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Brian Reese: The Inside Scoop On The MLL

Brian Reese Colorado Mammoth Baltimore Bayhawks
Reese at practice with the Bayhawks before he was a GM with Denver.

Editor’s note: After reading the recent posts on LAS regarding the pro leagues, Brian Reese, former MLL player and current GM for the Denver Outlaws, decided it was time to set the record straight – but this time, from the inside.  Brian is employed and paid by the Outlaws, not the MLL, so if anyone can give us a knowledgeable look into how the MLL truly operates, it’s got to be him. This is a great article and it should really elevate the level of conversation surrounding this issue.  At the very least, it will give you a better appreciation for what an MLL team is going through!

Let me start by giving a little bit of background of my experiences. I played professionally in both the MLL and NLL for 7 seasons (1999-2005). In 2006, I became GM of the Denver Outlaws expansion team and have been employed by the organization ever since. I have been on both sides of this discussion, first as a player, and now as a member of the Outlaws front office. My paychecks come from the Denver Outlaws. I do not work for the MLL league office, but do work with them along with the 5 other (soon to be 7) teams in the MLL. I wanted to make that clear so no one think that I am a corporate shill and just spouting the corporate talking points.

Brian Reese Colorado Mammoth Baltimore Bayhawks

Reese at practice with the Bayhawks before he was a GM in the MLL.

Photo courtesy

The league currently consists of 6 different teams. Most decisions are made by a group, and not by one all-powerful dictator. Important items that impact the league are discussed among the group and then voted on by a Board of Managers that includes representatives from each team, as well as the league founders. There are many instances where teams do not agree with each other or with the league, but we do respect each other and understand the reasoning behind differing thoughts and opinions.

I have read the recent articles (and subsequent posts) by Ryan Powell, Lee Southren and Connor Wilson regarding ways to improve the MLL.  I think its GREAT that people involved with the sport are talking about the MLL and thinking of ways to make the league better. Not too long ago most of the chatter about the MLL was that the league would never get off the ground, or will never last another year.

But here we are 11 years later and the MLL is still around and not going anywhere. Is it perfect? No. Have mistakes been made in the past? Yes. But the league is growing and developing in a positive way. Players and employees of every league and corporation have a desire to make more money. It is human nature and not unique to the MLL. Just look at what is going on in the NFL and soon, the NBA. And those guys make A LOT more than lacrosse players. Still, there is a feeling that they need, and deserve, more.

None of what I say in this column is meant to be a slight to the folks who wrote these articles and provided these thoughts. I simply want to give my perspective from inside the MLL, address some of the ideas or concerns that people have brought up, and clarify why policies are in place. I understand that some might not like or agree with some of the rules and policies, but I hope they respect them and can see why they are in place. If you take one thing away from this article, let it be that the teams, and MLL, truly care about the players.

We have to balance the players’ best interests and the interests of the teams, and league, with every decision.  I can tell you that most people who sit around the table at the Board of Managers meetings were players at one time or another.  Not all were elite players, but the reason everyone is involved with the MLL is because they have a passion for the game of lacrosse.

Ryan Powell is one of the best to ever strap them up and is a true ambassador to the sport. We were fortunate to have him as part of our team in Denver for a year and he was a consummate professional. I have never crossed paths with Lee Southren, but I can see he is passionate about the sport, and committed to its growth. However, it appears he bases many of his opinions on the MLL from watching the New Jersey Pride, who haven’t been around in how many years? Regrettably, they were among the weakest performing teams in the MLL during that time. That would be the equivalent of me saying the movie industry is a failing venture when the only movies I have seen are Gigli and From Justin to Kelly.

No one in the pro lacrosse business is getting rich. Many involved are losing money on a yearly basis or have put in a lot of money to either buy a franchise or provide capital to start the league. The players, fans, and the vision of one day becoming as big as the NFL, are why the owners and investors continue to pump in resources. We want the players to be paid more and want to make this a full time job! Like everyone in this world, we can only live within our means.

We have focused on slow and steady growth and sound financial decisions to ensure that the league is around for a long time.  We could try to be something that we are not, pay players a lot and break the bank, but all that would do is guarantee that the league would go bankrupt quickly.  Get rich quick approaches rarely work.  And what is better in the long run? Making $25k for 2 years, and then having the well go dry?  OR making $10k for 6 years?  You net more with the long-term approach.  That is what players have to keep in mind.

The Denver Outlaws organization and staff work extremely hard every day to put more fans in the seats, sell more sponsorships and to make our MLL games the best investment for our fans’ discretionary dollars. I am sure the other teams in the MLL work just as hard. All of this hard work will hopefully help the players get to their goal of having lacrosse as their full time job in the near future.

The players need the teams/league and the teams/league need the players in order to be successful. Prior to the MLL, no one came to watch club lacrosse games regularly, even when the best players in the world were playing. Players need owners to take on the financial risk to own and operate teams. They need the organizations and league to market the games, sell tickets and promote what they are doing, and to get people to the stadium to watch them perform. Without them, we would be back to post-collegiate club ball, where no one came to watch and no one got paid. The talent level at those club games was pretty high but still, no one paid any attention to it.

Oh, and the players back in the club days wore whatever equipment manufacturer’s gear they wanted, but they weren’t getting paid for it.  Worth taking note.

