charlotte last year. Also in our Southern expansion plans, we put our All-Star Game last year in Boca Raton, the first time we took All-Star to a market where we didn’t have a team. The whole reason was to test it out. For years, people have been saying, ‘Come to Florida. It’ll do so well.’ Boca was a positive experience. So this year we took (regular-season) games and played them in Boca, Tampa and Atlanta. Our next expansion is going to be in the South for the next couple of teams. There’s no better way to test it.”
On expansion plans:
“Sixteen teams. That’s what we’d like to grow to. The one thing we’ve learned is that you can’t expand for expansion's sake. The most important thing for us right now is stability rather than more teams. Every young league, teams come and go. We’ve got to show stability. … We thought St. Louis was ripe for a team. We took a game there and it bombed. It took us three games in Columbus before we put a team there. We want to keep testing before we make a move like that.”
On the league’s model organization:
“We’d be fools not to say the Denver Outlaws. They just had 31,000 people at their game on July 4. It was the largest-attended game in the country. When that team started in 2006, lacrosse wasn’t that big out there. … You’ve got great ownership, great management. They’ve been a sales-driven organization since Day One and they use every amenity they have available to them at Sports Authority Field. Not everyone walking into that stadium is a lacrosse fan; a lot of them went to see fireworks last week. But at the end of the day, (we do) whatever we have to do to bring people in. Because once you see it, you like it.”
On the importance of televising games:
“We’ve been huge believers in broadcasting. Starting in 2008, we made the commitment that we’re going to put every game on TV. Someway, somehow, people are going to be able to see it. We could run a national ad campaign for a couple of million dollars, but then in a snap, it’s gone. We could take that same money and produce all the games ourselves, so that’s what we did. When we started, we had some of the worst distribution imaginable. We couldn’t get on cable access at first. Now, of our 60 games, 43 percent are on national TV. You’ve got six on ESPN2, 20 on CBS Sports Network, we syndicate 19. We’ve got all 19 syndicated games on MSG now, and they wouldn’t take a game a couple of years ago. We have games syndicated in Kansas City, and we don’t have a team there. Then we have 15 games we experimented with on YouTube. We also take all the ESPN and syndicated games and stream those on ESPN3. Again, the whole philosophy is to let people see it. If they see it, they’ll like it, and it’ll help us grow.”
On the state of facilities hosting MLL teams:
“A lot of our teams play in college facilities. … We have a wide range of sizes. We have as few as 5,400 seats to a high of 68,000 in Denver. I’ve found what I would consider the ideal venue for the league at Kennesaw State University. It was built for soccer and is being renovated for the football program they’re starting up. It’s 8,500 seats, it’s built tight to the field, space around the field to hold tournaments and other events for kids, suites, video board, a great sound system. If I had my wish, we’d replicate that model in 16 different markets across the country."
On expectations for this weekend’s All-Star Game:
“Everyone asks what (attendance) number will make it good. To me, it’s more about everyone’s reaction walking out the door. If they sampled lacrosse and thought it was OK, that’s not a positive weekend. If they walk out saying they can’t believe what they just saw, that’s a great weekend. I like to stand at the gates as people come out. We’ll probably have 5,000 people there -- if the weather holds -- but it’s more the fans’ reaction. Anybody can do a one-off. Look at the XFL. I don’t know of anything that had the hype that thing had. They did a 10 rating that first game? And they were doing a 1 at the end? You’ve got to do these things organically.”