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Sunday, May 24, 2009

The Importance of Major League Lacrosse -part 2

Unfortunately the economic downturn and eventual recession of 2008 and 2009 made an impact in the sporting world. For the MLL, this meant some drastic changes. With the league losing modest amounts of money owners no longer wanted to shoulder the burden. The league assumed control of the New Jersey Pride and the Philadelphia Barrage last year. Then the league turned the 2008 defending champion Barrage into a season-long away team to test expansion markets last year, resulting in their players' referring to the team as the "Garbage." Though the host cities provided promising attendance numbers...
Unfortunately the financial downturn continued as AEG decided it no longer had interest in the Los Angeles Riptide and the owners of the San Fransisco Dragons also walked away. Not long after the league announced that it did not intend to run four franchises itself and suspended the Pride, Barrage, Riptide, and Dragons for 2010. To add insult to injury, the 2009 champion Rochester Rattlers also shut their doors.
Fortunately there is some light at the end of the tunnel. An ownership group in Toronto purchased the Rochester franchise, including staff contracts. The Toronto Nationals are a pseudo expansion team; basically the league maintained the rights and history of the Rattlers for potential future use (click here for an explanation). With six teams in place, the league returned to a single table much like its days before the 2006 westward expansion; the key difference being that teams are spread out more rather than just on the east coast. Play started last weekend and the league's first televised game was on Thursday night (Bayhawks over Lizards in OT). Rosters are stronger with the reduced number of teams and everyone involved seems to be more appreciative of the opportunity.
Franchise reinstatement and relocation talks are still underway. The league is focusing on expanding areas with big/growing lacrosse populations and few competing major league sports teams (even though Boston and Denver lead the league in attendance). Soccer-specific stadiums used by Major League Soccer and United Soccer League teams seem to be ideal locations for MLL franchises (Toronto plays at BMO & Chicago at Toyota Park) which indicates hotbeds like Dallas and Columbus may be on the list. You might notice that many of the "expansion cities" mentioned already have or are planning SS stadiums...
Locating in stadiums with more intimate seating in areas where the fans will have less competition for their dollars should be a good idea. The strategy worked well for MLS; their growth in 13 years is phenomenal. Forming a relationship with that league would certainly help stabilize the MLL. It might even lead to a return to California. Both leagues operate under a single entity structure; both realize their status as a lower tier sport. Like the MLS, the MLL has the power to greatly spread the game.
One last thing to draw your attention to - check out the USL proposed stadiums. Anything catch your eye? Being a long time Menace fan, I already knew about LBS. Still, how cool would that be if the soccer team moved up to a higher level? How awesome would it be if we some one with the money bought a MLL franchise to play there as well? Think of the marketing - Iowa's only Major League sports team! Think of the lax explosion we'd see in the state! A pipe dream, I know...

Tribe 7