The teams in the MLL need the players to perform on the field. It would be difficult to get fans to come watch an empty field at INVESCO Field at Mile High. This competition on the field, along with a great atmosphere will, hopefully, make fans want to keep coming back to games. In addition to the game itself, the teams try a lot of different ways to encourage fans to purchase tickets. Whether it’s adding post-game fireworks, a musical act, youth games or other entertainment, the goal is to draw more people to an MLL game.

The reality is that there needs to be more entertainment than just the action on the field.   MLL and college games need to be bigger events if we want attendance to increase past the usual 700-1000 fans you see at most college games. Many established lacrosse fans come for the game itself but many newer fans come because of the other things surrounding the game. Ryan Powell said in his article that when he played in front of 22,000 fans in Mile High Stadium on the 4th of July, he realized that the fans attend MLL games to watch the players. And I would have to disagree with him to an extent.

If fans are there solely because of the players, then why don’t all games have the same attendance figures? If the players are the same, the number of fans should be about the same, right?   I can tell you that the Outlaws put in more resources to get our July 4th crowds than any typical regular season game. A great Firework show was part of that July 4th game, extra marketing in newspapers and additional TV spots are put into promoting the event weeks in advance. A huge extra push is needed by the organization to get that many fans to a game. I wish it were as easy as turning the lights on and playing a game to draw a huge crowd but lacrosse just isn’t there yet. We all optimistically anticipate the days where that is no longer the case. Trust me, it would make things much easier and cheaper for the teams.

The bottom line is that we truly need each other to be successful.

A lot of the discussion in the previous articles has centered around player endorsement deals and the league wide sponsorship the MLL has with Warrior and Brine. An exclusive, league-wide deal is not uncommon in pro sports. It was stated in Ryan and Lee’s posts that this set up is the norm in pro sports. The NFL, MLB, NBA, MLS and NLL all have exclusive deals in one way or another.

Below are a few points I would like to make about the current situation/policies in the MLL:

Why has this become an MLL issue, and not a pro lacrosse, college lacrosse or International lacrosse issue?   I know that the NLL is an exclusive Reebok league, yet I never read or hear how they need to open it up to other sponsors to be successful.  Most NCAA schools have exclusive equipment suppliers, so where is the outrage?  US Lacrosse and Team Canada both had exclusive sponsors for their national teams.  If a Warrior sponsored school plays an STX sponsored school, does the attendance shoot up because multiple equipment manufactures are involved?  How has the equipment sponsor of a team, pro or college, affected attendance? It doesn’t!

Exclusivity is what all sponsors want to pay for. The MLL office sells league wide deals and those resources are what they use to operate the league, pay for player salaries, insurance, officials, and then still do all the other things they do. All sponsors, not just the lacrosse specific sponsors, are paying for exclusivity. Would it be great to have every equipment manufacturer, every sports retailer, every automobile company, and every shoe manufacturer involved in the league and helping market the MLL? Absolutely! Is it a reality? No. Those companies want that exclusivity and would not want to be involved if their competitors were getting the same things they were receiving. So a league is forced to choose one partner if they want significant sponsor dollars. Without exclusivity in the MLL, the sponsors would look to the next thing that they feel they could own. Again, you may not like it, but that the way it is.

Opening up a category would not necessarily bring in more sponsorship money overall. Let’s take the idea that players should be able to wear whatever manufacturer they want. And let’s just say that the current exclusive Official Equipment Supplier of the MLL (Warrior/Brine) pays $1 million to the MLL. If this category was opened up and players could wear whatever they wanted, that $1 million would go away, and the league and teams wouldn’t have enough revenue to operate.

Warrior/Brine would be crazy to keep paying that type of money when other companies are getting the same exposure that they get, more or less, for free. And for what?  A couple of guys maybe getting an extra $1,000 or so?  And would there be any guarantee that all of these other companies would just start handing out endorsements?  Remember, they have budgets too, and I seriously doubt that this opening gets them to start handing out endorsement money like candy. Or take another scenario where manufacturers paid $50,000 (which, to my knowledge, is about double what hockey manufacturers pay to the NHL) to either the players, or the league. How many manufacturers are there in lacrosse 6 or 7? That total dollar amount would not come close to the $1 million that an exclusive sponsor brings in. Plus, there is no guarantee that other companies would want to, or could afford to, pay that fee to the league. On top of that, only the very top players would benefit. While stars are important, role players are equally important to a team’s success on and off the field and they could easily get left behind.

The current structure of the MLL does not prohibit players from getting outside endorsements. In fact, you could say the opposite.  Just look at how many players are being endorsed by various equipment manufacturers. On the Denver Outlaws alone, Seibald is with Nike, Mundorf is with STX, Hardy is with Maverik, Langty was with Harrow, Schwartzman, Westervelt and Clausen are with Warrior, Eric Martin is with Gait and I may be missing some others. The exclusivity deal the MLL has is not preventing endorsements other than its league sponsors to happen.

Before the MLL came along, you could count the number of endorsed lacrosse players on 1 hand.

Are there more companies involved with lacrosse now? Sure.

Could it be that other companies are paying more now to keep up with MLL sponsors or is the exposure players get from playing in the MLL helping them get endorsements?  Probably.

Would another company like STX, Maverik, Nike etc. start paying endorsed athletes more just because they can use pictures of them wearing their MLL uniform? I doubt it.

