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Major League Lacrosse Teams To No Longer Follow Franchise Model

Pro lacrosse news broke Monday night that Major League Lacrosse is no longer going to follow the traditional franchise model with the MLL teams and will instead become a single-entity league.

Both Inside Lacrosse and the Capital Gazette reported within minutes of each other detailing how former Chesapeake Bayhawks owner Brendan Kelly ceded ownership of the franchise to the MLL. Since Kelly has now ceded ownership of the franchise, Andre Gudger (Atlanta Blaze), the estate of Pat Bowlen (deceased, Denver Outlaws), Rob Hale (Boston Cannons) and the ownership team of Richard Mack, Albert Maione and Andrew Murstein (New York Lizards) are the last remaining parties that can be presumed to still own an MLL team — although based on these reports that likely won’t last much longer.

The MLL had been surrounded in controversy in recent years, particularly with players in the league surrounding issues of being treated unfairly. In 2018, the National Labor Relations Board reportedly investigated a claim about a clause in a number of contracts with players in the league, the legality of which was questioned.

Paul Rabil formed the Premier Lacrosse League, which played its inaugural season last year — taking hosts of former MLL players with him. The move was in large part due to frustrations with the system that existed at the time in Major League Lacrosse. The PLL has hoped to provide a different experience for its players and fans.

The MLL underwent major changes from a leadership standpoint in 2018 with the announcement of Sandy Brown as the new commissioner of the MLL. The league underwent some major changes with the goal of addressing concerns.

The league saw many successes this year, including John Grant Jr. coming out of retirement and breaking the MLL scoring record, in addition to seeing over 26,000 fans attend the Denver Outlaws game traditionally held on July 4 last season.

Reportedly, the total league attendance as announced by both the Premier Lacrosse League and Major League Lacrosse was fairly similar.

Both of the men’s outdoor pro leagues competed for incoming players in both the 2019 PLL Collegiate Draft and the 2019 MLL Collegiate Draft.

With the newly-formed PLL in its first year and the MLL playing its 19th season last summer, seemingly endless comparisons, analysis and assumptions were made about how both leagues were performing. There were those of the opinion that there was only room for one outdoor men’s professional lacrosse league.

Kelly is in that camp, as he told Inside Lacrosse that he thought “having two outdoors leagues is not going to work.”

While that may or may not be the case, Kelly told the Capital Gazette, “I think it’s the right move for the league at this time. With a single-entity league, everything is carefully nurtured.”

Kelly continued, “It’s not a good long-term model but brings short-term stability.”

There have also been theories that both outdoor leagues could potentially cannibalize each other, leaving a void where outdoor men’s pro lacrosse once existed.

While the outcome of the situation is uncertain, the transition of the franchise structure of the league to a single-entity league — in addition with other changes such as the Dallas Rattlers being transferred back to league ownership months ago as well as other MLL teams folding (Ohio Machine, Florida Launch) or being put on hiatus (Charlotte Hounds) last year — seems to suggest that at the very least that there is a sense of instability.

Further details relating to the organizational structure and plans to implement the reported changes will undoubtedly be published in the coming weeks and months ahead.

Editor’s Note: LAS’ Ryan Conwell is currently in the middle of working on a series recapping last year’s unprecedented summer of men’s professional field lacrosse. Check back to see his thoughts.