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Volume 22 No. 3
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MLL owner sees profit in passion play

Rob Hale admits that buying the Boston Cannons of Major League Lacrosse was more of a passion play, which makes him like a lot of professional team owners. But he also sees a long-term growth potential that makes him feel like he got in on the ground floor.

“It’s both a passion play and a business play,” said Hale, who took over as majority owner of the Cannons in January 2014. “My guess is that all owners are lacrosse people who want to see the sport flourish and want it to become important. From a business standpoint, it’s a long-term play, but I think in 10-15 years we’ll have something very important and we’ll think that we were lucky enough to get in on the grassroots level.”

Hale, who describes himself as a very hands-off team owner, founded Boston-based Granite Telecommunications in 2002 and remains its CEO. In that time, Granite has become a $1 billion company in annual revenue, so Hale knows a thing or two about high-growth businesses.

A former lacrosse player at Connecticut College, Hale describes himself as a hands-off team owner.
A former lacrosse player at Connecticut College and a youth coach in more recent years, Hale maintained an interest in the sport even while he captained Granite, which led him to buy a minority interest in the Cannons a decade ago before eventually taking over a majority share last year. Hale also owns a small share of the Boston Celtics.

Now as the owner of one of Major League Lacrosse’s marquee franchises, he’s also considered an example for the league to use in attracting other high-achieving owners to help MLL expand.

Hale spoke last week with staff writer Michael Smith.

The Boston Cannons opened the season last month in Gillette Stadium for the first time. What was that like?

HALE: Gillette is obviously one of the finest facilities in the country, and it’s an honor to be able to play there. You could tell there was just an added electricity in the air. (The crowd was just under 5,000 people.) We’ve moved the season a few weeks earlier, so we’re still trying to understand the dynamic of selling tickets to a youth lacrosse community that’s playing their own games on the same day we’re playing.

The MLL has had eight teams for a few years now. What’s your sense of the possibility for expansion?

HALE: I think we’re gradually, cautiously moving toward expanding. There are some opportunities and the league is having those discussions. There’s a stated goal to get to 16 in a decade. … Lacrosse is a rapidly growing sport. I’ve played it, I’ve coached it and the MLL is an opportunistic way to participate. You have an environment where you’re very close to world-class players, you’re around families and you’re able to interact with the players.

What kind of owner are you?

HALE: I’m not at all hands-on. I’m very lucky to be involved in several businesses, so you choose the best people you can and let them do their job. We’ve got a solid management team and they run the Cannons, while I keep more of a passive role.

Can you turn a profit on an MLL team?

HALE: I don’t think most of us as owners are looking for short-term profitability, but my guess is that it will be profitable in the long term. As you’ve seen the proliferation of media contracts and how that adds a lot of cash flow, I think the Cannons and the MLL will become more recognized. I think we’ve also got to generate the kind of national sponsorship contracts at the league level that will drive our visibility.

How would you describe lacrosse’s growth trajectory in the U.S.?

HALE: If you draw a parallel, I think lacrosse being like soccer seems very logical. They both began in the U.S. largely as youth sports, and with soccer those youths became adult consumers. Soon enough, I think we’ll see the youth lacrosse players feeding into the adult community and becoming consumers.

What kind of player were you?

HALE: Not very good. I sat on the bench. But it all worked out in the end.