I have also heard the argument that the MLL is prohibiting its players from playing in other professional field lacrosse events, and not allowing them to make more money.  But let’s look at it this way; many players in the MLL get endorsement deals from lacrosse companies. That pay usually isn’t enough to be a full-time job.  It’s probably less than what they make from playing in the MLL. Now let’s say Johnny ProLaxer is getting endorsed by Company X, an equipment manufacturer that isn’t a sponsor of the MLL, for $6,000 a year. Can Johnny then go out and get endorsement deals from other equipment manufacturers when he isn’t fulfilling his current sponsor obligation? Would Company X allow them to do that? They aren’t getting paid full time wages, right? And they have time to do it. Would that increase Johnny’s exposure to lacrosse and benefit Company X?  Company X would never allow that to happen.

Company X is paying Johnny for his exclusivity even if it’s not a ton of money and they want everyone to see Johnny wearing Company X’s gear.

Warrior does not “own” the MLL. This notion that the MLL is simply product placement for Warrior is ridiculous and insulting. I see first hand how hard both the front office and players work to be the best they can be. The players bust their tails and sacrifice a great deal to win Championships and help grow the sport. To downplay that effort by insinuating that they are just photo ops for Warrior is a slap in the face. Warrior/NB/Cacade/Brine/Sports Authority/Powerade and all of the sponsors are extremely important. As I said before the league could not survive without them. But remember, there have been other MLL sponsors that have come and gone.

Reebok, Under Armour, Tommy Hilfiger and Yahoo are just a couple sponsors that used to be involved in the league. They decided, for one reason or another, not to be involved with the MLL any longer. That is their prerogative and they are allowed to spend their money wherever they want. But let’s not criticize Warrior for being loyal. They could have ended their relationship with the MLL years ago but they see a benefit to the relationship. A company that is as successful as New Balance does not waste money. Everyone involved with our league should thank them for support, not question their motives behind it.

Like many people have said, the league is in no position to turn down money, so any and all potential partners that can help the business are seriously considered. Any company could call ESPN and purchase some commercial time. Do you really think ESPN would turn down ad revenue?  Side note: Has anyone ever considered that maybe there are no other equipment manufactures involved because no one else has brought a proposal to the league? Maybe other manufacturers don’t want or can’t afford to be involved. Just a thought.

Attendance is not impacted by equipment manufacturers. What I mean by that is, I have never had a fan come up to me after a game and say, “Yea, the talent on the field is awesome but I’m never coming back because no one uses an STX stick!” Nor have I ever seen attendance figures in any sport impacted by sponsors. Do you think the NFL attendance will change because Nike will supply the uniforms now instead of Reebok? Does anyone honestly think that the MLL attendance will improve because more equipment manufacturers or sponsors are involved? I keep hearing about this “increased exposure for the MLL “ if players could wear other equipment. But there is no guarantee that would happen. The only guarantee is that who ever the current sponsor is, decreases their commitment level.

And don’t forget about the Teams! Just remember, owners had to buy franchises. It costs them a good chunk of money. It also costs a lot of money to operate a team for a year. So before anyone thinks they are entitled to more money, let us be sure they have a chance to recoup some of their losses. I know the owners of the teams are not greedy people. They aren’t making money and don’t plan on getting rich. But they don’t have bottomless pockets of money either. And in order to get more ownership groups to buy more teams, we need to make sure it’s a viable business venture for them. We have made tremendous strides in the ownership of each team. This will ultimately help all parties.

My biggest issue with the articles that I’m responding to is that they are taking attention away from the most important issues.

The bottom line is, the #1 thing that will move the MLL in the right direction is improved attendance.

I don’t think people understand or appreciate how hard it is to sell a ticket to get people to watch lacrosse. This is still a developing niche sport and the MLL is still relatively young. This is not just a pro issue. The top college teams have trouble drawing fans and most let their students in for free. When we can pack stadiums and have a healthy revenue stream just from attendance, this league will sky rocket forward and everyone’s objectives (players, fans, owners) will be met!

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  • In the interest of keeping all the conversation in one place,I asked Brian if he’d respond to comments here. So below, some thoughts after quick perusal.

    -Yes, the number one problem in the MLL is attendance. But does the league have an actual plan to grow it? Mini-festivals like the 4th of July game draw in people looking for a festival, not a lacrosse game.

    -the 10k/6 yrs over 25k/2 yrs math doesn’t work. While you might technically make more money getting 60k for 120 games, 50k for 24 games will always attract a more committed player, and better on-field product. One of the biggest problems is the MLL (and the NLL, to a lesser extent) are considered beer leagues where you play until you can’t afford it anymore. 10k to a 23 year-old is fun summer spending money, but if he can’t make 25k when he’s 27 and has to decide if this is worth it, you’ll lose the best athletes in the game.

    -re: Warrior/NB: often unspoken is, what does it buy? One of the league founders is the president of the league’s title sponsor. The issue isn’t really in having one big sponsor, but does Warrior/NB get too much for its money? That’s one perception, anyway.

    For the Johnny ProLaxer example, I’d disagree completely; any organization that won’t pay its employee a full-time rate doesn’t deserve full-time exclusivity. If a player has signed an exclusivity deal with a brand on his own, he’s agreed to the price of that exclusivity himself. If an MLL player could make 50k playing in other events as well, then that should be the price of his exclusivity to the MLL – not threatening to take his MLL rights away.

    And finally – and this is my personal opinion – all of pro lacrosse is overridden with this phrase these days: “we need to make sure it’s a viable business venture for them…”

    Playing professional lacrosse is not a viable business venture. Part of that is because owners will only do so much – there’s no risk. I’m reminded of what the Buffalo Sabres’ management were told by their previous owner – their only job was not to lose money.if you use the 10k/25k example above, players are asked to give up possibly an additional 90k over the course of 6 years so owners’ risk is mitigated.In turn, Ryan Powell, Kevin Leveille, and countless others – the ones you should have been building around the entire time – walk away.

