It was all over Twitter last night, and it’s all over ESPN this morning: The National Baksetball Association’s 2011-12 season is in jeopardy. The first two weeks of the season have been canceled already, and things are NOT looking as rosy as they once were. Football, via the NFL, experienced a very similar situation to what the NBA is going through right now, but they found a way to make it work, and they saved their season. I think that the NBA will find a way to work this out… but what if they don’t? And what could that mean for lacrosse?
I don’t necessarily think that either the NLL, LXM PRO, CLAX, or the NALL are in a perfect position to take advantage of a potentially NBA-less winter, but there would definitely be some opportunity there, even if it may not seem that way at first glance.
The NBA occupies a large chunk of TV time and contracts, and let me just say this right off the bat: No, I don’t think that the NLL could easily slip into those newly open TV slots. But that doesn’t mean that othersports and events wouldn’t slip into those possibly vacant slots, and that in turn would create smaller, newly vacated openings, and THAT is where the NLL, and possibly even the LXM, could really benefit.
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But I want to be clear, I don’t think the NLL or LXM could just slip into a basketball slot on TV, pull over a couple hundred thousand basketball fans over to lax, and instantly grow to be a legitimate, professional stature league or Tour. It would be much harder than that, and a lot more nuanced.
As hockey, college basketball and winter sports (like snowboarding), all do pretty well right now on TV, their exposure would only be increased. NBA fans would probably flock to televised college basketball and the sport at that level would see a renewed general interest. The NHL would be able to broadcast more games to more people, and events like the Winter Classic (where they play hockey outdoors in historic places) would be an even bigger draw for the average sports fan. Even sports like the halfpipe for snowboarding (and other X-game style events) would gain more traction, simply becasuse the NBA wasn’t there dominating the landscape.
The key for lacrosse, and particularly the NLL, is increased exposure. This is true for the other pro sports mentioned above as well. It’s about finding fans of the sport of lacrosse, and bringing them over to be fans of the NLL, LXM, CLAX or NALL. Having games webcast is great for existing fans, but people simply don’t flip channels on the internet and magically stumble upon the broadcasts. I’m a lax junkie and I HATE watching webcasts. ESPN3.com is NOT TV. And yes, you can hook your computer up to your TV, but that’s not the point… because average lacrosse fans WILL NOT go to all that trouble to see a game. That’s just reality.
If games are on TV however, people WILL tune in and give it a shot. My uncle is a perfect example. His kids play, but he never played. He LOVES hockey and lives in Vermont. He’d never seen an NLL box lacrosse game before, but last season he happened to catch one on VersusTV. Sure, he didn’t like the music or the goalie set up, but he watched the game. And then talked to me afterwards saying it had some potential. And honestly, that’s a great start, and something that NEVER would have happened via webcast.
Even if the NBA didn’t cancel their season, the NLL would probably have a couple of games televised in the US. If you get TSN (Canada), you get a bit more! But if the NBA does cancel their entire season, the NLL must get their face on TV a LOT more. If they don’t, they will have lost out on a huge opportunity to increase their exposure, and pull more lacrosse fans over to their version of the game. If the NLL wants to survive, they need to grow. It’s that simple. And webcasts aren’t getting it done on that front.
When it comes to the LXM PRO, a slightly different path may be appropriate. Here’s what I’m thinking: The LXM should tape their events, and have at least 3 HD cameras running from different points on the field at ALL times. Then, they should go back and edit together a game tape using the 3 angles, let some announcers watch it once, and then have them do their commentary. The purpose of creating this taped game would be to broadcast the games locally BEFORE the next event in any particular area.
Basically, the LXM just had an event in Philly, so they should get together a tape, and then have that tape played on local stations in Las Vegas, where their next event is. At the bottom of the screen a ticker could announce the Vegas game, and how people can get tickets to see it live. Going back to Philly? Show the philly game on local TV before you head back and do the same thing.
The LXM would be able to put together a professional product, get their name out there in a small, but effective and targeted method, and continue to increase their exposure in the many non-MLL markets. This year they’re planning on doing TWELVE events (11 more now that Philly is in the books) and the idea of broadcasting games locally before the next event could serve as the most effective marketing tool possible. Since they would be airing it in 10 different regions, they’d actually only NEED ONE tape. Let people SEE why the LXM is worth attending, and I think the people will come in larger numbers. TV is a great avenue to do just that.
Now maybe you’re thinking that neither the NLL or LXM is ready or able to afford getting their games on TV. If the NBA actually does cancel the entire season, I think these lax leagues would be able to do so, but for the sake of argument, let’s assume that neither league will have any more games on TV. Ok, fine. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t still quite a bit of TV opportunity to increase exposure!
If the NBA doesn’t hold a season, channels like ESPN, the major networks, Versus, UNISport, Fox Sports, etc will still have sports update, news and highlight shows. Sportscenter will still be on… Every. Single. Day. So the NLL, at the very least, would have to make a serious push to get their highlights on TV. Again, lacrosse fans will stumble upon these highlights if they’re on TV, but if they stick to online broadcasts, the conversion rate will be much lower. TV just has that much pull.
And that’s it. That’s what the NLL and LXM could do to really help their profiles if the NBA doesn’t play its season. They simply need to fight and tear and claw their way onto TV more. Highlights, full games, local broadcasts and even tape delays would all be a huge improvement over the current set up. All of that would be more beneficial for the sport, and for the league, and this opportunity may not come around again for a long time. Some of the most pampered, richest athletes in the world don’t want to play because they’re not paid enough? Well, we’ve got some blue collar guys who are tough as nails who can barely make ends meet. They play hungry. Come check us out!
Hopefully, this article is already outdated and both of these groups are already taking these steps. We’ll let you know if we hear anything!