Major League Lacrosse has been around for over 15 years. It provides a stage for the best lacrosse players in the world to continue their playing career after college. Why hasn’t the league taking off yet? Why is attendance still an issue? Will it ever be a relevant pro sports league. The answer to the latter question is no, under their current business model. Here are some thoughts and solutions to the current problems the MLL is facing.
(Disclaimer: I do not know the 100% story about how the MLL is run from a player or owners standpoint personally, but knowing a few players that have played in the league and what I have seen in person attending games, I’ve made a few conclusions.)
Consistency of the Product
- One thing the MLL lacks is consistency with the college game. Why is the professional outdoor version of the sport different from the collegiate version? Major League Lacrosse initially added the 60 second shot clock, 2-point arc and abolished the long stick middy position. The aim of this was to create offense which hoped to draw in fans that were channel surfing and landed on ESPN2. They had the commentators continually bombard the audience with rules of the game and how the sport works at a fundamental level. For any viewer that jumps from watching college to MLL, you’ll realize that the college product is much better than the MLL product. Watching college you can get the best of both worlds with high scoring games or defensive showdowns.
- College also closely resembles the gameplay most of us experienced through high school. The MLL features absolutely no strategy on defense with teams hardly practicing enough to get complex slide packages in. They have to rely on raw athleticism to match feet and sheer talent to throw a check to dislodge a ball.
- As in most post collegiate leagues across the country, most players choose not to wear shoulders pads. As a professional league, I believe pads are necessary. Players are afraid to hit or be hit because they have work on Monday. That’s another issue which we’ll get into in a little bit. But why can NLL players wear pads and MLL can’t. NCAA forces their players to wear pads and the athletes go all out (until the ref calls a soft penalty).
- MLL features the best players in the world. I believe they should play with the college rules so kids can see how to actually play the game. Watching Paul Rabil or Myles Jones settle for a 16+ yard 2 point shot is highly unrealistic in most levels of play. Watching the New York Lizards offense force bad shots during an offensive possession due to a 60 second shot clock is not growing the game either.
- How are you supposed to create a great fan environment when players are in and out of lineups and constantly leaving teams. Whatever Major League Lacrosse is doing now is great. They allow the fans to get up close and personal with the players. I believe this has a lot to do with the selflessness of the players. They usually stay after games to sign autograph for the kids. But the issue is that teams cannot do enough to keep the players around. Look at the Rochester Rattlers or the Florida Launch. Majority of the Rattlers roster opted to the league player movement option. They have or had no interest in playing Rochester. I don’t know what exactly is happening there but it cannot be good. Florida Launch can barely get enough players ready for games. Last Year they had issues because the Thompson Brothers couldn’t make games because they were working camps. Now if you were going to watch the New York Lizards play, you have to drop $25 tickets to get in through the door. With the best players not wanting to be there or just not showing up, what will make me want to come back next week or even buy a season ticket package?
- Next up is the venue issue. The MLL has a mindset that every team should be like the Denver Outlaws and should fill up an NFL Stadium like they do on July 4th. Now, you can say the only teams that are doing it right are the Outlaws (somewhat) and the Ohio Machine. These teams are playing in stadiums where they can sell alcohol legally. Fans don’t have to watch over their back for big brother in the parking lot tailgate and can go buy a cold brew during the half time break. Many teams are playing in a large college venue (12,000+ fan stadiums) and not selling them out. Proceeds from the concessions sold during the game just go back to the college campus and on top of that cannot sell alcohol because it is a dry campus. Make the game enjoyable for everyone, kids and adults alike.
- Rent is very expensive and there is usually schedule conflicts for practice and games. The Ohio Machine has just built their own stadium. They are heading in the right direction. With 100% control of everything that goes on there, look to see them cash in on their investment. As for other teams, they really should look for smaller stadiums (around 6,000 or 7,000 fans) so the place can look full. People watching on TV that see a half empty barn begin to question the legitimacy of the league.
- These players need to get paid. They are the best in the world at what they do and they should be compensated for it. Many players work full time in lacrosse which was a change from the conception of the league where guys had a real second job. But it is still not enough. Super stars like Paul Rabil are the ones locking up multi year contracts and the big bucks (which is not even sustainable to live on). Players on the practice squad or lesser known players can basically blow the money they make traveling to their respective event and going to the bar later that night. We don’t know how the league operates financially but something has to be done and these players need to get paid because at some point it becomes financially not worth it to play in the league.
- Get the game on local tv or stream the game for free. This lacrosse network stuff is not helping grow the league. Having to pay a subscription to gain an all-access look into the game that is mediocre at best is the biggest turn-off for me at least. Getting the game on local television might spark some interest because fans will seem a hometown team and might want to come out to support. Playing games on national television on CBS with half empty stands just also kills the league as well.
- Get rid of the All-Star game. These guys are already All-Stars playing in an All-Star league. This goes for all sports. Play another game.
- Stop mentioning expansion. Why don’t you focus on the stability of the league first before you test expansion. Create home field advantage during the playoffs instead of using it as a guinea pig for places you can potentially put a team. This rewards the home teams fans and gives the players a little incentive during the season to play harder because I am sure logistically it is already a nightmare trying to make a home game in the city you play for and now having to add the burden of traveling to an unknown city at the end of the season.
Again, take anything I say with a grain of salt. These are my thoughts.