NLL commissioner Nick Sakiewicz has made it clear that the league intends to continue its growth and geographic footprint through expansion over the next few years. We’ve recently seen new franchises like Fort Worth and Las Vegas come online, preceded by San Diego, Halifax, and New York (Riptide).
But where could the NLL go?
When looking at new cities, there are several things to consider. Ironically, an established presence of box lacrosse is not one of them. When we consider the recent NLL additions to states like Texas, Nevada, and California, these are places with thriving field games where youth box is still relatively new.
The criteria I considered when looking at possible cities for the NLL expansion were:
- A medium-sized stadium in the range of 12,000-18,000 capacity
- A “sports” city with enough room in the market for another pro team
- A location that isn’t too close to a competing franchise
- A location that can easily pull fans from within a region
- An established ownership group with experience in sports operations
NLL Expansion Candidates
Toledo, Oh / Grand Rapids, Mi
So, this started out as a selfish choice so that I can have a team nearby, but I promise they both make sense as NLL expansion cities.
Each city is blessed with a strong lacrosse presence in both field and box. They are both also adjacent to major cities, host minor league sports franchises, and have suitable venues.
Toledo is one hour from Detroit, a little more than an hour from Windsor, and two hours from Cleveland. It’s home to the Toledo Walleye of the ECHL and the Toledo Mud Hens (an MLB affiliate for the Detroit Tigers). The Walleye and Mud Hens are both owned by the same group:
The team is currently owned and operated by Toledo Arena Sports, Inc. The current ownership group is a subsidiary of Toledo Mud Hens Baseball Club, Inc., another ownership that owns and operates the Toledo Mud Hens.sanduskycountyairport
This means that Toledo has an experienced ownership group in place that already operates a suitable facility; The Huntington Center is 12 years old and has a maximum capacity of about 8,000. While the facility is on the smaller side, it gives the franchise the opportunity to sell out every week. There are few things as intimidating in sports as a smaller, sold-out venue in a sports-crazed town.
Grand Rapids is two-and-a-half hours from Detroit and three hours from Chicago. It already hosts an AHL franchise in the Grand Rapids Griffins, which is owned by billionaire Dan DeVos, who also serves as chairman for the Orlando Magic. The Griffins play at VanAndel Arena, which can seat approximately 10,000 fans. In short, Grand Rapids has the stadium, the owner, and the right location to replicate a Halifax-type level of success.
Salt Lake City, Ut
I had my own list of NLL expansion cities, but as I was starting this post, I stumbled upon Charlie’s suggestion, and he was so spot on that I immediately added (all credit to Charlie).
SLC has seen tremendous growth in its lacrosse presence, but that isn’t what makes it a great candidate to me. The city has one major sport franchise, the Utah Jazz, and a state of the art arena (Vivint Arena), which can seat up to 20,000 for basketball. When outfitted with boards to host an NLL game, I imagine this puts the capacity right around 17,500, which is ambitious but ideal for NLL attendance.
Not only would SLC create another West Division team, it could also lure some impressive ownership groups west. According to a recent article about the sale of Real Salt Lake, the local MLS team, there is quite an extensive list of possible new owners. When spending more than $350 million on an MLS franchise, why not add a $10 million NLL team and really invest in Utah sports?
- Portland, OR
- Nashville, TN
- Charlotte, NC
- Milwaukee, WI
- Boston, MA (but not actually in Boston)