The 2012 professional field season has been over for less than a week and Major League Lacrosse is already making big announcements for next season.
As you probably know, the MLL has always had an equipment policy where headline sponsors only could outfit teams and players. In the beginning it was Warrior, Cascade and Reebok, and recently the league has maintained a “Warrior/Brine/Cascade/New Balance only” policy. But the days of total exclusivity seem to be behind us now, as the MLL has announced a major change.
Yesterday Major League Lacrosse’s commissioner, Dave Gross, sent out a memo stating that in 2013, any manufacturer can partner with Major League Lacrosse to have its product worn on-field during competition. Here is a portion of the memo that explains the new changes:
“We will be following the model in the NHL where each manufacturer can sponsor individual categories of on-field equipment. For 2013 the open categories are bags, balance bracelets, body equipment (arm pads, chest protectors, rib pads, shoulder pads), compression shirts and shorts, gloves, knee bands, socks, stick handles and stick heads. Manufacturers may also partner with the MLL to acquire MLL game action photos and other marketing assets. For those manufacturers who partner with the MLL, their endorsed players will be able to wear those brands during games.”
Before we proceed to how this will impact the league and manufacturers, there are three important things to remember:
- Major League Lacrosse is giving the option for manufacturers to partner with the league. Any old company can’t just get their product on the field, you have to arrange an agreement with Major League Lacrosse. If you don’t want to partner up, your gear doesn’t get on the field.
- Equipment partnerships are based on category. You want to get your gloves on the field? You pay for it. You want knee bands with that? Or arm pads? It’s going to be extra.
- Players will still wear Cascade helmets exclusively in 2013. Cascade has an exclusive deal with the MLL through 2014. After 2013, helmets could also enter this agreement, assuming it goes well for the other categories.
Now, with that in mind, I think allowing multiple sponsors could instantly increase credibility for the league. Look at the NFL and NBA: big-time leagues let players wear some of their own gear, and their sponsors pay the league for them to wear it.
If Derrick Rose has a new Adidas shoe, or Carmelo Anthony unveils some new Nikes, you’ll see them on the court wearing them, not whatever brand the league tells them to wear. That’s not to say we’ll see a ton more MLL players with signature glove lines next year, but if they do get them, they’ll potentially be allowed to wear them.
And speaking of signature apparel, I definitely think this change could motivate manufacturers to invest more money in signing athletes to their rosters. Before this announcement, the benefit of signing a player to an endorsement deal was far more limited. After all, why dump cash into signing and promoting a player when you know he’s just going to use Warrior gear when he’s actually playing?
With this announcement, the ceiling on a player’s financial value could be much higher, because endorsements mean so much more. Instead of saying “Brendan Mundorf uses this product when he’s throwing against the wall,” an endorsement now says “Brendan Mundorf uses this product all the time, because he likes it more than any other product in the game.” And it sits right next to a photo of Mundorf scoring for Denver.
Now, while an endorsement could become more important, the big question is “will that make the endorsement worth more money for the players?” We all know cash rules everything around us, so, just like everything else, the bottom line is, well, the bottom line. Is the money even there? If so, how much are companies willing to spend, and do they think this will help them sell more product?
Without knowing manufacturer budgets or MLL partnership rates, there’s no way to know which companies are going to buy in, how many sponsorships they’ll go in for, or if they even think it’s worth it. But since we’re strictly dealing with potential situations at this point, let’s take a look at a few companies who could benefit:
Maverik and Cascade were both bought by Bauer, and this means deeper pockets. Some of the most recognizable stars in the MLL rep Maverik, so this opportunity seems right up their alley. A Peet Poillon dive or Jovan Miller dunk would be perfect in an ad for a new Maverik stick or glove. How does Billy Bitter keep getting up despite getting absolutely leveled at least once a game? His Maverik shoulder pads, of course. Looking for a goalie head? Why not use a Maverik head used by MLL Goalie of the Year Drew Adams or MLL champion Kip Turner? These are endorsements fans would want to see, and that Maverik would benefit from.
Considering their problems with the Terps’ gear last season, Under Armour’s initial venture into lacrosse didn’t go quite as they expected. Maybe they could try this route instead. Warrior keeps exclusive shoe rights, so they’re out of luck there, but compression gear (especially if they can get the logo to be visible) and knee bands could increase their lacrosse presence while they work on their next line of protective gear.
Along the same lines, if you have a company that makes a product similar to Under Armour, like Nike dri-fit, this could be your chance to promote your product to a market that you know already uses a ton of moisture-wicking compression apparel. Can Under Armour afford to NOT invest in the MLL? If they want to keep going with lacrosse, they just might have to.
Easton is really interesting for a couple of reasons: 1) They are involved in the LXM already, and many of their players (Mike Powell, Casey Powell and Sean Lindsay) are not MLL guys. 2) Michael Evans is an Easton guy in the MLL, but he is also the least recognizable/flashy out of all the Easton athletes. 3) Until they can market their helmet in the MLL, is it even worth it for them? Questions abound; will Easton pony up the cash to basically sponsor one guy?
With signature gear from Kyle Harrison and Sam Bradman, STX has largely been staking out an LXM presence lately. However, according to their website, they still have MLL All-Stars on their roster like Anthony Kelly. Also, if an STX-sponsored LXM athlete like Bradman wanted to give the MLL a shot, he could potentially do so without having to switch gear.
Out of all the companies out there, STX seems the least likely to get involved in the MLL equipment sponsorship option, as they have thrown so much behind the LXM already.
And while we’re on the subject, let’s start talking crazy – what about Adrenaline, the OG LXM guys themselves? Will the league let Adrenaline partner up with them, even though the MLL and LXM can’t use the same players? The memo says any lacrosse manufacturer can partner; so does Adrenaline count? Could the most famous socks in lacrosse make their way to the MLL next season?
There’s still a lot to be sorted out between now and the 2013 season, and a ton of questions to be answered, but for now, it looks like this could potentially be a big deal for the MLL and its players.