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CLAX Closing Down Operations for 2017

CLAX, more formally known as the Canadian Lacrosse League, is closing down operations. The league will not play this season’s games, and while the league hasn’t ruled out a return in the future, this is the end of CLAX for now. It’s a sad day for box lacrosse fans, as well as the players and organizers of this impressive start-up league.

The announcement on the CLAX website states that “after exhausting efforts by both league personnel and its current ownership group, it was no longer viable to continue to operate“. Although no specifics are mentioned when it comes to financial reasoning, if the ownership group and league personnel were involved in the efforts, you pretty much know money is likely what it came down to. It seemingly always does.

Another reason that we can assume that this decision was a financial one is that the product on the floor was excellent.

Guys like Roger Vyse re-emerged in CLax, and then went on to have a successful career in the NLL and in MSL. And Vyse isn’t alone. CLax claims that over 40 players have gone from their ranks to those of the NLL, and while I haven’t verified this number, I do know of a couple higher profile guys who did make the jump. The guys who played in the league enjoyed it, and the competition was good. It was even, well done, and a great opportunity for a lot of guys.

On some very important levels, like the quality of play, CLax was definitely working.

So why didn’t it work in general?

At the end of the day, CLax was really doing all the right things. This only makes it more confusing.

The league ran during a period of the year when it only had the NLL as competition for lacrosse lovers. Smart. It gave very talented players an outlet for the winter. Smart. It allowed players to improve in the off-season for summer box. Smart. It gave the NLL a league to scout from during the winter months. Smart. It used local players in a hotbed area. Very smart. It kept its teams relatively local as well. Super smart. Costs were low, players were hungry, and it all seemed to be coming together. Also, it was run by a passionate group, willing to invest the sweat equity to see the league through.

For five years, CLax did just. The league improved, gained respect, and showcased some really excellent lacrosse. However, it’s clear that the dollars coming in weren’t following the quality going out. Why else would CLax shut down operations?

Here’s the rub: running a league is hard.

Running a pro league is even harder.

It just sucks money out of the pockets of players and sponsors, unless the sport is huge in general. Without big sponsors, serious ticket sales, and reliable merchandise revenue, every single item becomes a nickel and dime issue. And NONE of those things are easy to accomplish on their own. Can we get helmets for the guys? That’s only about $10,000 for the league… wait, $10,000? That’s a lot of nickels. Where does that $10,000 come from? And remember, that’s just talking about helmets.

When looked at through this lens, the fact that CLax ran for five years is downright amazing, and endlessly impressive. According to recent events, it shouldn’t have worked at all.

The NALL in the US barely shuffled through one full season, the PLL never really got off the ground, and the USLL didn’t amount to anything. The PSL has made it through a season with four teams last year, but it has a charity bend, and not a “pro” bend, so maybe it can work? The point is that so many “pro” box leagues have come and gone, it’s not even funny. Why? There is always one answer – because it’s EXPENSIVE. It’s SO expensive. It’s one thing if players will pay to play, and pay good money, it’s another if they’re not paying a cent. It’s a whole different game when the players get paid.

So more than anything, huge props to CLax, and its players, and their sponsors, for making it as long as they did. It’s a testament to their dedication, and love for the game.

Taking CLax, a well-run league by all accounts, an our example – I think we can assume a pro box league outside of the NLL can’t feasibly “work” in Canada right now, and it has never really worked in the US. Pro box anywhere else? Unlikely. So what can be done to help box lacrosse grow, allow its players to play, and possibly even help the pro leagues (both NLL and Summer Ball) continue to grow and improve as well?

Obviously I’m a little biased here, because I’m currently organizing something I firmly believe can do all of the above… but hear me out:

It’s time for box lacrosse “tournament culture” to take off, and I’m very hopeful that the LASNAI is going to help lead the way.

There are a number of great box tournaments out there, like the Mann, Minto, and President’s Cup. These are multi-game affairs with home and away games. They are amazing and should stay just the way they are. In Europe, there are many more weekend+ long box tourneys, the most famous of which is the Ales Hrebesky in the Czech Republic. But there are really no (or very few) short game, weekend long tourneys for box in North American hotbeds right now, and this is a potential roadblock for the game.

I’m talking about the type of short-form tournament which gives newer players a chance to compete with great players for a couple days, and not a full season. Mismatches aren’t as drastic, and everyone gets really good games. It is open to anyone, and allows for a connection through the game which can not be rivaled due to the concentration of teams and people. It is still about winning and losing, but it is also about community. The great number of teams competing at once puts a focus on THE GAME, not the game being played right now. It makes for a bigger pie, which everyone can share, and eat their fill. It works en masse for US field lacrosse, and it can work for box too. It supports bigger leagues, and adds to their luster.

On top of all that, it doesn’t lose money like a smaller pro league so often does.

Take the LASNAI for example. This tourney is not some golden goose, and it might not even turn a profit, but here’s what’s important… it’s not going to bankrupt itself. In 10 years, this event will be going stronger than ever, run on a reasonable budget, and still done right. This is what Lake Placid and Vail do. It’s what we are going to do.

To be fair, this is what CLax did as well, but they did it in a season long format, and the losses that can add up during a season, as opposed to one weekend, can be substantial. How CLax did so for five years is still beyond me… I really can’t compliment their work enough to see it through for that long.

In order for box lacrosse to grow at all levels, and continue growing, there has to be something that any team out there can play for, whether it’s an organized club, or a group of friends (or pros) who want to get together and ball out. There has to be an open avenue for competition, and a chance for newer players to prove themselves, and make the jump. CLax was that, so what can do that now?

The LASNAI seeks to serve the above purpose. It’s not a “pro” league by any means. Instead, it’s a killer weekend long box lacrosse tournament where club, pro, and aspiring pro players will vie for box lacrosse supremacy. It’s about pride, community, and open competition. We can’t wait.

While I truly hope that CLax is able to get started up again, I’m not sold that a league is the best format for long-term success, ONLY because of the massive costs associated with that type of venture. I believe that tournaments can fill that void, at least until the sport can truly support minor leagues, and it’s a big part of why we’re doing the LASNAI. Come join us, and check out what we sincerely believe is the next step in growing the box lacrosse game.

Good luck to all the CLax guys, and a very sincere thanks for five great years of winter box lacrosse and increased opportunity for box players in general. Your wonderful work did not go unnoticed, or unappreciated. Heads high, well done! I’m sure whatever you do next will be amazing as well… speaking of amazing…

The CLax Cup Tournament, I can see it now.

Call me, let’s get this tournament going next year in Ontario. We all know you can run a great league, so let’s try a great open tournament, together, for the benefit of our sport.