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Friday, November 26, 2010

Go Blue?

According to a random remark made on MGoBlog today, Michigan may finally launch D1 lax - for men and women!
Will be expanding the athletic department…adding both men’s and women’s Lacrosse to get up to 27 sports.
Although it does not give a date, information I have picked up elsewhere says the programs will be added in time for the 2012 season. Already the top program in the MCLA, the Wolverines are one of the best supported and funded varsity club programs in the nation. They were the first high profile team to wear Adidas gear and have been used in the company's marketing campaigns.
I have long thought that adding more high profile schools at the D1 level will provide the greatest benefit to men's lax. Notre Dame's epic 2010 season did a lot to raise the game's profile and the potential for rivalry games with the Wolverines will continue that. With the Irish's NBC contract, match ups with Big Blue might actually creep onto nationwide broadcast television; the effects of that could be mind shattering indeed.
Michigan's presence also adds a third team in the Big Ten conference (Ohio State, Penn State). Not only does this allow for more Big Ten Network broadcasts, but it also builds incentive for other schools in the conference to add lax. Certainly the additional broadcasting potential and revenue would do wonders during the network's relatively light spring schedule.
This was another interesting tidbit from the post:
Dave Brandon (Michigan AD) sees the Big 10 at 14 teams in the next couple of years, with 16 teams being possible. Only big name teams that have a large market share / successful in sports and in academics. He did not name names, but mentioned only a few schools fit that profile.
This hearkens back the mayhem of this summer by indicating that the Big Ten is not ready to stand pat. Further expansion also opens the doors to more lacrosse programs in the conference.
Should this expansion happen, and should Michigan finally take the big step, then it is definitely not hard to imagine the conference working towards sanctioning lacrosse and adding a championship game within the next decade. Exciting times indeed.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Machine to Rochester Confirmed

This in an update to an earlier post.
From Inside Lacrosse:
ROCHESTER, NY - RocLax LLC Owner & CEO Robert Clark announced today that Major League Lacrosse will be returning to Rochester for the 2011 season. The team, nicknamed the Rattlers, will feature the best players in the world and will play its home games at Marina Auto Stadium. The Rochester Rattlers have retained 23 players from the Chicago Machine franchise for the 2011 season. A complete roster is available at Three of the notable players are:

Ned Crotty - 2010 MLL Rookie of the Year, led all rookies in scoring with 24 points in seven games.
Casey Powell - MLL all-leader leader with 388 points, second in assists 186 and seventh in goals 197.
Matt Streibel - Member of MLL Championship teams in 2004, 2006 & 2007, Named MVP in 2007.

This really was not much of a surprise. I am happy to see pro lax return to Rochester. I am even happier to see a more stable franchise. Travelling teams are scary at the professional level...

A Shocking MLL Development

On the heels of the news about the Machine moving to Rochester as the Rattlers 2.0, Inside Lacrosse has reported that the Toronto Nationals (Rattlers 1.0) are on the move as well. After leaving Rochester for Toronto two years ago, the Nationals are now moving to Hamilton, Ontario.
The Nationals franchise moved from Rochester to Toronto before the 2009 season and has taken on a Canadian and Iroquois flavor. The Nationals played their first season at BMO Field, the brand-new 20,000-seat home to MLS's Toronto F.C., averaging 3,846 fans a game (fifth in the league). Last year they moved to Lamport Stadium, a 9,600 capacity stadium in Toronto that was built in the 1970s, and averaged 3,009 fans a game, finishing fifth again in MLL attendance.

No word has been given in regards to where the Nationals will play in Hamilton, but there are a few suitable venues to choose from. Though some would surely like the team to play at Ivor Wynne Stadium, my gut says the 30,000 seater is too cavernous and expensive for the team; its AstroPlay surface would be ideal, however. Given the typical MLL attendance (and the numbers in Toronto), the 5,000 seat Brian Timmis Stadium seems to be an ideal venue, but it may be considered too small or "amateur" for the pro team. Ron Joyce Stadium seems to be the most likely candidate since it has a flexible capacity of 6,000-12,000 seats. This puts it in the same neighborhood as Marina Auto Stadium in Rochester, which makes sense for this league.
This move puts the team halfway between Toronto and Buffalo, which means there is strong potential to draw lax fans from both cities in addition to the Hamilton residents. The team will also be significantly closer to the Six Nations, which will definitely tap into one of their core audiences and bring the league closer to the sport's roots and the team's namesake.
Time and time again the city of Hamilton has appealed to the NHL as a possible expansion/relocation city. The acquisition of the MLL franchise might work well for the city in its attempt to prove worthy of an American major league franchise, outside of the Canadian Football League. Granted the MLL is small potatoes compared the hockey league, but this is still a step in the right direction.
Placing a team in a city like Hamilton is also a great move for the MLL as it struggles to find its footing. Whereas most professional leagues (this one included) seem to target the same cities like New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago, moving to mid-size "minor league" markets allows fan bases to develop without competition from the more established teams in Major League Baseball, Major League Soccer, and Arena Football League. Hamilton, Rochester, Annapolis, and Long Island all bit this bill nicely. Through the Machine's travels this past season, we learned that the league is already looking at similar markets in Columbus, Cary, Albany, and Virginia Beach. While Denver and Boston remain as the only successful major markets in the league, it will be interesting to watch how future expansion efforts proceed.

