The 2013 National Lacrosse League season is going to be a pivotal season in the history of professional lacrosse. The NHL holding out into December and through its labour strife, it’s looking more and more like there will be no hockey in the winter of 2012-13. We have been here before. In 1995 and in 2005 the NLL looked to capitalize on the hockey lockouts for added importance and national attention. In ‘95 it got close but hockey came back after x-mas. This is a worst case scenario because that is when the NLL starts and it’s a no brainer who will override in the media for content. This is the cup half-empty situation where we all might wish hockey had just stayed on course and been business as usual so the NLL could just make a solid plan based on working around other professional sports.
The cup half-full. We see this situation happening if the announcement comes that the NHL has closed shop and cancelled its remaining season. Again, the NLL can make hasty plans around this if arena dates are opened for more Saturday nights and television stations have to fill air time.
It may look wishy-washy to change game dates and throw support print media in the garbage, but in this viral era of internet and social media, the educated NLL fan base could be re-directed to schedule changes easily at a low cost to the league and the teams. With some luck, television coverage of pro lacrosse is ramped up and we get some serious exposure, the kind that has been eluding the NLL for its entirety.
In the next two weeks, we will see how the cities of Montreal and Langley/Vancouver take to lacrosse as an entertainment alternative to no hockey. Already in Abbottsford, B.C., the American Hockey League team has enjoyed a massive increase in attendance with the Canucks on the shelf.
That is an indication that people will seek some other form of entertainment for their long winter days and nights. Let’s hope lacrosse gets impacted by a lack of NHL hockey, hockey media, hockey fantasy leagues and hockey merchandise that drive interest to places lacrosse can only hope to go in the future.
The next piece is important: The ability to mobilize and attack if the NHL season is cancelled. Is the NLL ready to step up and drive in the fast lane and create alternatives for the hockey world? I’m not talking about putting on a game here; I’m talking about the mechanics of drawing people into the building.
Plans to get new fans on a bus or in a car to the arena or to a TV set with in-house web-produced wares designed to grab new lax fans in the home NLL markets. There could be multiple promotional pieces designed to make NLL city fans more informed about indoor lacrosse and the action that is taking place that may satisfy a hockey arena atmosphere diet.
Some edgy local adds on T.V. like the Portland LumberJax ads of 2008 that were enough to make people humored and curious. A great indicator of who your new fans are is walk-up sales or game-day sales. I would love to know those numbers in Montreal next Sunday morning.
There are NHL fans that won’t support hockey as we have learned in the past. Last go-round was 2005, which is exactly 9 seasons ago. Times have changed and so has the economy. Possibly these people can relate better to a lacrosse player in this era where Shae Webber will receive $13,000,000 (or 13 million) to NOT play hockey this year while staying locked out.
Thirteen million would go a long way in the NLL. For starters it would cover all 9 teams’ payrolls and player costs (flights, hotels, expenses) for the year. Then I’d venture to say it would cover the rent for the nine teams in the NLL on top of that and still have a few million left over. Hockey players are not at fault for their sport advancing as a business. The same should be said about other professional sports.
Still, the money these sports guys make in this down turned economy can’t sit well with the everyday Joe. The “regular guy” routine for advertising of NLL players may need to make the rounds one more time to grab fans that can relate and then even have a beer with their favorite player after the game. The NLL is other pro sports 40 to 50 years ago. It is a well-GROUNDED sport and league. That should count as part of its appeal especially to new fans coming aboard.
I have my doubts the NLL can overcome these hurdles given the chance but my fingers are crossed. The teams that are independent of NHL ownership work on budgets, and those budgets may not be able to absorb a bigger advertising and sales push in short notice. The NHL-owned NLL teams will not do much extra for their teams either. You may ask WHY?
Because they are in the hockey business, not the lacrosse business and there is a pecking order. The hockey team ticket sales are the goal and they can’t afford to lose regular hockey supporters to a cheaper lacrosse ticket in the future.
So in this tighter economy that is another issue at hand in Calgary, Colorado and Buffalo. When the Sabres took over the Bandits in 1998 they were very aware of the Bandits attendance and ticket base. The hockey team was struggling. The greater effort went to make the hockey successful again and as a result the Bandits were downgraded to ensure the Sabres regained top dawg status in the lunch pail city. It’s just good business and us laxers can’t take it personal.
Business is the bottom line for all. I hope these television networks can see the value in producing some NLL lacrosse games to satisfy their advertisers if the NHL stays out. ESPN, Hockey Night in Canada? While Canada may default to Major Junior Hockey games for television viewers, the USA will be basketball only after the Super Bowl is played in January.
TSN and Sportsnet may continue to hype curling here in Canada or they may come round to accepting lacrosse as a sport they can develop content in and work with. Only time will tell.O'Neill is a three-time Mann Cup winner and former general manager of the Philadelphia Wings (2001-2004) and Minnesota Swarm (2004-2010), where he was twice named NLL GM of the Year (2007, 2008).
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