The Hamilton Nationals Issue… Not So Fast, My Friend!

brett queener MLL all star game
Queener is loving it.

After one solid All-Star game showing in South Florida, Quint Kessenich has made up his mind that Major League Lacrosse’s Hamilton Nationals need to change things up in a major way. He says the Nationals organization needs to either relocate, sell the franchise and move, close their doors and disband, or get taken over by the league.

Those are Quint’s four options…

brett queener MLL all star game
I know, Brett. It’s crazy talk.

…and I find them ridiculous.

First of all, staying in Hamilton and improving the franchise is not even listed as an option. At all. There is also no real argument given as to why a team will not work in Ontario, just that this team isn’t working. It seems rather premature to give up on a team that has been in its new home, Ron Joyce Stadium, for all of 14 months.

Consider the fact that the MLL has a definite long-haul approach to franchise growth (see Boston & Chesapeake as prime examples of teams that have moved many times withinin their area), and Quint’s rush to kill Hamilton is even more confusing.

Another puzzling aspect of the article is that Quint opts out of reporting on Hamilton’s attendance numbers. Instead, he only notes that they are low. He does mention the attendance in Florida for the All-Star Game (~7,500), when he says the league should move there in his fourth potentiality. But without any Hamilton numbers mentioned at all, the argument loses any remaining punch.

Reading Quint’s four proposed solutions, things get even murkier.

Option #1

The first solution is to disband the team and allow all the players to go to new franchises in a draft. Then the league could re-expand in 2014. Perfect. Just what the league needs… more contraction, a weird schedule and only 7 teams. To give up on the franchise this quickly is preposterous – where’s that Grow The Game mentality? Who just gives up like that? Nobody, at least nobody that succeeds.

This first proposal is a straw man: it was set up to fail, so that the other solutions would seem more appealing.

Option #2

The second solution involves selling the team and moving them to a new location like Dallas, Atlanta, South Florida, Seattle or Portland. It’s a more appealing proposal simply because it doesn’t involve contraction. After all, the Nats have existing talent and it presents the possibility of new locations for the MLL. However, this option quietly suggests that a brand new ownership group would take over the franchise and pick a new location… and do it all in less than a year.

That’s possible, but the timeline is tight. If a new ownership group isn’t lined up already, striking a brand new deal could take until next season’s start. So the second solution is also incredibly weak, and it’s definitely a worse option than keeping the team in Ontario for one more season. Maybe solution #3 will be better?

Option #3

Solution three is for the MLL front office to run the team because it worked in 2000 when the league was just starting out. As Quint says, this worked when the traveling show concept was the MLL. However, both times this has been attempted recently (the Machine and Philly) it certainly didn’t work.

Philly won games, but according to players I’ve spoken with who played on the team, it was a miserable experience not having a home. The league office is prepared to run a league, not a team. This approach would result in disaster, and not because the MLL isn’t good at what they do. They are! The league office just doesn’t include running the operations of a team. That’s what franchises are for.

brendan mundorf mll asg
As if there isn’t enough travel already in the MLL!

So now we have three possible solutions, and none of them are truly viable.

Option #4

In solution fourQuint proposes that the team keeps their ownership in place and moves from Ontario to South Florida. This, of course, is the obvious answer we were all waiting for and knew would come in the end.

I’m just going to disregard his proposal to make the team a traveling road show WITHIN Florida. One new location is tough enough. Moving the team every other weekend hoping to draw in some new fans? Not a solid move, and it’s been shown to fail time and time again. To propose that it could be done in Florida with an ownership group based in Canada is even more outrageous. This is not a knock on the Nationals one bit… it is just reality. Managing a pro sports team from 1,500 miles away is going to be tough.

But even with all that, when you consider the other three options really aren’t viable, this fourth option still seems like a no-brainer. IT’S THE ONLY OPTION Quint presents that could actually work.

I’m a little concerned that Quint didn’t provide full disclosure on this option. I have heard, from MANY Major League Lacrosse sources, that the MLL was considering the possibility of a Hamilton to South Florida move BEFORE the 2012 MLL All-Star Game was even played. The All-Star Game was viewed as a litmus test by many inside the league. Quint knows a lot of MLL people too, probably many more than I do, and I’m sure he had heard this as well.

To not mention this whatsoever is suspect. Then, when you add that to the fact that three of the four options presented really aren’t even viable, I start to question the validity of the piece a little more. If I can get an anonymous source verifying that this rumor has been flying around, Quint can too.

So what is the deal with this story? Was it just a set up to prepare us for an inevitable move?

Did Quint give up on the Cannons this quickly when they moved around the Boston area a bunch of times?

Why can’t Hamilton stay in Ontario another year? Is the franchise really that doomed? Wouldn’t that open SO MANY more options?

Does Quint really think the same ownership group, now 1500 miles away, can make it work in a brand new market they don’t really know?

I do like the idea of Hamilton moving to South Florida. I think there is real potential in Palm and Dade Counties, but Quint’s propositions seem rushed and biased, and I get the feeling we’re not hearing the full story here.

But hey, maybe that’s just a sign that lacrosse is making moves in the professional sports world. More often than not, franchise move obfuscation is the name of the game in pro sports… maybe the MLL needs its very own Baltimore Colts story!