    The owners and the league may be struggling with how to make it a viable business – but that’s their job. If the teams can’t draw 2k, keep stars interested, and keep folding or moving, it’s hard to argue that it’s any kind of a success.

  • Great article Brian. Clearly you attended a wonderful institute of higher education. I think you hit the nail on the head on a couple of points that you made. The first being that additional equipment sponsorship would somehow magically increase attendance. I know that someone made the argument that this could lead to increased promotion of the league if you had more companies with their hat in the ring, but I just don’t believe that. Like you said, there are plenty of colleges with exclusive sponsorships and I can’t remember seeing STX promoting attendance at MD or Hopkins games. Maybe I’m wrong? I believe the crux of RP’s article was more along the lines of how to line the player’s pockets while the league continued through its growing pains. Can’t fault anyone for trying to make a buck.

    Your second and probably more important point was that the game itself isn’t enough of an attraction for those other than hard core lax fans. You mentioned the fireworks as a draw for one of the more highly attended Denver games, and not the players or the game. This may come down to being just a numbers game. I attended a conference not too long ago and sat in on a session about building online communities and forums presented by Cisco and Linksys. I remember the speaker starting off by saying that if your client base isn’t X amount of people you’re wasting your time here. That’s because of that X amount, only a small percent will visit your forum, and of that subset, only a few will actually post. This can easily be applied to sports. There may be a lot of Ravens fans, but how many are willing to actually attend a game, how many of those have the means to do so. If you’re starting with a huge number, then you can fill that stadium. I’m not sure lacrosse is there yet.

    People talk about how lacrosse is the fastest growing game in the US. While that statement may be true, keep in mind that numbers don’t tell the whole story. If I start a competitive mouse clicking league in my office consisting of me and only me, then I convince my friend to play, I’ve just grown my sport by 100%. In my opinion, it’s simply a matter of time and probably not something that can be forced. The product on the field (I hate that term but it fits) is there right now, there’s just not enough people who care.

  • I appreciate this response for its honesty, openness, and use of emotion. This whole dialogue (starting with RP) has been enlightening. This type of communication could be used as a positive tool to change some of the jaded attitudes that many laxers seem to have towards MLL.
    Before responding to this article properly, I want to give some disclosure. I came to lax late in life. Living in Iowa, my first exposure to the game came via MLL broadcasts on ESPN. I got into college lax well after I became an MLL fan. Despite its flaws, I am a fan of the league and do watch/TIVO every game I can. But I refuse to watch games online; that’s true for any team in any sport.
    Ok, on to business:
    “Warrior does not “own” the MLL. This notion that the MLL is simply product placement for Warrior is ridiculous and insulting… But let’s not criticize Warrior for being loyal. They could have ended their relationship with the MLL years ago but they see a benefit to the relationship.”
    While I appreciate your reaction, I hope you can at least see where this attitude comes from. Morrow founded the league; he is still involved with its operation. Warrior has been THE exclusive equipment sponsor since Day 1. Brine equipment became allowed only AFTER New Balance purchased both companies. So this effectively makes the league APPEAR as Warrior’s private sandbox.
    “Has anyone ever considered that maybe there are no other equipment manufactures involved because no one else has brought a proposal to the league? Maybe other manufacturers don’t want or can’t afford to be involved.”
    Since the Warrior/MLL relationship is VERY intertwined because of Morrow, is this even possible? Is there an open bidding for sponsorship like the other pro leagues have? For example, Nike did not buy the NFL nor did its executives take seats on the NFL board of directors; they merely outbid Reebok and whomever else was interested in the NFL license. Adidas had to actively compete with other suppliers for the MLS license (and that’s just uniforms, not shoes). Reebok seemingly had negotiations with the NLL, as their renewal was announced in a press release, just like the NFL and MLS deals.
    Basically, I think that the fans – and maybe even some players – feel that Warrior owns the league because there has never been any sort of disclosure about the supplier negotiations. Since press releases have come out about Sports Authority, Skin It, Fathead, etc., but never about the official supplier, and because of Morrow’s roles in the league and Warrior, fans are left with the only logical assumption – Warrior owns the MLL.
    Ultimately does the supplier matter from a fans perspective? I would think not. Like you said, nobody is there to watch the latest gloves and sticks; they are they to watch the game.
    I am not going to pretend to have the first clue on how to market the game to live audiences. Teams in every sport, in nearly every city struggle with this. I can’t even make a solid recommendation for getting more fans to watch televised games (outside of ensuring quality broadcast times). But I will say that making fans aware of games, and reminding them that games are happening, is vital. Aside from increased advertising, better use of social media could go a long way. Star players should be Tweeting and Facebooking about games. Emails should be sent the day before and the day of games. Getting MLL updates on the Bottom Line would be massive. Basically the league and teams need to do more than post the TV schedule once and randomly throw crap on the website. Especially since finding that schedule halfway through the season is a losing endeavor…
    One last thought: I was happy when the league finally released branded apparel. Team wear does three things 1. Allows fans to show their support. 2. Increases team awareness 3. Provides an additional source of revenue. The five major leagues recognize this and make decent money thanks to their ability to sell merchandise, especially off of the one item the MLL is noticeably missing – replica jerseys. Pick a star player or two per team (maybe keep a stalwart and rotate the second slot yearly) and sell replicas! Have a custom jersey option. Hell, this is lax – you could even sell pinnies and shooters.
    Aside from jerseys, widen the selection a bit. The same t-shirt in three different colors and a single hoodie option are not going to cut it. Branch out. Get creative. Look at the other leagues for inspiration. Move it onto retail sites instead of just putting on Warrior’s site (again with the connection). Push to get the gear into Sports Authority as part of the new deal.

