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They Are Not The NALL, We Are The NALL

2 - Published January 9, 2012 by in Pro Lacrosse

“…they are not the NALL. We are the NALL.”

I couldn’t make up a headline like that if I tried.  Thankfully, I didn’t have to because the NALL wrote it for me.  Confused as to what exactly I’m talking about?  Don’t worry, 75% of the people reading this article are probably confused about the NALL as well, so you’re not alone.  Hell, I’m still a little confused about it!

NALL logo

The North American Lacrosse League, a newly formed professional box lacrosse league in the eastern US, is suing itself.  Sort of.  The three teams; Wilkes-Barre, Kentucky and Boston (which only became a team a couple of weeks ago and was scheduled to join the league next year), which are “teams in good standing” with the NALL, and along with what seems like the league itself, have gotten litigious with the Charlotte and Jacksonville franchises and other league leadership members.  They say these two teams are spreading false information, backing out of obligations, etc, etc.  Hershey still seems to be a go for next season, but arena issues have likely killed any chance at them playing this year.

I could go into more detail on the supposed situation I briefly outlined above, but the fact is that more false info has already been spread in this case than I care to stomach, so I’m not reporting anything else on when the NALL starts or who is playing until I see a court judgment and players on the floor.  Since the emergency hearing doesn’t take place until this week, the info I linked to above on the league website might not even be legit.

Like I said, I’m going to wait for the details to emerge before I dive any deeper into that portion of the story.  Pretty much every lacrosse site out there has gotten something wrong about this story already, ours included, and I’m simply not interested in being fooled anymore.  It’s clearly messy and until the courts can get it sorted out, all we can do is sat back and talk about what we do know.

Ok, so we know that this league is headed to court before they ever take the floor and are bickering like children and wasting money on lawyers, when they should be Growing the Game.  We know that much.  We don’t know who is right and who is wrong, but we do know that the owners, investors and leadership simply couldn’t get it right when working together.  Everyone wasn’t pulling in the same direction.  Now they’re in court.

Hopefully, a stronger, more determined group will emerge, and the chance for redemption is certainly there, but let’s be honest here; this is not a good start.  2.5 teams are more or less ready to go and 2 are being sued and aren’t on the league website but still have their own websites.  1.5 should be joining back in next season.  The margin of error on all of those numbers is now 2.  So yeah, nothing is set in stone.  It definitely seems touch and go at first glance.

And then you get to the players in the league and things start to look even bleaker.  Don’t worry, it gets better.  Really, it does.

Some of these guys won’t get to play this season, and have foregone other chances to play the game.  They’ve traveled, laid out cash, and trained their asses off.  Some are probably being lied to, because teams on all sides of the legal battle are holding sessions.  Some I talked to seemed a little disillusioned, but the vast majority were just disappointed that they weren’t going to be playing lacrosse.  In fact, even the guys who seemed the most put off by what has happened still wanted to play and seems ready to go.  And that’s the real shame of things here.  There were guys ready to give it their all out there, and now a solid portion of them probably won’t get that chance.

Now, I don’t expect the future of American Box Lacrosse to be a smooth road.  I know there will be a number of road bumps along with the moments of success.  Any small but growing sport is going to have to deal with these conditions and because of this I don’t expect perfection from the NALL.  But after all of this, I do expect something, and that something is for the owners and league leadership to be as dedicated to the fans and players, as the players have already been to the league.  And keep the right mentality here, especially in the early years.

Running a professional sports team or league is a long-term investment… meaning you are going to have to continually invest in it for the long-term, especially if you’re aren’t a great team in a big sport.  Owning a small time pro team, especially in a start-up league, usually doesn’t pay and it often doesn’t make sense.  But people do it anyway because they love sports, and they love their sport.  When they become the Yankees, they also love making money.

On the NALL’s message to the fans, it says somewhere that “It’s all about money”, so let me just clear that up for everyone right now… NO ONE is going to make money off a NALL franchise.  No way, no how.  At least not for the next 10, maybe 20 years.  Seriously.  I mean, look at the MLL.  Those guys aren’t paying their players a lot (but it’s WAY over the NALL), and they charge decent ticket prices, but they aren’t making money.  And field lacrosse has a larger built in fan base than box in the US.

And believe it or not, they’re actually ok with that.

You know why?  Because they KNOW this is a long-term investment, and because the ones that stick around genuinely LOVE lacrosse.  Want to know why so many ownership groups have come and gone in the MLL?  Because not all of them loved lacrosse.  They thought it was a good investment, but didn’t have the passion required to make it work and suffer the losses for the early years.  Know why Boston is still around?  Because the guys there love lax.  The ownership group makes it happen, and let’s face it, Matt Dwyer is a lax guy through and through who has a strong track record of growing the game.  They will the Cannons into existence, and that’s what you need to succeed.

And that is where the NALL’s future gets a little brighter.  Because there are guys involved in the league who are also game growers, and true lovers of lacrosse.  The new Boston ownership group is exceptionally young, but they love lacrosse.  In my book, that alone bodes well and I’m hopeful for them to do something radically different.  Kentucky has a game growing coach in Pete Schroeder.  I like an ownership group that hires a local guy like that.  It shows local involvement and trust.  And the players in the league seem pumped to play and GTG.  There is a US Box Lacrosse movement at foot here, and whether or not the league survives, this is a positive sign.

Of course if the league were to fail, even after a year or two, it would damage the sport’s immediate future in the US.  Another league could start up soon after, but there wouldn’t be an article out there that wouldn’t mention the failed NALL when introducing the new box league.  And guilt by association can be tough to shake.

I’m pulling for the NALL to make it work.  With big time pro sports budgets and costs going up every year, families and fans are looking for other things to love.  New hometown teams to root for.  Box lacrosse (and field) have a lot to offer, but must get it right to see success.  I already believe that box lacrosse can work in the US.  This week we see if the NALL can make the next step to actually getting on the floor, and becoming the vehicle for all that potential.

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