Rochester MLL Update

In yesterday's post about a potential Kansas City MLL team I mentioned that the league will return to Rochester this season. Inside Lacrosse is reporting that the move of the Machine to Rochester is all but official and an announcement is expected sometime before Thanksgiving. Stay tuned...

Monday, November 22, 2010

Pro Lax in Kansas City?!

For those of you that don't know me too well, I am a big soccer fan. I have followed MLS for a very long time and have been a so-so Fire fan since around 2000 or so. With Kansas City being half the distance from Des Moines, I toyed with the notion of switching allegiances* to the Wizards. After visiting KC over the summer and seeing their glorious new stadium, my mind was pretty much made up.
Last week the team's owners, OnGoal, announced that the Wizards were being renamed to begin a new chapter in their spanking new home this season. The result of the rebrand was Sporting Kansas City. While most long time fans plan to continue using the Wizards moniker (myself included), the "Sporting" comes from "sporting club," a popular naming style in Europe. European sporting clubs are typically over a century old and feature teams in other sports along with their more famous soccer teams (alternatively known as Athletic Clubs).
True to this, OnGoal has laid out plans to incorporate other sports under the Sporting Kansas City banner. Like the MLS team, the new clubs would play their games at the soccer team's brand new stadium, which opens this season. Rugby and lacrosse were two sports that were repeatedly identified by OnGoal. As Major League Lacrosse is the only professional field lacrosse league, it makes sense that OnGoal is referring specifically about an expansion franchise.
You may recall my MLL Expansion series. In that series I identified Red Bull as an organization that might pursue this type of ownership/expansion to maximize use of their stadium, Red Bull Arena. This set up would be similar to the company's Salzburg operations only a lacrosse club would be substituted for the hockey team.
Based on OnGoal's description of their brand identity and future plans, this is how I expect the SKC lax team to work out as well. The new lax team would incorporate the SKC color scheme, name, and elements from the crest. A proper nickname may be given immediately or developed by the fans over time. The logo would have some differences as OnGoal said the crest is specifically assigned to the soccer team.
On the same note, rumors keep popping up about a return of the Rochester Rattlers. The most persistent part of these rumors is that the team will be owned by the Rhinos and will play in their stadium, something else I suggested in my MLL expansion series. Just like SKC and the Outlaws (as well as Red Bull, if it happened), the new Rattlers would benefit from playing in a rent-free stadium as their venues are controlled by their owners. It seems that these owners recognize the potential long term profitability of MLL franchises, much like the original MLS owners when that league started.
Supporting the thought that expansion to KC and a rebirth of the Rattlers will happen sooner rather than later is a recent interview with MLL commissioner David Gross.

We have a very aggressive expansion plan in place. Our goal over the next decade is to grow from a 6 team league to a 16 team league. Now plans are often modified and we won’t add a team just for the sake of expansion.

In the short term, we will remain a 6 team league for the 2011 season. After being a road team last year the Machine will have a permanent home for the coming season, which we will announce next Tuesday. We will be adding two new teams for 2012 to grow to an 8 team league and should be able to announce those markets early in the New Year. We also hope to lengthen our season in 2012 from 12 games to 14 games.

According to the rumors, the "permanent home" for the Machine is in fact Rochester. Per the arrangements that kept the name and colors in the city when Toronto Nationals were born, the Machine will assume the "Rattlers" name.
It is entirely possible that one of the two teams expected to be included in the upcoming announcement will be Sporting Kansas City. The city has a strong and continually growing lax scene that would only become more fueled by a professional team. The fanbase would be regional with laxers throughout Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, and even Iowa attending games and team sponsored tournaments. Without an NCAA D1 program in our region, the MLL team would have the potential to create an unrivaled top tier camp in the Great Plains.
When and if this actually comes to fruition remains to be seen. Hopefully OnGoal will commit to this plan and create something truly specially in Kansas City...
*For the record, the Des Moines Menace are the team I cheer for above every body else on the pitch. In fact, the Menace are one of my two favorite teams in DM in any sport.

Tribe 7