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Ryan Powell: The MLL, A Player’s League?

46 - Published April 6, 2011 by in Major League Lacrosse, Pro Lacrosse

Hi LAS followers!

I realize that the MLL is not the NFL, NBA, NHL or MLB.  Not yet anyway!

However, I wanted to bring up a thought that I have had for many years now: The conflict of personal player endorsement deals within Major League Lacrosse.

You all see how the major professional sports leagues have a title sponsor that does their uniforms, provides equipment and footwear, right? The NBA is Adidas, the NFL was Reebok and is soon to be Nike, MLB is Majestic, and the NHL is Reebok. This seems like a fair deal for the players on these major professional sports teams, as sporting good companies dump a lot of money into the league, and that makes it stronger, and overall, more visible.

Let’s not forget that all the players in these leagues are also making hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars, and they play in front of thousands of fans every game – often on TV as well. The MLL is just not there yet.

MLL fan attendance levels are not very strong and there has yet to be a major TV deal. I have played MLL games in front of less than 1,000 fans. Don’t get the wrong idea here, as I am in no way trying to bash the MLL. I have respect for Jake Steinfeld and Commissioner David Gross; they have build a very nice league that allows players to play the game that we love at a professional level and get paid for it.

This is my problem with the league: The Pay! When I started in Major League Lacrosse in 2001, I was paid a pretty good salary for my first Summer. It was a nice part-time gig, over the Summer, and made giving up every weekend, and traveling all over well worth the opportunity to play with and against the best players in the world. The second-year I was paid 16% less, a year later 20% less than my original salary, a year later another 31% less than my original salary, and so on.

I got a call from the LI Lizards last season and they offered me a salary 60% less than where I started with the league in 2001.  When you make so little money from playing professionally, you need to have another job during the week to provide for your family. And I was not able to accept their offer to play for the Lizards. Not because I wasn’t a good enough player, or that I’m greedy, but because I found other ways to generate money without traveling across the country every weekend.

Keep in mind that I was the highest, or at least one of the highest, paid guys in the league. Some players who play give up every summer weekend, and they do it for much less. The MLL is a great gig when you’ve just finished up with college because it’s a decent amount of money to continue playing the great sport of lacrosse. A few years later you realize that you have to get serious about your future and making some real money to support the needs of you and your family.

As lacrosse players, we always say that it’s not about the money, but it’s about the love of the game. I have said that many times and I even recently said it when I signed my contract to play in the NLL for the Boston Blazers.

When is this mindset going to change?

For players, it has to be important for us to make money and continue to grow the game. More money means more dedication to the sport; imagine making enough money to play the game as a full time job. How sick would the on-field product become? Wow!

So how can we keep this league going strong and provide an opportunity for players to make more money? Personal endorsement deals may not be the end-all be-all answer, but I believe that this concept would be a good place to start.

How cool would it be if the players in the MLL where logoed up like a NASCAR racer? You could do this in a way that maintains sharp looking uniforms and team gear. I’m actually in support of teams looking united and dressing as a team, and this personal endorsement idea would not be a way to attract individual attention. I actually think that as crazy as the NASCAR racers are with their logos, they always look clean and sharp.

Dale Jr. looking sharp.

Dale Jr. looking sharp.

Check out pro snowboarders, as another example – they may all be a part of the Dew Tour, but they have their own gear and deals. This could be accomplished in the MLL as well. The MLL could issue guidelines on how big a logo should be on a jersey and how many logos they could have on their helmet, or what color socks the players had to wear, etc. But they would not be able to say you have to wear this or that in order to play and if you don’t you will be fined.

Something like this would allow a lot more players to make more money by doing what they love to do. So, hypothetically speaking, John Galloway comes out of college and is pursuing a career in the MLL. He approaches a few companies and asks if they would be willing to sponsor him.  He says, “I will wear your gear/logo in every MLL game that I play and at all of the clinics and camps that I work.” The big lacrosse companies, sporting goods companies, and beverage companies, etc. would be much more willing to be involved with professional players that are able to represent their logos and gear.

If the player can not wear their logo while playing professionally, the companies are less likely to get behind the athlete.

With this idea, a player could have a personal player endorsement with a company for his cleats ($1,000 from Nike), he gets his sticks from STX and uses them in the MLL ($1,000 from STX), he gets his gear from Brine ($1,000 from Brine), he gets his lid from Easton ($1,000), and then the player works out a deal to have Gatorade, Redbull, Subway and Lacrosse Unlimited provide $500 each for their logo placement. So after this deal is worked out the player is now making an additional $6,000 to his MLL contract.

This would make every company involved have a more vested interest in the game. Exposure would increase because you’d have all these companies working together to promote the MLL. Nike would be doing commercials with Max Sielbald actually playing in the MLL. They would be able to do these commercials because Max would be wearing Nike cleats. They are not going to do a commercial with him wearing a competitor’s cleats, uniform, etc. In the NBA players wear the footwear that fits their feet best and performs the way they need them to perform. These options should exist in Major League Lacrosse.

WWDJW? What Would Dale Jr. Wear?

New Look MLL:

Uniforms – MLL logo would be on the uniforms, and there would be areas that players could add their sponsors.

Cleats – Players could wear whichever cleats they choose to wear.

Sticks – Players use whatever brand they would like to use.

Gear – Again, players would be able to choose the products that best fit their needs. And yes, they would need to be a certain color to fit the team regulations.

Helmets – Use what feels right, has to be the team color with matching team stickers.

Logos – MLL could regulate how many logos are allowed on the front and the back of the jersey as well as the size of the logos (same with the helmets, socks, etc.)

*Like the NBA, if you do not have a sneaker deal with a company, then you wear the league sponsored Adidas sneakers. Same with all of the above mentioned catagories; if a player does not have a deal with a company, then he would be required to wear the league sponsored and approved products.

As the league grows, and players are making $160,000 a year to play the game, I would probably have a different feeling about personal player endorsements compared to a league deal. If I was making $160K a year, and lacrosse was my full time job, I would not be as concerned about being required to wear certain products. But for now, this is the way that I see the league growing and continuing to take the necessary steps to becoming “big time.”

I believe that the most important piece of allowing players this opportunity is the marketing that the league would receive by many more companies being involved. A picture from an MLL game of Brodie Merrill could be in the T-Mobile store in Toronto because he has the T-Mobile logo on his jersey and on his helmet. The more companies involved means more exposure for the sport, the league and more money for the players. In the end, everyone wins!

As I stated at the beginning of this blog, I have respect for Jake and commissioner Gross. But let’s realize that it is the players in the league that make the league what it is; the fans come to see the players. When I had the opportunity to play in front of 22,000 in Mile High Stadium on the 4th of July game in 2008, I realized the fans that attend MLL games come to watch the players. The most electrifying lacrosse players in the world that are the very best at what they do. It is time to give some rights to the players and respect what they do every weekend over the summer months.

I totally understand that the league is currently not in a position to pay everyone in the league $40,000 for playing. I really hope that happens in the near future! But until guys can make a full time living playing the game, it is time to think outside the box and discover new ways to generate more opportunities for these great players that make the MLL what it is today.

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