  • – Attendance and how to build it is the #1 thing that we discuss. IMO, its up to the individual teams, not the league office to sell tickets. The best way is to get ownership groups that have experience with selling ticket to sporting events or who know the Pro business. What works in Denver may not necessarily work in Long Island. Teams need to get creative and try new things. I believe we are getting the right owners in place now. Roch has experience with running a business, new Nationals owners have this as well. The new Charlotte team will have people involved that have been in the NBA.
    I also don’t think MLL attendance is as poor as some people may think. Compare the MLL with NCAA lax attendance. Even the worst drawing MLL team has higher attendance to NCAA lax. Denver and Boston average over 9,000 fans a game. No college does that. The NCAA Final Four is a completely different animal and not representative of your typical lacrosse. game. I am not bashing college lax or trying to say that one is better than the other. Its just where the game is. Now the NLL has a higher attendance but also has 20 years on the MLL. I can remember the NLL days where attendance at most arenas was less than pitiful (and salaries reflected that) but they have grown to where they were now.

    -“the 10k/6 yrs over 25k/2 yrs math doesn’t work”. It may not be ideal for the players but it works best to keep the teams in business at this point. In any occupation, you work until you cant afford to or decide its not worth it. Throwing money to player’s salaries won’t necessarily fix every problem the MLL has. But it would be a push towards the edge of bankruptcy.

    – Warrior/NB or any sponsor has to pay for what they get. The team wouldn’t allow them to get anything without paying for it.

    -“For the Johnny ProLaxer example, I’d disagree completely”- If a player feels that not playing in the MLL is in their best interest, they are welcome to do that. They are signing a MLL contract on their own and are never forced to do so. If there are other events that are going to pay a player 50k as you say, they have every right to not play in the MLL and chase that.

    So does it make any sense to spend what you don’t have? How does that help the problem? What is your solution? Just pay people whatever they want then try to catch up to what you spend? Businesses just cant run that way.

    • thanks. I agree it’s not ideal, and that players can walk away. That just seems to be the answer a lot. Frankly, that’s a response for people asking for a raise at McDonalds, not for the premier athletes in the sport in which a league aims to be the premier league.

      The 50k issue is this: if a player can make 20k in the MLL and 30k in a sponsored tour, and the tour doesn’t care, then the player has a possibility of 50k. When the league says “pick one”, it’s limiting the player’s ability to earn. He’s now lost at least 20k of his earning potential. Why not go the MLS model, which allows its players to build their profile externally in the off-season and return?

      “So does it make any sense to spend what you don’t have? How does that help the problem? What is your solution?”

      This is an issue with both leagues, I think – a lack of commitment to ensure long-term success. it’s not just salaries. Marketing budgets are limited. Merchandising is limited and things aren’t available. Teams move facilities as soon as they find something cheaper.

      Pro lacrosse today operates thusly: “we can get 5k 6x a year. We can charge $10 a ticket. That’s $300k. There’s our budget.” But that’s a terrible way to strive for greatness. You need owners who are willing to actually run their businesses like businesses – which means inherent risk.

      Let’s take a recipe for success. Let’s say teams should draw 10k, tickets should be $20, and average salary should be 20k (assuming that’s what it would take to keep players happy). That gives you an attendance target budget of 10kx20x6=$1.2 million.If a 23-man roster made 20k, that’s 460k.let’s double that for operating/marketing costs and say it takes 920k a year to run this team.

      The owner stands to profit $280k on the year. More importantly, it’s a profit margin of 23%. That’s huge. And it’s without sponsorship dollars.

      so what I want is the owners who, for the potential of that 23% payoff, are willing to take that risk. Charge $20. Pay the players. And if only 2k show up – and you lose 580k, well, that’s how business works. Risk for reward. But the MLL seems to budget just for the 2k, and spends towards it. That doesn’t buy talent, or prestige, or advertising – and it won’t ever elevate the stature of the league.

      You can’t open the best restaurant in town and pay the cooks minimum wage. you can’t launch a line of prestige cars and pay the mechanics $10 an hour. For now, “you get paid to pay lacrosse” is good enough for some, but it’ll fade, and they’ll leave unless there’s real business behind the rest of the league.

      • or to be more brief:
        “Just pay people whatever they want then try to catch up to what you spend? Businesses just cant run that way.”

        They can. They do. People-based businesses do exactly that. A business pays the people they want to retain, what it will take to retain them. If you can’t afford to pay the people you need, how much it will cost to keep them, then you don’t have a viable business.

        • You most certainly don’t have a viable business model if the people you pay a premium to do not produce a substantially better return (attendance) than the average player. I don’t know of any business without extremely deep coffers that can project a year over year loss and continue to bleed money in the interest of retaining talent. At that point, I don’t think it qualifies as a business.

      • “Why not go the MLS model, which allows its players to build their profile externally in the off-season and return?”
        Technically that is not true. MLS players are contracted for at least a full year. They may be loaned to teams overseas at the (MLS) team’s discretion. But MLS players are generally not allowed to play on indoor pro teams. Basically MLS contracts work like any other domestic sports contract except that teams have the ability to loan players (and receive compensation) to other teams outside of MLS.

