4 Ways MLL Can Improve
Its been a tough year for Major League Lacrosse. In 2018, Paul Rabil announced the Premier Lacrosse League and stole a majority of MLL’s stars. In summer 2019, the PLL aired on NBC (and affiliates) while MLL games streamed on ESPN+ (All-Star game and playoffs the exception). Now, the league takes another pounding by announcing Bayhawks owner, Brendan Kelly, exited the league. Plus, rumors swirl of Atlanta moving to Philadelphia. To the common fan, these moves come across as desperate.
If you’ve been reading my posts for a while, you’ll know I’m a fan of both professional outdoor leagues. PLL is surging; meanwhile, Major League Lacrosse seems stuck. What are some simple ways for the league to improve its image? Below, I’ve listed four suggestions.
1. Stick With an Ownership Model
With Brendan Kelly ceding control of Chesapeake, MLL is a single-entity league. In simpler terms, the league owns all six teams. Previously, Jim Davis (Dallas Rattlers owner) left and the Bowlen family (Denver Outlaws) is restructuring its holdings. With the league moving this direction, Atlanta had no choice but to follow suit. All six teams are owned by MLL.
Frustratingly, MLL announced a one owner per team strategy last year. MLL planned to franchise squads. They did this to regain their media rights. However, a sudden flip-flop of strategies doesn’t look good. It comes across as desperate. Ownership needs to pick a model and stick with it. Constantly changing directions makes fans weary of the league’s future.
MLL chief revenue officer, Mark Burdett, has said the MLL is stronger with each team garnering equal support. Makes sense. About the future, Burdett noted the following: “We know we have the funding for 2020, we know what the executive committee looks like and we know how team operations will work across the board.” It’s good they have a plan, but they need to stick with it.
2. Improve Merchandising
If there’s one thing the PLL crushes MLL in, it’s merchandising. Don’t believe me? Look at both league’s official stores. I’m not counting everything PLL has, but I can count on one-hand what MLL sells. Four things! Two shirts, one hat, and trading cards (which are cool). You can’t even get team jerseys for every team. The Atlanta Blaze have a shooter shirt (which I want) out of stock since August. Each team must sell jerseys and improve their inventory. Sell hoodies, shirts, hats, sweaters, logoed balls, and gear bags. Just something! Worse, you can’t even get jerseys at the games. I’ve had interactions on Twitter where teams closed merch stores before halftime. You keep that open all game!
My one complaint of Outlaw games is they don’t sell jerseys. They sell shirts and the like, but I want a jersey when I’m at the game. I’ve brought over ten people to Denver games. At least six (including me) would buy a jersey. At PLL Denver, I bought two jerseys, my mom and dad both got Atlas ones, and my sister got a Chaos one (nice choice). This doesn’t include the stickers and little things we bought. People want to splurge at sporting events. They can’t if you don’t give them the opportunity.
3. Don’t Go Head-to-Head With PLL
MLL is going with a ten-game schedule in 2020. One tip: don’t schedule home games when PLL is in town. For example, PLL week one is in Boston. The Cannons should play a road game that week. Don’t have home games when PLL is there to steal your fans. You want as many available fans, as possible, to attend your games. By attempting to go head-to-head, the league loses butts in seats.
This goes for post-PLL week. Last year, I noticed Denver’s home attendance was rather low after PLL arrived the prior weekend. I believe this comes from people being “lacrossed out”. Families spent their lacrosse budget on the PLL. They don’t want to attend games back-to-back weeks (besides the diehards like me). Give fans time to reenergize for another lacrosse outing.
4. Keep Teams Where They Are
Rumors are swirling of MLL relocating three franchises to the northeast. Most prominently, folks are reporting the Atlanta Blaze are moving to Philadelphia. My take? This is a mistake. The league needs to grind it out. Is Atlanta struggling in attendance? Yes. Is Atlanta in a non-traditional lacrosse spot? Yes. That said, so are the Georgia Swarm. The Swarm have experienced their ups and downs; however, they’ve pushed through and recently announced an attendance of 8K against Buffalo. The PLL had respectable attendance in Atlanta too. This reveals there’s a Georgia lacrosse market. MLL should study how the Swarm and PLL managed to draw solid crowds, while they cannot. The league put a lot of work into bringing an MLL franchise to Georgia. They shouldn’t throw that away.
This is doubly true for Dallas and Denver. It was probably a mistake to move Rochester to Dallas, but the league needs to live with its decision. The Rattlers allegedly have a skeleton crew employed, but they did some things I liked. I loved the introduction of Mr. Fangtastic. The young squad struggled early but turned it around late. In 2018, the Rattlers had 7K for a home game against Denver. Clearly, people in Texas are interested. 2019 attendance was down because Dallas played poorly. Not because there’s no market.
I can live with moving Atlanta or Dallas, but for the love of god, DO NOT RELOCATE DENVER! Denver has been the most consistent franchise (in terms of performance). They draw in 20K+ for their annual July 4th game. The Outlaws generally lead MLL in average attendance. They have a dedicated fanbase. Hell, I may come home for the summer just so I can attend Outlaw games. By leaving Denver, the league sends a middle finger to its western market. How can people get excited about a new team, in their city, when it’s most likely to relocate in a couple years?
Do you agree with my suggestions? Disagree? Why or why not? I recognize there are arguments for both sides. Whatever your thoughts, air them by connecting with me on Twitter or Instagram. You can comment onto this article by subscribing. By subscribing, you’ll be notified whenever I publish a new article. Any and all support is appreciated. Regardless, thank you for reading! I am a fan of all three professional leagues and want them all to succeed. Good luck to Major League Lacrosse!