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The MLL Sponsorship Question Persists

With all this talk about the MLL, professional sports, and sports companies branching out, I thought I’d drop a little additional craziness for your Monday morning, all the way from the West Coast.

I have been watching a lot of rugby lately (Editor’s note: we have actually covered Rugby before!), and needless to say, I was blown away by the bad-ass gear these guys are sporting. Rugby uniform manufacturers have really stepped up their game and introduced some solid pieces of apparel.

Harlequins Leinster Mike Brown
Harlequins – I like how this Jersey does not match at all
Paramanta Eels I believe
Paramanta Eels, I believe
rugby black
No idea what team this is, but that is some very nice black!

Now, I know what you’re saying… What does Rugby have to do with lacrosse?

Furthermore, how exactly does professional Rugby have anything to do with the MLL?

Well, by the end of my overwhelming dosage of weekend rugby, I came to the conclusion that the MLL should do what no other American Professional Sports organization (Minus the MLS) has done, and that is open up their doors to Team Specific Athletic Sponsorship.

What do I mean by this?

It’s quite simple. Each MLL team should be allowed to choose their athletic sponsor.  For instance, if Nike approached the Cannons, and the two sides came to an agreement, the Cannons would only sport Nike gear.  Arm pads, gloves, cleats, etc… all Nike.

Another team such as the Denver Outlaws could sign with Harrow for gloves, pads and uniforms, but then go with Asics for footwear.  By allowing different teams to use different sponsors, it would create more competition, with the better teams vying for the best sponsorship opportunities.

My case in point right now is Warrior’s $50 million plus investment in the Liverpool FC Reds. (Editor’s note: It’s actually around $41M… per year!)

Now. I know what you’re thinking to yourself right now, “Liverpool FC is an International brand. They pack Anfield Stanley Park (thanks Dan_Crow!) and have a massive international following.” And you’d be 100% correct, but that simply does not mean that many lesser manufacturers wouldn’t be willing to invest in a smaller professional venture to get some exposure.

For example, the National Rugby League is a pretty big deal in Australia, yet its player salary caps are quite modest for a “big-time” professional league.  Behind cricket and footie, Rugby is huge in Australia, but the country also only has around 20 Million residents. Even though it’s a “Pro” league, a manufacturer need “only” invest 2-3 million dollars (and those are Aussie dollars, mate!) to sponsor a team for multiple seasons.

Along with most of the people out there, I don’t know the MLL’s financials, but let’s say a small manufacturer such as Kooga sports, or International Sports Clothing wanted to break into the American market with a small investment of $100-200k.  This money would be used, for example, to supply a team’s uniforms, cover their stadium with some ads, and take care of any miscellaneous fees. This sponsorship could go a long way.

And the actual jerseys and equipment are only half of what’s really at stake here! What about region specific sponsors on the whole kit?  The Outlaws could have a huge Colorado Energy sponsorship on the front of their uniforms.  It would be like European soccer, or hockey. Or rugby! This would be a whole new funnel of cash coming into the team.

The next question is: Would this new pot of money allow teams to increase salaries, increase exposure (locally through camps, tournaments, etc.), or just give teams more freedom to increase attendance?

Kukri (brand) making lax moves Down Under. Good on ya!

The success of both Warrior and Under Armour have proved that lacrosse is a viable sports market for extending a brand’s footprint. Why wouldn’t companies like Kukri, or larger companies such as Asics or Easton, try professional lacrosse out if it made business sense for them? By opening the league up and allowing each team to structure their own deals, we could see this happen faster than we think.

The MLL can succeed, and it is on the right path.  Opening up the league to more sponsors will only benefit the teams and players more.  Will this create gaudy, awful-looking uniforms, much like those seen in some of the South American and Mexican Football leagues? (Notice I didn’t say soccer.) Maybe.  Will the players care when their salaries have doubled, and they are now playing in front of larger and larger crowds?  Probably not.

Competition breeds excellence and only until we have true competition in the MLL will the league begin to unravel towards excellence.

That’s my two cents, anyway!

Editor’s note: Here are some additional questions to think about after reading David’s post:

Teams and players may benefit more from team sponsorships, but without central league sponsors, can the MLL keep going?

Would the combined weight of the multiple sponsorships per team equate or surpass what the MLL pulls in now and then distributes to the teams?

Would we see the “worst” or least marketable teams pick up weak sponsors (or no sponsors!) and then fold?  It certainly seems like a more market-driven approach to sponsorships… but can the MLL, which is still in its infancy survive that kind of contraction and change every year?

Would there be a concern that companies would only sponsor teams with THEIR players on it? Would Red Bull sponsor Rochester if Paul Rabil still played for Boston?  Would this give the sponsors too much control over the play of the game?

Could this result in faster expansion as well?  If teams can directly fund themselves with sponsorships, especially regional ones, it makes sense that teams could pop up all over.  But would this lead to too much instability for such a young league?

Let us know what YOU think!