The MLL Sponsorship Question Persists

Ryan Cranston (#35) back in his San Francisco Dragons days in the MLL.

With all this talk about the MLL, professional sports, and sports companies branching out, I thought I’d drop a little additional craziness for your Monday morning, all the way from the West Coast.

I have been watching a lot of rugby lately (Editor’s note: we have actually covered Rugby before!), and needless to say, I was blown away by the bad-ass gear these guys are sporting. Rugby uniform manufacturers have really stepped up their game and introduced some solid pieces of apparel.

Harlequins Leinster Mike Brown
Harlequins – I like how this Jersey does not match at all
Paramanta Eels I believe
Paramanta Eels, I believe
rugby black
No idea what team this is, but that is some very nice black!

Now, I know what you’re saying… What does Rugby have to do with lacrosse?

Furthermore, how exactly does professional Rugby have anything to do with the MLL?

Well, by the end of my overwhelming dosage of weekend rugby, I came to the conclusion that the MLL should do what no other American Professional Sports organization (Minus the MLS) has done, and that is open up their doors to Team Specific Athletic Sponsorship.

What do I mean by this?

It’s quite simple. Each MLL team should be allowed to choose their athletic sponsor.  For instance, if Nike approached the Cannons, and the two sides came to an agreement, the Cannons would only sport Nike gear.  Arm pads, gloves, cleats, etc… all Nike.

Another team such as the Denver Outlaws could sign with Harrow for gloves, pads and uniforms, but then go with Asics for footwear.  By allowing different teams to use different sponsors, it would create more competition, with the better teams vying for the best sponsorship opportunities.

My case in point right now is Warrior’s $50 million plus investment in the Liverpool FC Reds. (Editor’s note: It’s actually around $41M… per year!)

Now. I know what you’re thinking to yourself right now, “Liverpool FC is an International brand. They pack Anfield Stanley Park (thanks Dan_Crow!) and have a massive international following.” And you’d be 100% correct, but that simply does not mean that many lesser manufacturers wouldn’t be willing to invest in a smaller professional venture to get some exposure.

For example, the National Rugby League is a pretty big deal in Australia, yet its player salary caps are quite modest for a “big-time” professional league.  Behind cricket and footie, Rugby is huge in Australia, but the country also only has around 20 Million residents. Even though it’s a “Pro” league, a manufacturer need “only” invest 2-3 million dollars (and those are Aussie dollars, mate!) to sponsor a team for multiple seasons.

Along with most of the people out there, I don’t know the MLL’s financials, but let’s say a small manufacturer such as Kooga sports, or International Sports Clothing wanted to break into the American market with a small investment of $100-200k.  This money would be used, for example, to supply a team’s uniforms, cover their stadium with some ads, and take care of any miscellaneous fees. This sponsorship could go a long way.

And the actual jerseys and equipment are only half of what’s really at stake here! What about region specific sponsors on the whole kit?  The Outlaws could have a huge Colorado Energy sponsorship on the front of their uniforms.  It would be like European soccer, or hockey. Or rugby! This would be a whole new funnel of cash coming into the team.

The next question is: Would this new pot of money allow teams to increase salaries, increase exposure (locally through camps, tournaments, etc.), or just give teams more freedom to increase attendance?

Kukri (brand) making lax moves Down Under. Good on ya!

The success of both Warrior and Under Armour have proved that lacrosse is a viable sports market for extending a brand’s footprint. Why wouldn’t companies like Kukri, or larger companies such as Asics or Easton, try professional lacrosse out if it made business sense for them? By opening the league up and allowing each team to structure their own deals, we could see this happen faster than we think.

The MLL can succeed, and it is on the right path.  Opening up the league to more sponsors will only benefit the teams and players more.  Will this create gaudy, awful-looking uniforms, much like those seen in some of the South American and Mexican Football leagues? (Notice I didn’t say soccer.) Maybe.  Will the players care when their salaries have doubled, and they are now playing in front of larger and larger crowds?  Probably not.

Competition breeds excellence and only until we have true competition in the MLL will the league begin to unravel towards excellence.

That’s my two cents, anyway!

Editor’s note: Here are some additional questions to think about after reading David’s post:

Teams and players may benefit more from team sponsorships, but without central league sponsors, can the MLL keep going?

Would the combined weight of the multiple sponsorships per team equate or surpass what the MLL pulls in now and then distributes to the teams?

Would we see the “worst” or least marketable teams pick up weak sponsors (or no sponsors!) and then fold?  It certainly seems like a more market-driven approach to sponsorships… but can the MLL, which is still in its infancy survive that kind of contraction and change every year?

Would there be a concern that companies would only sponsor teams with THEIR players on it? Would Red Bull sponsor Rochester if Paul Rabil still played for Boston?  Would this give the sponsors too much control over the play of the game?

Could this result in faster expansion as well?  If teams can directly fund themselves with sponsorships, especially regional ones, it makes sense that teams could pop up all over.  But would this lead to too much instability for such a young league?

Let us know what YOU think!



