Take a stroll down just about any block on Long Island and you’ll be hard-pressed to find one that doesn’t have a lacrosse net in the front yard and kids playing lacrosse. Long Island is one of the top hotbeds for the sport in North America and the youth lacrosse leagues across Nassau and Suffolk counties are constantly producing top-level talent for high schools, colleges and the professional ranks.
In fact, there are some players from Long Island that are among the best players in the world.
But while the New York Lizards of Major League Lacrosse has been around since 2001, Long Island has been without a National Lacrosse League indoor team since 2007 when the New York Titans called the Nassau Coliseum home. Before that, the New York Saints played at the Coliseum from 1989 to 2003 and the pre-cursor to the Saints were the Long Island Tomahawks who played at “The Barn” for just one season in 1975.
And now, indoor lacrosse is coming back to NYCB Live, Home of the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum as the 13th franchise in the National Lacrosse League. The new team will begin play next season for the 2019-20 campaign and the timing couldn’t be any better for a league that is growing towards something really big.
“It’s exciting,” said NLL Commissioner Nick Sakiewicz. “We have a lot more work to do. I don’t think relief is the word…we’re very proud of what we’ve done and what we’ve accomplished in a short period of time. A 33 year old league feels like a start-up and we’re on the move.”
The Saints, at their apex, drew crowds of over 10,000 to the Coliseum and provided Long Island sports fans with an exciting product. That team also provided me with my first professional play by play job when I called Saints games on the radio from 1993 to 1996 so Tuesday’s announcement was a little extra special for me. Indoor lacrosse is one of the fastest growing sports in North America and now that the Coliseum has been renovated, bringing the sport back to Uniondale is a no-brainer.
“We’re thrilled,” said Erik Baker of GF Sports, the group selected by the league to receive the highly coveted Long Island franchise that a half a dozen potential ownership groups were interested in. “It’s a huge day for us and it’s a huge day for Long Island, Long Island lacrosse, sports fans on Long Island and we think that they’re underserved from a content standpoint and from a sports standpoint. We’re really happy to bring a team back.”
From a business standpoint, indoor lacrosse on Long Island certainly had ups and downs with the three previous franchises which made awarding a new team quite a lengthy and thorough process. The league was looking to check off three important boxes in their search for the right situation. They needed the right ownership group, the right venue, and the right venue deal.
They covered all three of those checks with GF Sports, the Nassau Coliseum, and a lease that made sense with BSE Global, the operators of the Coliseum.
“We needed to put a real plan together and not just a couple of pieces of paper plan but a real plan,” said Sakiewicz. “These things aren’t easy to do. These are hard deals to get done and you have to pay attention to the details.”
One of the most important detail that the NLL paid attention to was GF Sports’ commitment to grassroots marketing on Long Island. The team has already reached out to the local lacrosse community to begin the process of forming relationships with the many youth clubs and leagues across Nassau and Suffolk.
When you think about the number of kids playing lacrosse on Long Island along with the parents, families and coaches, they are all potential fans of the new franchise, not just as paid customers but as partners in helping grow the sport.
“Grassroots is going to be a huge component of what we do,” said Baker. “We’re looking to be partners with the local lacrosse community. That could mean box leagues that we put together for them. Box helps, in an enormous way, the field game in terms of a skill standpoint. All the kids, especially the young kids, we want to have them play box from a very early age to build their skills from a lacrosse standpoint.”
A big part of what the Lizards do outdoors at their home games at Hofstra University is having the many youth lacrosse organizations purchase group tickets and play games on the field before the Lizards games. That could very well be the case for the new NLL team at the Coliseum having kids from all over Long Island playing on the field in the hours leading up to the games.
Now that the franchise is in place, the process begins to hire a front office along with a General Manager and Head Coach. The team also needs a name and colors and they’ve come up with a “Team Name Survey” on their website at www.nllnewyork.com that includes a question about a potential nickname.
Feeling nostalgic, I brought an old New York Saints jersey to the press conference on Tuesday and it became quite a talking point among reporters, league officials, and the owners. But “Saints” isn’t on the survey as one of the potential names. The choices provided are “New York Beacons”, “New York Riptide”, and “New York Force”. There is also a space to write in your own choice.
The ownership group is open to suggestions whether its “Saints” or any other name you can come up with.
“We really want to hear from the community,” said Baker. “One of the good things about GF Capital and GF Sports is that we are not “invented here” guys. If someone has a better idea, we are wide open to it. We really want to see those ideas. We have done some focus groups and it was interesting because some people wanted the “Saints” but I also think that some people wanted something new.”
Hey, I’d love to see the team be called the “Saints” again but this is a different time and the league has grown by leaps and bounds from the time that other teams played at Nassau Coliseum. When you consider how the sport has grown, especially on Long Island where it was always popular, having a team play at the Coliseum again is exciting no matter what the name is because this time around the situation is better.
The building has been transformed and the right ownership group has been identified.
“Our ownership group is all blue chip,” said Sakiewicz. “We have amazing owners in our league. The sport has grown up and has matured and you have granddads now that have played lacrosse and dads and young kids coming up more and more through the pipeline so the market is much stronger than it was twenty years ago or so. It’s a great time to be in the sport.”
And now the countdown to the 2019-20 season is officially underway. The new NLL franchise on Long Island has one year before the first face-off to put together a front office, a coaching staff and a roster. The process of selling season tickets is already underway as well as the very important component of reaching out to the community and the many kids playing this great sport.
And sometime in early 2019, there will be an event at Nassau Coliseum to unveil the team name and colors. Perhaps I’ll wear my Saints jersey that day to honor the past as the National Lacrosse League gets set to usher in the future…a future that finally has a team back where in belongs on Long Island.