Q&A With George Daniel, Commissioner of the National Lacrosse League

13 May

The National Lacrosse League wraps up its season Saturday with its Champion’s Cup Final between the Washington Stealth and the Toronto Rock at the Comcast Arena in Everett, Wash. Like other minor league sports, Lacrosse has struggled the past year with low attendance, but two successful team relocations and a broadcast deal for the U.S. and Canada have commissioner George Daniel optimistic for next season. Venues Today caught up with Daniel to discuss the future of the 16-team league.

What are your expectations for Saturday’s championship?

We’re really the only North American sports league that has a single elimination tournament where the team with the home field advantage gets to host the championship. That’s significant because it creates an atmosphere that you don’t get at other events. The NFL and soccer do single elimination events, but they do it at a neutral site. We have a Game 7 atmosphere every year. Obviously the spectacle is pretty impressive when the home team wins.

Do you activate fan festivals around your championship?

That’s something we give up when we do it this way — we don’t have an off-week before the championship, and we don’t know where the game will be held until the previous weekend. Logistically, it’s a challenge for us at the league level to activate fan fests, but the teams do various promotions.

How was attendance this season?

Announced attendance is slightly down about five percent, but our ticket revenues were actually up. For the sports industry as a whole, it seems like everyone is tracking down. We want to see it going in a different direction, but all things considered, we feel really good.

You’ve had two teams relocate this season — the San Jose Stealth who moved to Everett and the New York Titans who moved to Orlando, Fla. Will there be any additional expansion franchises next season?

We won’t be expanding next year — we’re past our deadline. We expect to have the same number of teams next year. We’re already having discussions with people for future seasons. There are a number of markets we have interest in — markets like Vancouver and New York.

What do you look for when you enter a market?

We look at a lot of factors. We want to be careful in a market that’s not oversaturated.

Is that why the Stealth moved to Everett, because they have no professional sports team?

The greater Seattle market is a good place for lacrosse without the NBA or hockey. It’s a good time of year for us to be playing and we feel very bullish about the greater Seattle area. The arena lease and venue is critical. Some of our best performing franchises are the ones that are integrated with an NHL franchise and arena operations, like the Buffalo Bandits franchise, which is tied to the Buffalo Sabres. Same thing in Denver, where our team is owned by Kroenke sports and the ownership group operates the Pepsi Center, along with the Nuggets and the Avalanche.  If we can have streamlining and economies of scale, that gives us the best change to succeed in the market.

What is the franchise fee to start a new team?

$3 million

How important is it to work in communities with a strong lacrosse tradition?

While lacrosse is a growing sport, the numbers still haven’t reach the point of critical mass and if we had to rely solely on lacrosse fans, we wouldn’t make it. We market our sport as an entertainment product that has to draw fans that know nothing about lacrosse.

The Stealth’s semi-final playoff game was moved to the KeyArena in Seattle to make way for Sesame Street Live. How important will it be in the future to secure holds for potential playoff matchups?

You would always hope to be first on arena dates, but that’s a challenge at our level. We deal with the NBA and NHL playoffs in our other buildings and we understand we’re the second tenant — it’s just part of doing business and we frequently get bumped. I would hope for Everett, now that they see they have a championship caliber team, there would be a hold for them in the future. Of course, the team didn’t move to Everett until June, so we can chalk this one up to being a first-year team.

The NLL has TV deals with Versus in the U.S. and TSN2 in Canada. How are those broadcast agreements working out?

They’re televising our championships and we’re going to revisit things at the end of the season. Versus is a great network with great exposure; TSN is a great partner to have in Canada. Television is an important part of raising the awareness of the league, but we don’t want to put all of our eggs in that basket because the world is changing and there’s more distribution channels out there. We stream every game in our league on our website. Obviously we want more people to know about that, and the best way to do that is to put more games on TV to promote the league. — Dave Brooks

Contact: George Daniel: (212) 764-1390

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