Connecticut Lacrosse Owner Bullish On New York Area Growth

For several years when you ask people in the sports business which properties are on the rise you hear the same answers; soccer, rugby, now eSports, and lacrosse. While on the grassroots level in the tri state area few sports in the spring can compete with the growth of lacrosse, the professional game has lagged behind. The Lizards of the outdoor Major League Lacrosse have led a nomadic existence in the spring and summer, and the indoor game has been lacking a New York home for several years.

However that interest may be changing as Box lacrosse, a faster, higher scoring version of field lacrosse continues to gain ground and interest. On Wednesday in New York, National Lacrosse Hall of Famer Mike French, one of the owners of the National Lacrosse League’s (NLL) New England Black Wolves (who play at Mohegan Sun Arena starting in a few weeks) spoke at the Sports Business Journal’s “Dealmakers” event, and was very bullish on both expansion and the future of indoor lacrosse for fans and a growing number of elite athletes who are taking to the indoor game.

That enthusiasm, coupled with the hotbed in the New York area (and a recent New York Post story on NLL expansion possibilities) may be fueling a chance for NLL to come back to New York for the first time since teams in New York and New Jersey folded in the early 2000’s. According to French, the times, the business model and the opportunity have changed since then, and the stage might be set for a return.

“Our league today is in better shape than ever before, because of the leadership at the top and the ownership involved now,” he told an audience at the W Hotel. “We have great players and a product that young fans can relate to; its high scoring and action packed and the cities we are in now (The Wolves regularly fill Mohegan Sun Arena) are the right ones with the right people, we are very bullish on the future, and have identified several areas where we can grow with the right owners, not just any owners. It is a great opportunity for the fastest growing sport in the country.”

French pointed out that the new owners coming in include Joe Tsai in San Diego (the Alibaba co-founder also purchased the minority interest in the Brooklyn Nets this fall, leading to some speculation of the NLL coming back either in Brooklyn or at Nassau Coliseum) and Comcast (which this week unveiled that their Philly franchise will be the Wings, starting in 2018), and that the entry point for a franchise is around three to five million dollars.

“We are looking at individuals or groups who own buildings or teams, and the interest has been there; the question is who and where make the most sense. People see the value we have and the way we can share expenses with tenants that make sense, so there is a big upside for indoor lacrosse to be a valuable partner.”

The Blackwolves and the WNBA Connecticut Sun are a great example, French added. They not only share sales and marketing staff at Mohegan Sun Arena, but the players from both teams also work together on community projects. “It’s a great way to be a key part of the community, not that far from New York or Boston,” he added.

Indoor, or box lacrosse, is gaining popularity as a training tool at the high school and college level, as well as with hockey teams as a crossover. Its fast paced action is being welcomed as a strategy tool by colleges and leagues are popping up across the tri-state area, especially on the fertile lacrosse ground of Long Island. All that would seem to make Nassau Coliseum, or Barclays or even the Prudential Center, a prime target if the right owner comes along.

When would that happen? French continued to talk about 2018 and 2019 as key growth years for he and other owners, and their commissioner Nick Sakiewicz, a longtime Major League Soccer exec who has seen a parallel path to success for NLL as a business. “We do see a lot of similarities in how MLS grew, only we have a different scale, so that path is always on top of our mind,” French said.

Fast paced, high scoring, cost efficient and a growing sport. Maybe indoor lacrosse can make a comeback in the New York area, like it has in Connecticut.

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