Ever try to organize a pick-up game of basketball, or lacrosse, or baseball? Then you know how challenging it can be to get that off the ground. Multiply that challenge by a large factor and you might be able to get a sense of how challenging it can be to get a professional sports league started. The North American Lacrosse League, currently in its second season, was no exception to the challenge both on and off the floor. But commissioner Tony Caruso sat down to offer some insight into the NALL’s road and where it’s taken them today, and where he believes that road will take the U.S-based professional lacrosse league in the years to come. It’s an exciting time for the league, for sure, and as the game grows and expands, the NALL hopes to be there to provide an avenue for lacrosse players who want to continue their playing days after college.
Tell us a little about yourself, how did you first get involved in lacrosse?
By trade, I am a business transactions attorney with 25 years of experience in negotiating and closing major corporate and commercial deals. I have also co-founded a few start up entities, one being revolutionary as an internet-based real estate services company in 1999 which was eventually sold to a major player in this space. My background led me into sports and entertainment deals about 18 years ago when I became licensed as an NFL and NBA agent. I also got involved in the sports business world as a lead investor in a group that purchased a minor league basketball team which had great success during my tenure. After completing many other sports and entertainment related deals over the years, the National Lacrosse League hired me to organize and supervise its licensing deals, and then appointed me as its outside general counsel. A few years after my tenure with the NLL, the opportunity seemed appropriate to form a new indoor pro lacrosse league. The North American Lacrosse League was founded in 2011.
How did you end up as the commissioner of the NALL?
As one of the co-founders and legal advisor, my first post was as outside legal counsel to the NALL. After the termination of the first two commissioners hired by the then current owners, I was asked to assume the role of commissioner as well as legal counsel.
What is your background in professional sports and entertainment? How does that translate into building a new professional sports league?
Having the experience and ability to develop a business plan, roll out a strategy and then execute that strategy has helped greatly in allowing me to start the league, and more importantly, guide the league through some legal turmoil with some of the previous owners, which has now been resolved.
What did you learn from your time with the NLL? How are you applying it to the NALL?
Being the attorney for the NLL allowed me to use my background and experience toward a different and fast growing sport. While some of the basic issues are the same, there are distinct differences in pro lacrosse which make this a formidable (but not insurmountable) challenge.
What differentiates the NALL from other professional indoor lacrosse leagues?
The main differences are we have (and enforce) strict rules against flagrant and excessive fighting, and the 80/20 American/foreign roster requirements. Additionally, we have a lower salary cap and give teams the option of playing in smaller arenas in their first few years of existence.
Will small to medium-sized markets be the key to the NALL’s future success?
It is certainly a possibility, as lacrosse players and fans alike are hungry to play and watch lacrosse, despite not yet having some of the “bells and whistles” of other major sports. For instance, our games are not yet conveniently located on major networks so our fans need to find us on the web or radio.
Besides the Northeast, what other markets are viable options for establishing new franchises?
We hope to be situated throughout the United States in the near future, but we want to accomplish that in the appropriate manner. Presently, we are focused on filling out our footprint along the eastern part of the country but do have a few groups in the West who have expressed interest in purchasing a franchise.
Is there anyone in sports or business that you admire?
In sports, I admire Derek Jeter for his on and off field demeanor. He seems to always portray himself in an intelligent and business like manner, which will definitely result in continuing lucrative opportunities once he decides to retire from the game.
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