Editor’s Note: Lee Southren is an agent for professional lacrosse players and he is based out of New Jersey. He’ll the first person to tell you that he’s no writer. But after reading Ryan Powell’s post on endorsements, he felt compelled to send something over, and add his voice to the conversation. And we love presenting different opinions, as long as they pertain to lacrosse!
He’s a father of 4 future college laxers, he’s down with sublimation in a major way, and is full of unbridled opinion. We’re all about creating a place for REAL conversation (all while growing the game!) at LAS so while Lee’s piece is a bit prickly at times, we think he raises some interesting points… even if we don’t agree with all of them. But what fun is a dictatorship?!?!?! That being said, expect a rebuttal!!!!
I was very impressed with the article that Ryan Powell wrote regarding the state of Pro Lacrosse, the MLL, endorsements and player opportunities. I got a chance to talk with RP at the Men’s National Team Gold Medal ceremony in NYC a few months back, and from my standpoint, RP is one of the most marketable professional Lacrosse players (along with his brothers) that the game has ever seen. Here you have a growing sport, three brothers from a Upstate NY locale, who all played at Syracuse, created the legacy of “a number meaning something” and most of all, dominating every game they played in.
At the time Casey broke into the “Pro” ranks of Lacrosse (Which was a few years before his younger brothers), the state of the game’s marketing landscape was drastically more basic (if you could imagine that, even though it wasn’t that long ago). The merchandising was virtually nil, the equipment had been relatively simple and only offered by specialty retailers. These boys accomplished everything anyone could accomplish in the game of Lacrosse by the time they were done with college. Then came Warrior, with Dave Morrow’s ideas on products, Marketing, and getting Pro caliber former D1 All-Americans to work AND rep the brand at the same time, which was sheer brilliance. The next natural progression was trying to launch a ‘Pro” League, which hatched the current MLL.
During the MLL’s infancy (it is still in its infancy in some ways), teams were formed, and with the support of Warrior, and I suppose Jake Steinfeld, the goal looked like it was to expose the lacrosse playing community, and future players, to the Warrior brand. Worst case, this became an excellent tax deduction for Warrior, as I can’t imagine there was any money to be made there. Now, in its 11th year, the MLL is still in existence (which is impressive), but for how much longer? That is the question on the minds of the fans, at least the ones that actually know this league exists.
Today, there are numerous manufacturing choices for the lacrosse player at any level. Clothing suppliers making sublimated apparel for anyone that can piece a minimum order of 12 together. Swag. Player endorsed brands. You name it. Some may say that right now there are not enough Lacrosse playing people to support these companies. If that is the case, then these companies and entities need to become better at reaching their target audience, faithful in their pursuits to “please’ their customer and fan base, solicit the buyers’ input as to how they view their product or service (and be prepared for disapproval), be open and amenable to criticism and acknowledge that the customers and fans are heard.
And this is, in a nutshell, a perfect summary of my issues with the MLL.
I have been overly critical of Commissioner David Gross in the past, and to a lesser degree, Jake Steinfeld as well. But my issues stem from what I just wrote in the previous paragraph. All you hear from Jake Steinfeld is, “Things are well, we are doing better each year, give it a chance, we did this, we did that”, and so on and so forth. But this is not selling workout equipment where the consumer can see a tangible difference in themselves by using a product or giving someone they know a gift of the product.
This is “organizing a league and placing a product” at an event so that people want spend their hard-earned money in a borderline oppressive economy, have fun, enjoy the atmosphere, purchase team gear, and ultimately leave that event with a smile on their face, knowing that they want to come back. I am really sorry to say that I personally was a season ticket holder of the Now Defunct New Jersey Pride for three years, and if I ever physically saw more than 1,000 people there it would have been a lot.
The Lacrosse itself is great, no doubt, but what a depressing environment that was! Denver, and even Boston, are known to be great venues with a lot of people, but 2 successful team locations are not going to support an entire league.
In my opinion, the bigger issue, and something that I have heard many Players talk about is the lack of professionalism of League Commissioner David Gross. I have had, firsthand, a few very distasteful experiences speaking to him (in the days when he would actually speak to me) on his views on WHO the players work for, what HE expected out of HIS players, and for the minimal pay (which by the way is tolerable, given the reality of what this is… a part time Summer job), that they need to make a full commitment over everything else. The reality is that a growing number of “Pro Players” are making a really good living being full time Lacrosse people. This includes a company endorsement or 2, MLL, NLL (Indoor League), Clinics, Camps, appearances etc, but for the 90% of players left, this is still very much a part-time Summer gig.
The real world jobs that this 90% have, put forth real consequences if you are not doing your job, though many people who employ these Players are very understanding… to a point.
I have said over and over since 2005, the MLL can and should be doing more… for the Players, Fans, Owners and ultimately themselves.
I had an opportunity for a small, but potentially medium sized, licensing deal for the MLL, and Gross’s response, through a former League Owner and someone I know, was that he is not interested in anything I can bring them. Furthermore, anyone who criticizes the League, Player, News entity… anyone… is no longer on Gross’s call back list. How do you run a fledgling league while holding grudges?
If I ran a League, and Hannibal Lechter wanted to bring in a profitable deal, I would be an idiot not to at least listen (though I would not go into a room alone with him, etc). There is story after story about this type of behavior. I am sure there are people out there who think he is a nice guy, and I’m sure he is, because this is not personal, it never was… this is business, and business only.
RP is a survivor, from the earlier days when there was not as much to talk about, and now that there is, I can see his point crystal clear about endorsements, marketing, and the treatment of the Professional Athletes in the game.
Can this League and Pro Lacrosse concept work? Absolutely. It starts with the correct leadership (as any successful entity does). The Commissioner of this League has to have thick skin, and realize that criticism is NOT personal. This may be his brainchild, but to be successful, it will require the support of the fans, and that means our money.
Player salaries can begin to rise again by letting any and all companies in and out of Lacrosse pay a fee to be a part of the League. This may make the MLL a more attractive “date” for a bigger and more meaningful TV deal, make the Players a part of this, and allow THEM to live THEIR Dreams of playing meaningful Professional Lacrosse, and not a scaled down version that resembles someone else’s Tax deduction.