The New York Riptide will not take their first face-off at the Nassau Coliseum until December, but the expansion National Lacrosse League franchise has been working diligently in building a staff. On the lacrosse side, the team hired the likes of General Manager and Head Coach Regy Thorpe as well as Assistant General Manager and Director of Lacrosse Operations Lance Basler.
And now, the Riptide has named sports executive Jim Burda as the team’s Chief Business Officer. Burda, who was previously the Chief Revenue Officer for the WNBA’s Chicago Sky, has had a goal of running a sports franchise for quite some time and now he’s been given the keys to drive the business side of the Riptide. He will be responsible for all aspects of the franchise including ticketing, sponsorship, marketing, and community outreach.”
“People have kind of known my role with the Chicago Sky and knew that I had interest someday in running a team or at least be a driving force,” said Burda, who has more than twenty years of experience in the sports industry. “Someone reached out thinking I might be a positive fit for the Riptide.”
Long Island is a huge market for lacrosse with over 70,000 players and participation numbers that increase at a rate of about 15% each year. In terms of indoor lacrosse, Long Island has a rich history with the sport including teams like the New York Saints and Long Island Tomahawks that also called the Nassau Coliseum home.
It’s been a while since the NLL (formerly the Major Indoor Lacrosse League) has had a franchise in New York so there is a buzz about the Riptide, especially on Long Island where you really can’t go a block in any community without seeing kids playing on a front lawn or at least a lacrosse net that is set up.
Now Burda’s job is to get as many of those kids and their families into the Coliseum to experience the Riptide and the fast growing sport of box lacrosse.
“I’ve really been brought up to speed with the growth of the game,” said Burda. “I knew it was growing but not to the level that it has. Box lacrosse has really made an impact in the United States. We’re really in a positive hotbed for growth and exposing people to the Riptide.”
From the moment that the New York franchise was awarded to GF Sports back in December, the team made it known that they had already reached out to the lacrosse community on Long Island and that grassroots marketing was going to be an integral part of the franchise’s plan in advance of even announcing the name of the team, making one hire in the organization or even acquiring players.
The Riptide plans on rolling up their sleeves to build a fan base in a lacrosse crazed community and a big part of that will be the young fans who are playing lacrosse.
“I think it’s pretty huge,” said Burda. “I’ve always, I guess just by default, been kind of a grassroots from the ground up person. Certainly engaging the kids and the families is big to our growth on Long Island. It’s going to be one of our number one focuses without a doubt…reaching youth and reaching the families.”
Another challenge for Burda and the Riptide will be battling other teams in town for sports and entertainment dollars. The Riptide will be joining the Islanders (for at least a couple of years) and the NBA G League’s Long Island Nets as sports tenants at the Coliseum. There’s already evidence of the teams working together to promote each other but there’s also the Long Island Ducks baseball team out in Suffolk County, college sports, and the other major league sports in the tri-state area.
With a huge lacrosse community at their disposal, the Riptide will have ready-made fans that are excited about the team but they also have to try and create new fans with so much competition around. Burda’s plan is to replicate what he did in Chicago with the Sky and that is get the Riptide as much exposure as possible. If there’s an event or festival going on, the Riptide are going to be there to greet potential fans.
“You can’t just accept that if we do some marketing that we’re here that people will come,” said Burda. “To me, the challenge to stand out in New York is that we need the community of New York and Long Island to get to know all of us, our players, and to really understand us face to face that we care not only about elevating experience at the Coliseum but year round be a presence in people’s lives in that community. That’s what’s going to make us stand out.”
The new franchise has already made an impact in the community with the launch of the Jr. Riptide, a program for youth lacrosse players in the New York Metropolitan area. The first step for the Jr. Riptide will be to form a travel box lacrosse team that will compete this August in the annual Jr. National Lacrosse League Tournament in Canada.
But that’s just one piece of the puzzle.
Burda will bring his sports marketing expertise to the Riptide but he is also going to lean heavily on the lacrosse people in the organization to help build the brand and to build an infrastructure that will help the franchise get off the ground running. Picking the brains of the likes of Thorpe and Basler is very high on Burda’s to-do list.
“I really keep looking at this as wow…are we positioned for success,” said Burda. “I plan for those two to be one of my very first meetings and for me to really ask questions and just listen. They’re going to be a huge part of driving our growth and I definitely want to hear their ideas.”
Back in the day in the late 80’s and early 90’s, it was commonplace for the Saints to draw crowds of 8-10,000 fans regularly at the Coliseum and there were a few occasions where there were even more. But since that time, the sport of lacrosse has grown on Long Island and in the New York area. The National Lacrosse League has also grown by leaps and bounds since then and the time is right for the return of the sport to the Nassau Coliseum.
The Riptide is ready to roll with an experienced lacrosse staff that will soon begin the process of building a roster as well as the hiring of Jim Burda to oversee the business operations. They may be an expansion team, but the Riptide is in a position to have success on and off the field in a New York minute.