The National Lacrosse League (NLL) is in the final year of its five year contract with Reebok Lacrosse. Looking ahead to 2011, the re-signing or adding of major corporate sponsors will be extremely important to the sustainability and growth of professional indoor lacrosse, so let’s take a closer look at the history and landscape.
In 2005, starting in the ‘06 season, the NLL signed a multi-year deal with Reebok who were just beginning their lacrosse division at the time. Reebok joined Dodge, Progressive and Supercuts as NLL league sponsors.
All of those deals reportedly had no activation component and were monetary only, with Dodge and Progressive in the healthy six figures and Reebok’s deal apparently in the seven figures. Reebok also supplied apparel while requiring all NLL players to wear what Reebok had developed at that time.
In year one, Reebok offered shoes, helmets and unis. Quickly the company grew its lacrosse line to include equipment, adding protective gear in year two and shafts a few years back. This season has seen the emergence of Reebok’s latest R&D project, their new heads and 10K O-Tech System.
“Each year we’ve been in business we’ve grown, and we’ve got a healthy business in just a few years,” offers Daniel Sarro of Reebok Lacrosse Public Relations, noting they now carry the complete stock and enjoy penetration with retail channels.
“The NLL has been a great partner for the past four years, and we believe the partnership has been beneficial for both parties,” added Sarro. “Our deal expires at the end of this season, and we are hoping to continue with the NLL in the future.”
“We are discussing a potential extension of the deal with Reebok but we are also entertaining other possibilities as well,” offered league commissioner George Daniel.
“There is great interest in the NLL from major companies in non-lacrosse categories. Given the time required for the decision-making process at major companies, our primary focus with sponsorships is for future seasons.”
Leverage Agency, a sponsorship agency representing among other properties the LPGA, AVP Pro Beach Volleyball Tour and Ironman Triathlon, worked with the NLL for approximately three years until 2007 – adding to the list of NLL sponsors Vonage, Hummer and Edge shave gel.
Rule 1.02 Sports & Entertainment Marketing is the league’s current agency of record, responsible for selling sponsorships on the league’s behalf. The NLL currently rotates in prime online ad space the logos of Reebok, Livestream, Yellowbook and Wall-U – not overly impressive global brands outside of Reebok and Livestream’s great online presence.
For a league that has been on the brink of reaching the mass-market and driving more fans through the gate in all of its cities, landing those next major sponsorships will be essential for the NLL.
It would also be nice to see more activation from sponsors, where in essense the sponsor promotes the product.
“Sure, that’s what everyone needs,” added Kevin McIntyre of the aforementioned Leverage Agency.
“At ESPN, where I was in the past, there were always people fighting for promotion internally,” said McIntyre, noting execs argued if they could get more promotion for their sport, more people would watch it.
From a traditional sponsorship perspective, two major factors will impair how much the NLL can command in sponsorship negotiations. The league only features 11 franchises across North America and lacks TV coverage.
“Yeah, if you are national, then you’re going to get national dollars,” added McIntyre.
“It’s a case of the chicken and egg,” says McIntyre. “Which comes first? Is it spending the money to get a national television deal and then you go out and get the national sponsor deal, or is it that you get the big sponsors to pay for a national TV deal?”
The league also has to be smart and make sure it is not driving its expenses through the roof if it can’t handle those costs in the long-term. As we now know through the Toronto Rock’s recent investment with TSN, the current business climate has NLL teams paying for air-time.
The league, however, can be creative about future sponsorships and has to be optimistic about its product. One major selling point the NLL offers is the fact lacrosse is played and watched by young males, and brands obviously want to connect with young men that have buying power and influence.
“Young men aren’t watching TV, they aren’t in the traditional places that they were maybe 20 years ago, so it’s very difficult to reach young men,” adds McIntyre. “That’s what is great about lacrosse (from a sales perspective). I think there is huge potential there.”
Rule 1.02 were unable to respond to interview requests by the article due date. Check back throughout the season for more on this topic and other business stories ‘Off the Rug’.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 firstname.lastname@example.org or go to www.laxfuj.com.
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