      • Andrew- If it was as easy as the teams just deciding they want to sell more tickets, then we wouldn’t be having this conversation. What you are saying is that by doubling the cost of a ticket, we would then double our attendance? Team ARE trying to sell as many tickets as possible.
        I believe most business owners are willing to take risks but how long do you expect people to lose money? They might do it for a year, maybe 2 but I don’t believe you can expect long term stability if the business is losing a ton of money every year.
        Using your restaurant analogy. You can do that but if no one eats at your restaurant and you are losing money, what do you do? Keep paying them more?
        In year 1 of the MLL, the salaries were much higher, if expenses weren’t cut after that year, the MLL would not be around.
        You are saying that the best lacrosse players should be paid the same as the best baseball, football, basketball players just because they are all the best at what they do and are all elite athletes?

  • Manufactures pay the NHL $80,000 per equipment piece, to have equipments APPEAR in the NHL. So, having your helmets, gloves, sticks, pants, and skates in the NHL the total bills would be; $400,000 per year. Those manufacturers that do not pay the NHL, but players still wish to use that manufacturers equipment are required to have any logo, name, or branding be tone-on-tone. NHL teams buy their players whatever manufacture they wish. However, those players that are “endorsed” are supplied my the manufacturer. Most NHL endorsement deals involve very little money exchange. The large majority of deals are heavily contra/gratis based with hard and soft goods.

    So throw Reebok into the mix, the official supplier of the NHL. Each team is awarded X amount of product to supply team and exclusive advertising rights to the NHL.

    Therefore, the NHL wins by receiving said $80,000 x equipment x manufacturer. The NHL wins again by selling exclusive advertising rights to Reebok as the “Official Supplier”. The Teams win because the equipment budget is extinguished by receiving product from Reebok. The Teams win again because the “endorsed” players receive free (contra/gratis) products to play with, 80% of all NHL players have a deal in place for sticks, helmets, and gloves (My educated guess, is that the other 20% are Reebok “players”). The players win because they are outfitted for free, rightfully so. And lastly, the manufacturers win. Reebok wins because they are the exclusive “Official Supplier of the NHL” where it matters most, in the media! The other manufacturers win by getting their product on NHL ice. And, Reebok wins again by allowing other manufacturers in as suppliers to the players, their costs are cut dramatically in the product they need to supply each year.

    It also doesn’t hurt Reebok that they have the biggest name in the hockey world onboard either. Thats just smart business!

  • I have a question: Who pays the players? The league or the teams?

    If the league pays them, then everything you say makes sense. But if the teams pay them, then everything you say makes absolutely no sense.

    Why would the league need a huge exclusive deal/contract when the league office only has very few people to pay. If each team is supposed to operate individually (marketing, promotion, paying players, coaches, staff, etc…) and on their own (much like every team in the NBA, NFL, and MLB) then they should be allowed to have their own deals much like college teams. The MLL can have a uniform contract (Like the NBA, NFL, and MLB) but each player has their own sponsors.

    See how there is a ready made how-to on how to get sponsors and make money? Each team needs to make money on their own. Why is the league so big on getting a huge money exclusive deal? Aren’t you supposed to let the teams and clubs operate on their own and raise their own funds to use as they need? It’s the teams that make the league. Not the head office.

  • McKay- please tell me where a lacrosse player can get paid 30k outside of the MLL? Most guys play at Placid, Vail and OC for free and would love to get a paycheck for playing lacrosse, no matter how small.
    Is there some huge other pro lacrosse venture that is out there paying tone of $ that we don’t know about?

  • Brian thanks for your insight on the topic. We must be skeptical of the MLL and pro lacrosse in general if not I think it would show that interest in the league has waned. Witch by the likes of the response to this post and other is not the case at all. You bring up a good point in the NB and Warrior haven’t bailed on the MLL yet even though they are well within their right to do so they have stuck it out with this league, which speaks volumes about the management and vision of NB/Warrior. The onlyttwo questions I raise are this: Have most MLL teams looked for sponsorship outside of the league? By this I mean are teams actively looking for regional sponsors such as Colorado Energy, Southern Bell, etc or is that not actively being pursued in the marketing campaign of most MLL teams? and do you feel that the MLL would fail if other manufactures were allowed to cut longer term contacts with MLL teams to supply them. For instance, outside vendors such as asics or easton? If they were to supply a team and sponsor them for lets say a 3 year contract would this seriously hurt the league?

  • I love how huge figures in the MLL will openly discuss and debate different aspects of the league. Even thousands miles away from all of this, I feel connected to the biggest personalities in lacrosse. I think that’s one thing that makes the lacrosse community a truly special one.
    I love it!

  • This was a really informative and unique article considering the perspective, but everything you said depends on capable management, which is not what I’ve seen from the MLL.

    To your point of the average MLL experience, more teams are run like the New Jersey Pride than the Denver Outlaws, which is why more teams share the fate of the Pride than the Outlaws.

    Here are 4 incident’s that happened during my 30 days or so in the MLL. All of these incidents are reflective of poor management, completely absent of attendance and financial numbers.

    Example 1, I was drafted, while not in attendance, and was not contacted by my team until I called them 6 or 7 days later.

    Example 2, I was given my physical at half-time of my first game, which doesn’t really bother me, but is probably illegal in all 50 states (against the Outlaws).

