Fort Worth Gets Pro Lacrosse Expansion: Welcome to the NLL, Texas
Welcome to the NLL, Fort Worth, Texas!
To introduce Fort Worth as the home of the league’s 14th franchise, NLL Commissioner Nick Sakiewicz, new team majority owner Bill Cameron and Managing Partner Greg Bibb held a call with media Wednesday.
The NLL was considering a number of cities for this round of expansion, but ultimately it couldn’t pass up Fort Worth.
“We had over a dozen cities that we were in pretty active conversations with, but what really won the day for Fort Worth as Team 14 was, first and foremost, Bill and Greg’s ownership, the culture, how they run their organization, their knowledge of the sports industry and their success in the sports industry,” Sakiewicz explained.
Cameron is also the lead owner of the Dallas Wings of the WNBA and partial owner of the NBA’s Oklahoma City Thunder, and Sakiewicz noted his group’s work with the Wings as an important piece of the puzzle. Fort Worth has more to offer than positive ownership, though.
“The Fort Worth area is a top-five market in the United States in terms of television viewership, fan base and other professional sports,” the commissioner said. “The corporate community is extremely robust in the Fort Worth area, and geographically it was a perfect fit as Team 14 as we begin to align our conferences.”
The NLL switched to a three-conference format last year, and the league hopes to get to four pods across Canada and the U.S. in the future. Going to Fort Worth is a step in that direction.
“The Fort Worth region and that market in the central south part of the United States really lines up well so we can build out our western conference a little bit further and eventually move to four divisions,” Sakiewicz said. “Tactically setting a team in this market was also pretty smart from a strategic standpoint, our conference alignment and building rivalries in our league in a sensible way.”
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It seems like one rivalry is already budding.
“(Calgary Roughnecks Vice President) Mike Moore and I already corresponded this morning,” Cameron said. “We’re already looking forward to a Fort Worth-Calgary competition. We’re both pretty Western-focused cities.”
Details on the team’s nickname and identity were kept under wraps, and Bibb said a final decision has not been made. He gave some hints on what they’re considering, though.
“I think we’re committed to an identity that has an unmistakable Fort Worth bend, but I also think we’re committed to an identity that will be a bit traditional,” he said.
Also yet to be determined, and won’t be for a while, is the team’s roster. Sakiewicz said an expansion draft will be held a year from now and the same rules and guidelines will apply as in past ones. He also said Fort Worth should be the only expansion team starting play in the 2021-22 season but left the door open for that to change.
“Fort Worth will be the only expansion team headed into the following season, though you never know with us,” he said. “Sometimes we’ve been known to add two teams at a time, so stay tuned on that one.”
The commissioner said talks for Team 15 are in “advanced discussions” right now, and that team will probably see 2022-23 as its inaugural campaign.
The excitement wasn’t contained to the NLL. The new ownership group is also thrilled to enter the league.
“We looked at a number of different opportunities, and the National Lacrosse League became the clear choice for us fairly quickly,” Bibb explained. “It’s obviously lacrosse, but if you watch the game carefully, it’s also a lot of hockey, and for us, it resonated because there’s quite a bit of basketball DNA in how the sport is played. It’s action packed, it’s high pace, it’s high scoring, it’s physical, and it’s the best lacrosse players in the world, so it certainly speaks to the lacrosse market.”
Box lacrosse in particular piqued interest from Cameron and Bibb, Bibb said, because of its growth potential outside of the traditional lacrosse fans.
“North Texas is one of the hottest grassroots lacrosse markets in the country, but even more importantly for us, the sport’s league reaches far beyond its endemic fan base,” he said. “The data will show you that north of 70 percent of NLL fans wouldn’t identify themselves as traditional lacrosse fans, so the potential audience of an NLL team here in Fort Worth, and really across North America, far exceeded, expands and extends beyond the traditional outdoor lacrosse market. Really, our target audience is much larger than what has been the traditional lacrosse market. For that reason, along with the world-class arena and the best league in the world, we feel very bullish on our opportunity with Fort Worth NLL.”
The Fort Worth team will play at Dickies Arena, a 14,000-seat multipurpose arena that opened in 2019 and also holds the month-long Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo.
Bibb also committed the new franchise to continue the momentum of grassroots lacrosse efforts in North Texas.
“I have learned through my sports career, and specifically here most recently with the Wings, that the grassroots component of your business is vitally important,” he said. “Also, it’s an obligation to help grow the game at the grassroots marketplace level. One of the things that’s exciting to us is how the lacrosse game is growing in North Texas, and we certainly want to tap into that. We would love at some point to have members of our roster who grew up and played the game here in North Texas. That would be the ultimate goal. But we’re going to do our part to be good community partners and help grow the game at the grassroots level as much as possible.”