I decided to take a deconstruction effort at the announcement this morning from MLL about the restructuring of the league . . . this is solely my opinion and analysis, not FLN’s per se.
When you look at this press release in its’ entirety there are some interesting speculations to make:
Clearly, this is a grab of control from the old guard of the league to the new guard. The founding fathers of Jim Davis, Jake Steinfeld, Dave Morrow and Dave Gross have had their final decision-making authority taken away (Morrow pretty much no longer has been active anyhow but Dave Gross, in particular, is the most affected in my opinion). Jim Davis has been a God-send over the years financially. The number of the amount of money he personally sank into the league is staggering, to say the least, according to the numbers I have heard thrown around. Jake Steinfeld has been the main ‘cheerleader’ for the concept of field professional lacrosse since the MLL was founded and there’s no reason why he still couldn’t play that role.
The quote from Chesapeake owner Brendan Kelly is very revealing. Those words were not uttered capriciously, they reflect what is likely a long-term frustration at how Mr. Davis owned four teams (the three that are contracting plus the Dallas franchise he will own going forward) and what that meant to other owners. Although the wording was clearly designed to be inclusive to Mr. Davis it certainly signals a changing of the guard when it comes to final decision-making. I don’t know how the Board of Directors (or whatever it was called) of MLL worked with voting rules & proxies, but if Mr. Davis carried 4 of the 9 votes for owners, add in Dave Gross when Commissioner and Jake Steinfeld and that would be 6 of 11, making Mr. Davis pretty much the controlling factor. That will no longer be the case.
“Strategic markets” is an interesting term to use in the first paragraph. Strategic Marketing is pretty simple to understand but Strategic Markets seems more of an attempt to re-locate long-term franchise locations from areas chosen before to something more pre-determined by growth of the sport. We’ll see who is announced by the league for the Charlotte franchise and others that are certainly to come. And that term certainly must have been influenced by where the PLL has announced they are going to.
All in all, this represents far more than a restructuring, this is a COMPLETE overhaul of where the power resides in the league going forward. It is now Commissioner Brown and his supporters vision going forward and that will determine whether MLL can finally break into the mainstream.
An interesting thing to me is that the schedule has already been updated on the MLL website, meaning that this new approach has been in the works for a while. And note that travel to games will be streamlined. Charlotte is an airline hub, but Ft. Lauderdale and Columbus are not, so player travel will be easier. I’ve never asked a member of the Boston Cannons who lives in the NY area if they took the train or the plane to Boston, but the locations of the teams could also give the players more options to get to their teams for pre-game practices if the player movement is favorable to where the players commute from.
Lax Sports Network will no longer be the major outlet of MLL and that leaves them with an interesting possibility to contemplate. I don’t know what their viewership numbers are for MLL broadcasts, versus their CAA coverage or for Lacrosse Now broadcasts, but one thing I can say with certainty is that neither college nor MLL moved the needle much on FLN as far as readership is concerned. If they are smart and want to continue as a viable entity, they need to re-focus their coverage towards high school and youth lacrosse. To give you an example of what I am talking about, last May we put up the press release for the FSC Women’s NCAA D2 Title game loss to LeMoyne and that was read 45 times according to the counter. The Ponte Vedra-Jupiter article on Sunday was read 495 times as of this writing. My Preseason Top 25 poll peaked a few years ago at over 8,000 reads.
But accepting this would not be easy for LSN; there’s an assumption about the cachet of covering the professional side and the college side of the sport but the simple secret of the sport is that the casual fan does not pay attention on an ongoing basis. The audience is potentially bigger for the high school coverage, where the number of players (and their families) are significantly larger than in college and the same thing is true at the youth level. Will LSN be willing to adapt to that reality now that MLL is no longer going to be handed over to it? And it is fair to say handed over. Dave Gross is the guiding force behind LSN and now the network will not easily be able to bid against the other outlets for the games. The desire to spread the distribution to more watched, more mainstream distributors, is baked into the cake. Let’s not forget MLL Commissioner Sandy Brown has plenty of experience working for other broadcast outlets.
As far as FLN is concerned, this obviously changes our coverage of the league. We no longer have a Florida-based franchise to cover so the change for what we do cover will shift to Florida-affiliated players in the league. Right now that is a small pool but we will see how the rosters shake out.
And then there is PLL and what happens to their vision with this news. While likely there will be no real impact this year due to the timing, will there be a bigger possibility of a Florida location for a weekend? No way to assume one way or the other at this point. No Florida location has been announced yet so we’ll assume a wait and see attitude, but we were doing that already so no change there for us.
Hopefully, we will be able to be part of whatever press conference is held by MLL leadership to inform the affected markets.