The United States Lacrosse League is rising like the Phoenix from the ashes of the North American Lacrosse League and the Professional Lacrosse League. The new loop, planning to start play with its inaugural season in the fall of 2014, is determined to learn from both the successes and the mistakes of the two failed leagues that preceded it in attempting to grow a US-based professional lacrosse league that gives American players a place to develop in the box game, says the USLL’s Commissioner, Anthony Chase.
You’ll recall Chase as the owner of the Kentucky Stickhorses, the only team that survived the acrimonious split in the original NALL to make a first season happen. Granted, it was what the league called an “invitational season” in which the Stickhorses played all the league’s games at home against a variety of opponents. But, as Chase points out, his club was successful on and off the floor in the two years that the NALL ran. And now Chase sees error in his ways in sticking to a winter season (games ran January through April).
“I’m the first to admit when I might be wrong. I was really adamantly opposed to fall lacrosse,” Chase told IL Indoor. “But it makes sense. I guess this applies to anybody in life—as you drive through things you realize that might have been a better path. It makes sense because the National Lacrosse League players that then move on to Major League Lacrosse, if they choose to, and we’ve had a number of players express interest, they could still play in the USLL and they could end up basically playing year round.”
Anyone who has watched the saga of the NALL being announced with great fanfare and optimism only to see it shattered into two leagues, neither of which survived beyond two years, will have a very legitimate question to ask of the USLL: why can this league succeed where the others failed? That’s exactly the question I posed to Chase. His three-part answer demonstrates what he and Nick Desrosiers—the USLL Founder and Chairman who headed the New Jersey Rascals team in the PLL—have learned from the previous attempts and should be encouraging to any of us who hope that this time, they’ve found a winning formula.
“The key here is the vetting of the teams, to make sure that they have the financial wherewithal in investors or their own backing that they will be able to successfully finish year one,” Chase says. “My definition of viability is that if they don’t sell a single ticket and they don’t have a single sponsor, that they can still complete a season. In other words, they need to have enough money in escrow to make sure that they can pay for everything no matter what happens financially.
“The second thing is a much more active league office,” Chase continues. “We’re going to help them with game-day preparations. Kentucky did a good job with that last year and we’ve got our game-day script and our approach is about a seven-page document that gets edited every week so we know exactly what’s going to happen every minute of every game. We’re going to have league-wide ticket sales. Each team will have responsibility for selling its own tickets, but we’ll support that with a sales manager at the league office who will assist them in the sales of season tickets.
“The last thing here is we will have an individual specifically assigned to league-wide sponsorships. The way we’ve structured that, without getting into too much detail, is that a portion of the league-wide sponsor dollars will stay at the league office to pay its expenses, but then what’s remaining—which will be pretty much a majority—will be disseminated out to the teams to help them in operations.
“Those are all things that were missing in the NALL. The same things we talked about back when the original founders of the NALL got together. Then once the infighting began it made it impossible to follow through on all those things that we wanted to do,” Chase concludes.
The USLL expects to have eight teams in its first season and has already announced the Maine Moose Trax as the first franchise. An important part of the strategy for success is to keep costs under control. To that end, the location of the league’s first team in Portland, Maine is no accident. Chase acknowledges that while the game is growing quickly in other areas, “really the action is still in the Northeast, so in order to try to keep our costs relatively low as compared to some leagues that are out there, we felt like we needed to have teams that were fairly well within a geographic region.”
To that end, Chase says that several of the other teams that will be announced over the coming weeks can be reached within a three or four hour drive of the Moose Trax. “It wouldn’t take a rocket scientist to draw about a two-hundred-mile radius around Portland and see some other major communities that it’s pretty obvious that we’re looking at,” Chase says. “We’ve got commitments from the majority of what we need to fill out year one and obviously what we want to do is dot the i’s and cross the t’s and then announce them one at a time without dropping them too frequently on top of each other so that we can keep the excitement up.”
Chase and Desrosiers understand that the excitement outside of their league offices will be tempered with a healthy dose of scepticism. Fans, players and the media alike can be forgiven if they take a “we’ll believe it when we see it” attitude to the pair’s contention that the USLL has figured out how to make an American-based pro indoor league work. Deep down, though, there’s little question that all of us who are fans of the game want the USLL to work. We’ll just have to wait and see how it all plays out.Stamp is a TV sports announcer and lacrosse lover whose skill set made him a defender but who always dreamed of being a goal-scorer. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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