    Example 3, I asked for a mouth guard and was told they aren’t required. I insisted with Siebald on my scouting report, I’d prefer to wear a mouth guard. I was told they don’t have mouth guards and wished good luck.

    Example 4, I figured out I was waived for a game by going to the airport and attempting to use a canceled airplane ticket. Sweet.

    Example 4, there are countless other examples of poor business in the MLL from players far more seasoned than myself.

    Disclaimer: I do not, in anyway, feel that I need special treatment. My short time in the league was a privilege and a lasting joy. I consider myself more lucky than skilled and I don’t put myself on the MLL player level. But looking at the MLL as a business, a pro-sports business at that, and not as a lacrosse league, it’s operations leave A LOT to be desired.

    The MLL and its teams are run poorly, even in the context their financial concerns, it’s not a well run league. I always imagined Denver was the exception, every player I know wants to play there, so this is not a slight on your franchise. (Boston is also a solid team example.)

    The players’ pay is obviously tied to the success of the league. The reason players want more latitude in their ability to sponsor themselves is because they have little faith in the people running the MLL.

    I don’t like like David Gross; I’ve never met him, but I dislike him. Whether that’s fair or not, it’s how most people feel and that’s an issue. He has an image problem and that’s a problem.

    The product is good, the salesmen are not. This frustrates players and pushes them into a position where they feel they could do more on their own, which I’d agree is not good for the long haul of the league.

    As shallow as a measure as it may seem (it’s not), a concrete example of the league’s inability to market some of the most marketable athletes on the planet, is their Facebook page. Less than 14,000 deep, pathetic; seriously pathetic. What should be the social hub of lacrosse fans for two countries, is 14,000 deep, or 5,000 less people than believe that 90% of Lax is in Flow, which was grown in-between lax practice and Natty Lights.

    Who buys tickets? Parents, but really kids. Are kids on Facebook? Yes. Does the MLL address a direct connection to their fans and their parents money? No. Can you blame the players for trying to wake dad up and get him to go to work? Nope.


    • Strong points, and it is great to hear from somebody that has been there on the other side. I’ve heard similar things from other players – including a couple that still play in the league. Frustration seems to be a common theme among players, and it is NOT all related to the pay, just like you said. One of my contacts in the league got jerked around pretty good a couple of years ago when his team folded; he was allocated, traded, and then cut without him doing anything. Last year he rejoined the league on a team* that was a better fit all around. He planned on 2010 being his final season, but enjoyed the atmosphere enough to come back this season.
      At the end of the day: The players want to play. The fans want to watch the best lax in the world. The owners want to make money by providing a great product. The league wants to be viable indefinitely. So how do we make all of these parties happy? Change the way the league is run. I alluded to it in my comments on the previous posts by RP and Lee Southren. After 11 years of slow growth, it might be time to change the men behind the curtain. Get a new commissioner – Gross’ image problem is a negative reflection on the league, like it or not. Develop a new strategy. Embrace change.
      *It’s not Denver or Boston.

    • TK
      I’m disappointed to hear about your experience with the team. That is one thing that I can’t stand to hear because treating people like professionals doesn’t take that much money, just a little effort. All I can say is that your experience is with 1 team. A poorly run and managed team that is no longer in the league. I don’t feel like those experiences are the norm nowadays. know a large majority of players are happy with their teams, understand the growing pains that the league and teams may face and realize they are fortunate to be able to compete at a high level and get paid for it. You mention that Denver and Boston are run well. I am confident that the new ownership in Annapolis treats players well and I know that the Rochester organization, which has experience in pro sports will know how to treat its players are run a professional organization. But I don’t think 1 poorly run team should team means that all 6 are not run properly. While we are all in the same league, I don’t think it fair to paint everyone with a broad brush. Please don’t hold me or other people who had nothing to do with Chicago responsible. They were a mess!
      From someone who was a player, I can attest that the treatment of players has gotten A LOT better since year 1. So while mistakes will be made, the league has made strides and as poorly run teams are replaced by better organizations, things will improve. I know it never happens fast enough but it WILL happen!

  • Well thought out and very fair observations by someone who is very dedicated to the future of the league. Owners and players need each other and their fortunes are tied so they better get along.

  • Brian, this is a great post. I don’t want to spend too much time marking this post up, as I did the other. You obviously bring a lot of credibility to the discussion, and you touch on some things that, without that credibility behind it, are just idol talk. That said, I don’t agree with everything you said, but most of it makes perfect sense to me.

    First and foremost, the salary issue … it is what it is. That’s not changing right now. If the league could pay more, they would. So, while there are a ton of ways to hypothetically “fix” this, we’re not there yet. I’m with you 100%, and I don’t think guys really sit around complaining about that as much as posts make it seem. Again, we sign the contracts.

    I think that Thomas’s post brings up some very good points re: how management handles things in certain organizations. I have had (and have heard) plenty of these types of scenarios as well. I was deactivated from a roster last year with about 4 weeks left in the regular season. To this day, I haven’t heard a word from the organization since the day after the last game I played … and that conversation was initiated by me, and had nothing to do with my general standing on the team/roster. Again, just one of a bunch of stories I have and have heard, about how poorly some of these teams have been managed. Poor business, at the end of the day.

