The tipping point for the acceptance of lacrosse as a professional sport and viewing option to other pro sports is something that we can all hope is just around the corner this winter with opportunity knocking. No NHL hockey means arena dates opening up for National Lacrosse League teams and voids possibly needing to be filled. We have covered this before. An attendance jump and gathering some far reaching TV exposure plus coverage through local media represents the Holy Grail of where the NLL needs to go in its long time battle for respect. Pretend for a moment that on January 1, the NHL declares it has cancelled the 2012-13 season. What steps could be suggested to meet the curiosity of first time fans? What moves help capture the growing exposure of lacrosse and educate newbies especially here in Canada?
To temp content needs for Canadian sports television networks I say we offer up a deal that is too good to resist. Free reign to cover the NLL in any way they see fit for the 2013 campaign. All access footage, bench interviews, helmet cams, whatever they can think of the help expose players and their plight.
Just dream for a moment that a TV network signs on to take over some NLL games and produce some talking head shows. Players, coaches and George Daniel in studio at TSN/Sportsnet for mid-week segments to support game presentation and adding some educational perspective of Canada’s national summer sport through the professional winter league.
The NLL would be a winner by exposure. There would be a new importance in watching lacrosse created with television airtime. Newspapers would cover the sport with more vigor and hopefully add in some of the behind the scenes human interest stories connected to the players and teams. A greater awareness would follow with communities becoming engaged looking for a game day experience.
In Canada they would telecast a game of the week on Saturday night in primetime. The production costs would go to the stations that need work for their employees and content for their stations. This would spur on interest from one or two major sponsors. Hopefully a similar deal on the USA side could be negotiated to mirror the needs of Canada’s sports networks.
Comcast in Philadelphia and Altitude in Colorado already do work with those teams as does channel 45 in Minneapolis with the Swarm. Buffalo, Rochester and Washington would need to get creative with a local network. Home attendance then climbs over 10,000 per team and the NLL would have the foundation needed to mobilize for future growth.
One can only hope and dream.
I reached out to some people who know more about these things than I. What I learned is that the NHL and the networks are cancelling their programming two weeks at a time during the strike so they are ready if and when the NHL resumes business.
Advertising partners that work with the NHL are large complex companies that set their budgets well in advance and have already accounted for the next 3-4 months even before the NHL strike. The networks can’t bait and switch hockey with lacrosse for their advertising revenue, so they would look at attracting sponsorship ONLY if hockey cancelled for the rest of the year. NHL cancellation would be the starting date to sell the NLL as a product for television if someone actually took it on. No summer months to prepare makes this next to impossible.
Sponsorship, ie: commercials, pay for production. There would be no production of games without advertising sponsor’s dollars unless the NLL pays for it. Production for lacrosse can be quite costly. These networks can pick up a syndicated poker feed or some other U.S. produced fare to fill in their schedules with cheaply and easily.
While the realities of television are dashing our dreams here is one thing that could be done tomorrow to improve telecasts and the in game experience. The overhead camera view.
Television production of lacrosse has had years of experimentation with some mixed results. Like hockey lacrosse is usually given to us from a 50 yard line angle with varying zoom in on the action. Occasionally we get behind the goal cameras like Sportnet used to provide during mid-1990s Toronto Rock coverage. That was the best at TV production I have seen to date although they were missing the cleanup hitter of camera angles in my humble estimation.
When the Boston Blazers entered the NLL I became fascinated with their overhead camera angles because they used this footage for “in game” action. It is simply phenomenal for watching Indoor Lacrosse.
The camera is stationed in the score clock that sits directly above center floor. Like the NFL cameras that are on cables riding above the action on field this camera gives the fan at home a lifelike perspective of time, space and execution NLL style. It is a treat to behold.
The overhead camera angle continues to be ignored by most NLL teams. Portland also employed this angle in 2008 and 2009 with the same spectacular reproduction of the game and its intricacies. It’s real-time in the sense that just like football, you can be in the pocket with the quarterback or on the breakaway with Speedy Stevie Toll. I’m convinced it can be the tool to help unlock the television barrier we have in place.
Try this on: The Power play.
Lamented for its game-slowing properties and predictable goals it is greatly enhanced by the overhead view. Immediately the methodology opens up as does the speed and skill of what is really going on. With this view we can all have a new appreciation for the sport as I did when I first looked on from above. It brings a whole new light on the position of goaltending too. So why are we waiting?
Like anything else worth having, it comes at an extra cost and cameraman to operate. So let’s get rid of the camera guy down low in the corners who shows a view of the action that doesn’t compliment the game. The overhead angle and possible zooms from that vantage point would give us a superior perspective of the work being done.
Indoor lacrosse needs some new selling features regardless if the NHL is locked out and the time is now.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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