  1. “I came to the conclusion that the MLL should do what no other American Professional Sports organization (Minus the MLS) has done, and that is open up their doors to Team Specific Athletic Sponsorship.”
    I understand your overall concept (and agree to some extent), but I am confused by this statement. Until relatively recently, every league (except maybe MLB) had team specific sponsorship. Prior to the Reebok deals in the NHL & NFL, each team had their own suppliers. The Viking were with Puma, the 49ers with Wilson, the Cowboys with Nike, etc. The Redwings were with Nike, the Rangers with CCM, the Flyers with Bauer, the Avalanche with Starter, etc. I don’t follow the NBA close enough to know who was wear, but I’m pretty sure the Bulls used to wear Nike. Prior to the Adidas contract, various MLS teams had Adidas (DC), Atletica (Colorado), Nike (LA), Umbro (NE), Reebok (NE again), and Puma (Chicago). Now all five major leagues have a league-wide deal with Adidas/Reebok (except MLB with Majestic and NFL will move to Nike next year).

  2. Here’s what I don’t get. The MLL can have one uniform supplier, just like every other major sports league (NBA with Adidas, NFL with Reebok) but every single team is left to raise their own funds and operate as it’s own entity. Why is this not the case with the MLL? Warrior Brine can be the uniform supplier but if the clubs are folding for not making enough money why isn’t the MLL letting them MAKE THEIR OWN MONEY AND PAY THE PLAYERS ALSO!!!!!!

  3. The idea of individual team sponsorships killing the MLL is a non-issue, as all that would be needed to be done to counteract it is to continue to follow the trends of rugby and football (soccer) over here and in other countries, in having an individual league sponsor as well. The English Premier League is actually the ‘Barclays Premier League’, the English rugby premiership is the ‘Aviva Premiership’, and so on with countless other leagues. Lower football teams pick up less prestigious sponsorships, with less lucrative deals, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that the teams fold. I appreciate that the situation is different with the immense popularity and stable tradition of football, but I don’t think it would be too much of a worry that teams would start to fold, after all, it would be their choice what sponsorships to take on and their responsibility to attract what they could. Some teams, often in less watched European football leagues from countries such as Sweden and Denmark, have multiple sponsors all taking up positions on the front of their shirts, a possibility to keep enough money coming in.

    *Liverpool pack Anfield, their stadium; Stanley Park is the name of a proposed stadium that they have not actually been given the decision to go ahead and build yet, nor have they decided whether they want to or would instead just redevelop Anfield!

  4. People are acting as if there’s a massive, massive pool of loose cash hanging around businesses these days that’s just begging to be used as advertising instead of, say, operational costs.

    Sponsorship needs, first of all, to prove to be a necessary cost of the sponsor’s business. As necessary as any other of their costs of business, including salaries.

    Here’s how to do that.

    Step 1: On your current favorite team (that has a sponsorship), BUY SOMETHING FROM THE SPONSOR.
    Step 2: Write the sponsor, call the sponsor, let the sponsor know that the reason you bought the item is because they sponsored your favorite team.
    Step 3: Repeat until a) more sponsorships happen, or the b) sponsor drops your team.
    Step 4: In the case of 3a, repeat steps 1-3. In the case of 3b, stop buying the sponsor’s product, and write/call/etc them and let them know that you stopped buying their product because they gave up the sponsorship.

  5. I agree with the majority of the article and I’ve been adding comments with a similar stance for the past few weeks. The only thing that (IMO) should change in the above is that having each team try to obtain lax-based equipment manufacturer sponsorships is short sighted. 1) I believe it takes away from the motivation of Warrior/NB to continue to dump major dolloars into the league. And 2) targeting these groups is really small potatoes; the whole point is that there isn’t a ton of money (yet) to be made by these lax manufacturers in the lacrosse specific arena. Meaning Nike is loaded but they’re not making that much off lacrosse and not enough to justify a major and competeting (with Warrior/NB) sponsoship in the MLL.

    The better way to handle this, and it’s perfectly evident if you look closely at the pics above, is to get major non-lacrosse companies to sponsor individual teams. Note that there aren’t rugby or athletic sponsors pasted on any of those unis. You instead see things like cell phone companies, computer and software companies, car companies, etc. These companies may be a harder sell (they don’t know and love lax like we do) but this provides an opportuniry for them to reach out to a new market. And, they’re not competing with the founding sponsor of the league.

  6. Love the idea and would allow teams to take advantage of corporate sponsors in their own backyards and to branch outside of the current or traditional lacrosse sponsors to form synergistic relationships with companies in the beverage industry, health food industry, and shipping industry to name a few. For example, a team in Memphis could partner with FedEx and name the team the Express. A team in Cincinnati could partner with Proctor and Gamble and name the team the Tide, and so on. Moreover, beyond allowing MLL teams to secure their own sponsors also allowing those teams to advertise on their uniforms and team related marketing materials (within limits, its not NASCAR) to provide additional revenue dollars. Why should the MLL self constrict themselves, the MLL needs to find Blue Oceans to drive sustainable growth.

  7. Considering that Dave Morrow owns Warrior and co-founded the MLL, why would anyone think that he’d allow Nike or other equipment companies into the league? I can buy the idea of allowing other companies in, but asking Morrow to allow his competitors into the league ain’t gonna happen. I’m definitely no fan of Morrow, but I’ve seen how he does things for years now, and he’s not interested in raising the cow, he just want to milk it dry.