    His points about Dave Gross are valid as well. Disclaimer: My interactions with Dave have 99% of the time been all up and up. I think he’s a good guy, and wants nothing more than to see the league succeed. After all, he’s put in a lot of time and energy into this as well! But around the league, amongst the players, there’s a terrible image of him as a commissioner and as a business man. I don’t have the answers, and I don’t think he does anything “just to do it.” It’s not a good look, however, when there’s a widespread lack of confidence in your leader.

    I know I made comments about Warrior/NB’s relationship to the league. Despite my ultimate skepticism, I tried to at least point out that I don’t really know the lelgalities of that relationship, so what I was saying was speculation. And while they they may not “own the league” it’s still a very ironic situation, when there are so many connections. Even when it comes to commercial spots … You see STX and Maverick all through the spring in NCAA broadcasts, but then all of a sudden those stop when the MLL broadcasts hit (even during the slight MLL/NCAA overlap). At any rate, I think Adam addresses these points as well as anybody has thus far, so I’ll leave it at that.

    A couple questions, as a player, to you are the following:
    1) Are the equipment/apparel sponsorships up for bidding?
    2) Why are the player contracts a year long (365 days), and exclusive when there’s no benefit for a player for 7 1/2 months of that? Is that the teams, the league, or a few people that are against ammending that?

    • Chazz
      Like I said, I don’t know or understand why a team would not be able to communicate with players so I can not defend that. I can tell you that roster moves/trades can be made pretty quickly and sometimes its difficult to get out in front of it. I have had hard times speaking directly with players and have to communicate via email. It’s not ideal, but it sometimes ends up happening. I could tell you that I have had some bad experiences with players and have seen flat out unprofessional behavior. For example, a team buys a flight for a player and expects him to show up for a game, only to discover that he doesn’t plan on coming to the game but never informs the team. I have had players make ridiculous demands. So the team ends up losing that flight plus is left scrambling to buy a flight for another player at the last minute. While I have experienced that behavior from players, I would never say or infer that ALL players behave like that.
      I am pretty sure that if Maverik, STX and anyone else wants to buy some commercial time during games, ESPN wouldn’t have a problem with it. I believe they have the right to sell ad time to whoever they want. Those other companies may decide to spend that money other places.
      To answer your specific questions. 1) I believe that Cascade contract runs thru 2014 and the Warrior/NB/Brine deal is up after this season.
      2) MLL contracts are exclusive only to Professional Field Lacrosse. Players can play in the NLL and other box leagues as well as International events. They can play in other events outside of the MLL season without getting paid. And players can ask the league for approval for any other events that they would like to play in that might conflict. This has been discussed in a number of league meetings and voted on by the teams. I wouldn’t say there is a consensus but the overall sentiment from the teams is that they want to be the event where people go to see the best pro outdoor lacrosse in the world. You have to realize that fans have limited discretionary spending for lacrosse or any entertainment for that matter. And that goes for corporate sponsors as well. The MLL wants to be the place for both sponsors and fans to spend that money. We are competing for that discretionary dollar. So if there are other pro lacrosse events that the same players are playing in, what makes the MLL special? I am still unaware of any other pro outdoor lacrosse leagues so I don’t think its an issue now. But any pro lacrosse event that comes out would compete with the MLL for that discretionary spending by the fans as well as the limited marketing money that corporations may have to spend on lacrosse. Again, it may not be the ideal answer that players want but the owners believe its in the best interest for the success of their teams and league.
      With all that being said, I believe its time to move on from this sponsorship issue. The MLL season opener is just over 2 weeks away and its time to focus on that. I think the MLL is poised for a big year with the strongest ownership the league has ever had. Every team looks stacked on paper. And the one thing I know for sure about every single player in this league is that they are ultra competitive and their #1 goal is to win an MLL championship. Players who do not have that drive, don’t last in the MLL or any pro sport! That drive to be the best is what makes this league special and creates some of the best lacrosse that fans can see. The teams need to focus on getting fans to games and the players assistance with that goes a long way. Again, 99% of the players in the league know this and are great ambassadors for the sport/MLL. So we all need to put aside petty differences and disagreements and work together to continue to build this league and sport.
      See you all at some games this summer! Go Outlaws!!!

      • “1) I believe that Cascade contract runs thru 2014 and the Warrior/NB/Brine deal is up after this season. ”
        Thank you for answering that, Brian. Like I said in an earlier post, many people question the relationship between the league and Warrior/NB/Brine, which led to the whole “Warrior owns MLL” issue. If possible, suggest to the league offices that they make it a point to issue a press release regarding the new equipment supplier(s) once he new deal is signed….

    • “I was deactivated from a roster last year with about 4 weeks left in the regular season. To this day, I haven’t heard a word from the organization since the day after the last game I played … and that conversation was initiated by me, and had nothing to do with my general standing on the team/roster.”
      I was not aware of that. Considering one of the principle “sponsors” of the league currently use you as their key guy, this is alarming to say the least.

      • But doesn’t that treatment that you say is alarming (event though it is wrong) shoot down the notion that Warrior and Brine guys are the only players the league promotes and takes care of? I always hear that Warrior/NB get some sort of preferential treatment but that wouldn’t be the case in this situation. And look at the league awards the past few years. Brodie Merrill (Reebok) has won D man of the year for how many years now? Rabil (Maverik/UnderArmour) is either MVP or Offensive POY. In the past Jonh Grant (Adidas), Ryan Powell (Brine/?) and Gary Gait (STX) have won MVP. So it seems to me that players are treated and promoted equally by teams. And while some will complain that the MLL doesnt promote non Warrior guys, i just dont see it being an issue.

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