The National Lacrosse League (NLL) will play its first ever game in Florida on Saturday, January 3, 2009, when the New York Titans play to host the Toronto Rock. The game will start at 8 p.m. at the Bank Atlantic Center, home of the National Hockey League (NHL) Florida Panthers.
Tickets for the game will be on sale starting Friday, September 26. Check FloridaLacrosseCup.com for more info.
The game is being used as a dry-run to test possible NLL expansion into Florida says Kevin Finneran, a former player who is part of a Florida Group interested in NLL investment. A press conference is scheduled for later today, but NLL Insider already talked to Finneran about the up-coming game, league and expansion.
How and when did this game in Florida come about?
“I’ve been working for years to try and bring a NLL expansion team to South Florida and this is a way to test the waters and help grow excitement,” said Finneran, a five-time NLL Champion’s Cup winner who recently located to the state.
“It was initially going to be an exhibition game over Thanksgiving weekend. Then I approached the Titans about it being a home game for them because they always play a couple neutral site games during the season and we worked out a deal with them. So it will be a regular season game.”
Why are you optimistic about the NLL in Florida?
“I’m optimistic for NLL FLA because South Florida is one of the fastest growing lacrosse markets in the country. We also will be working closely with the Bank Atlantic Center (home of the NHL Florida Panthers) in the marketing of the game. If successful, we will be moving forward with local investors to bring in an expansion team as well as relocating professional players to the area.”
Who’s involved right now?
“The Florida Lacrosse Group consists of myself, Jeff Goldberg (NJ Saints 88-90), Bo Lamon (Owner, Lacrossewear) and Robert Delorimiere (Rochester Knighthawks 1995). Involved as well are local lacrosse leaders.”
Are you also interested in the MLL?
“We are just looking at NLL involvement at this time.”
Does Arizona folding this season and the movement of other NLL teams in the past worry you as an investor?
“A successful NLL team relies greatly on solid ownership. If you look at teams that have not faired well in pro lacrosse, much of the problem has been shaky ownership,” said Finneran.
“Again, this is a way to see if South Florida lacrosse and sport fans in South Florida would be interested in supporting a professional indoor lacrosse team. If that is the case, and it’s a success, the ownership group that will be put together will be in it for the long-haul, to help grow the sport down here and make an impact in the community.”
Between the NHL, NBA, NFL and MLB, there are nine other professional sport teams in Florida. How do you think you’d fair?
“As far as the other local teams, we would try to differentiate our product with respect to ticket price, player accessibility, a new and exciting sport that all kids could play and the history and tradition of lacrosse… It’s not going to happen overnight but we’d look for steady ownership and nice steady growth. You look at a team like the Minnesota Swarm and they’ve done a nice job there. We’d take each year one at a time, grow a steady fan base and go from there.”
What type of fan support are you hoping for this January, and realistically, how close are you to submitting a bid? What will the deciding factors be?
“Our target attendance for the game is 7,500 fans. We’re reaching out to all lacrosse fans. From Tampa to Orlando, Palm Beach to Miami and everywhere in between. We’ll also be marketing to Florida Panther hockey fans and to the youth football and soccer communities. After the game, we’ll sit down with ownership and decide how we want to proceed. TV would be part of the equation.”
Talk a little more about that relationship you have with the NHL Panthers.
“It’s more the Bank Atlantic Center. The Panthers per say aren’t helping in any particular way. It’s the Arena and the president Michael Yormark who agreed to do this, so they’ll be helping to promote. They’ll push this to Panther fans at the game, for instance, there will be announcements during the game on the jumbo-tron, within the arena they’ll be banners. They’ll push it to their contact lists and stuff like that… Obviously being affiliated with an NHL team has its advantages.”
How many teams do you feel is the right mix for the NLL?
“24 teams. We’re at 13 now, hopefully 14 with South Florida next year. Then get two more in Canada, whether it’s Vancouver, Montreal again or somewhere else, so that brings it up to 16. Then another six to eight teams in the States – Dallas, St. Louis, maybe another Florida team, maybe Raleigh North Carolina. You know, 24 is a cap, but anywhere from 20-24 would be respectful and exciting.”
Are you hearing other expansion rumors?
“No more than anyone else. We’re just focused on things down here, this game and then hopefully a team. I haven’t heard anything more than you guys at the NLL Insider would have.”
Speaking as a past player and potential owner, what direction would you like to see the NLL go?
“More teams are great, more games, players being able to do it more as a full-time job. The same thing everyone’s been saying all along. Increasing the number of American kids playing too, because if you’re going to have more teams you’re going to need more American players. And obviously television. We need a national television contract.”
“But the game is great. Nothing to tweak in the game itself. I may like to see a little more up and down action and more transition. And with the athletes coming in I think you’re going to see that.”
New York in particular plays that up-tempo style. What more can you tell us about January’s game in Florida?
“We’re excited. It’s a good connection down in South Florida with New Yorkers and with Canadians especially during the winter. They’ve had some great battles their first two years together. This will be the first night for both teams. Guys are going to play hard… We obviously want a great game. Nothing would be better than a double overtime win!”
“Other than the game itself, the weekend will be a lacrosse festival full of youth games and clinics, player appearances, NLL interactive games and charity involvement. Tickets will be on sale starting Friday, September 26.”
The New York Titans versus Toronto Rock is an Eastern NLL rivalry game, tagged the ‘Florida Lacrosse Cup’. It is the first ever professional indoor lacrosse game in Florida.
In just their second season, led by star Casey Powell, New York reached the Eastern Division final in 2008 before bowing out to the eventual champions from Buffalo. Toronto has re-loaded and will also be a contender in 2009 thanks to the addition of young stars like Lewis Ratcliff.
Among US States with the most Youth Players, Florida ranks No. 12 with close to 5,000 players, according to US Lacrosse’s most recent participation survey. There are also several collegiate field lacrosse teams in the area, including programs at the University of Miami, Florida and Florida State.
The NLL features 13 teams. New York and Chicago were both awarded expansion franchises in 2007, plus Boston returns to the league this season. The NLL also has franchises in Buffalo, Calgary, Colorado, Edmonton, Minnesota, Philadelphia, Portland, Rochester and San Jose.
League commissioner Jim Jennings stated that both Vancouver and Halifax had submitted bids for new NLL franchises last year, and has since stated the league is interested in possible expansion to Oklahoma City.
NLL franchises have come and gone through the history of the NLL. Arizona is the most recent casualty, suspending operations this year. In 2006, Anaheim ceased operations while Portland was awarded an expansion franchise and Edmonton acquired the rights to a formerly suspended Ottawa franchise.
Overall attendance during the 2008 NLL season again averaged more than 10,000 fans per game, and more than one million total fans for the season.An All-America at Simon Fraser and a decorated Jr. A player for Coquitlam, Kojima began covering lacrosse in 2003 and started working for Inside Lacrosse in 2007. Email him at email@example.com or go to www.laxfuj.com.
Rate This Story: