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Volume 21 No. 2
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NLL seeks more exposure from next media deal

The National Lacrosse League wrapped up its 2011 season last week with nearly 15,000 fans at the championship game in Toronto, live coverage on Versus in North America and TSN in Canada, Progressive Insurance as a title sponsor for the game, and Reebok on the title for the MVP trophy.

Never before had the championship game been more of a commercial success for the league, which celebrated its 25th anniversary this year.

And now that it’s complete, Commissioner George Daniel intends to ride that momentum into a new media deal in the U.S. that he hopes will give the league the kind of exposure it has lacked in the past.

“The challenge now is getting the right media partner and telling the whole country what a great sport and what great teams we have,” Daniel said from his New York office. “We need to showcase our product in a way that’s never been done before.”

This year was a start. Versus carried nine games this season, six in the regular season, plus the championship game, another playoff game and the All-Star Game.

Daniel said he hopes to begin discussions soon with Versus about a deeper relationship that might include a game of the week and perhaps some ancillary coverage.

“We know we’re not at the point of commanding a rights fee, but down the road, when you look at what the NHL did, and the relationship that has evolved over time with NBC, it’s turned into a rights fee,” Daniel said.

“The objective for us right now is a little different. We need to raise awareness and use national TV as a platform for the league and our sponsors.”
The need for exposure — for the NLL and lacrosse overall — is evident in the ratings from the championship game, which drew 48,000 viewers on Versus.

Attracting fans to the games hasn’t been as big an issue for the league. For seven playoff games, attendance averaged 10,633, while 80 regular-season games averaged 9,722, an increase of 2 percent over 2010.

Buffalo led the league with 17,096, Colorado averaged 15,866, and Toronto and Calgary each topped the 10,000 mark. The other six teams ranged from just more than 4,000 to more than 8,000 fans per game (see chart).

Facilities like HSBC Arena in Buffalo, Air Canada Centre in Toronto, Pepsi Center in Denver and Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, arenas that typically are the home to NBA and NHL teams, are the venues for NLL games.

Daniel said ticket revenue will be up this year because many of the NLL’s teams reduced the number of free tickets they gave away this year.

“We’re doing the hard part and that’s putting people in the seats,” Daniel said. “That’s why we know we have something that’s real here. That gives us a very good story to tell at a time when, economically, selling tickets has not been easy.”