Panther City Lacrosse Club (PCLC) has firmly established itself as a National Lacrosse League franchise to be taken seriously. Operating in its second season, the Fort Worth-based club stands at 4-4, after a close 12-10 loss over the weekend to San Diego. The week prior, Panther City had an impressive 20-7 thrashing of the Vancouver Warriors.
As is often the case with expansion teams in professional sports, tremendous efforts need to be undertaken in order to grow a brand within a local market. But what about those rare times when an organization is tasked with introducing a bustling metropolitan area to not only a new business, but also the very sport that business is built around?
With this unique scenario in mind, NLL.com spoke to PCLC managing partner Greg Bibb, general manager/VP of lacrosse operations Bob Hamley, head coach Tracey Kelusky and defenseman/front office account executive Patrick Foley, with the goal of charting the progress that has been achieved in North Texas, both off and on the field.
“Growth In terms of awareness is a fan-by-fan process. There is a lot of education that goes into cultivating fandom,” explained Bibb, who also serves as president and CEO of the WNBA’s Dallas Wings. “The challenge is that Dallas/Fort Worth is nearing an 8-million-person marketplace. It’s extraordinary large population-wise, and even more so, geographically, and it’s very saturated. Every professional sport calls this area home due to the vibrancy of the region. And after that, you have countless numbers of collegiate programs, division one, two and three. So, there is no shortage of disposable income opportunities for the citizens of the region and we’re competing in that marketplace.”
PCLC’s efforts to grow the team and lacrosse’s profile include partnerships with the Fort Worth and Arlington (TX) school districts, where players and coaches introduce the game to both physical education teachers and students, with lacrosse instruction then implemented into the PE curriculum.
In addition, PCLC and the Fort Worth Public Library have teamed up to offer youth-oriented lacrosse books and equipment, while creating a program where kids are provided complementary game tickets, once an established number of books have been read.
PCLC’s need to introduce and grow lacrosse in the Dallas/Fort Worth market has parallels to the marketing and education that took place when the NHL’s Dallas Stars migrated from Minnesota in 1993.
“Dallas was a non-traditional hockey market when the Stars arrived. And they’ve done a good job, as hockey is played throughout the state now,” noted Hamley.
The longtime player, coach and NLL executive also hopes to follow in the footsteps of Denver, an example of a once non-traditional market that has become perhaps the most prolific Western US lacrosse hotbed. The former Colorado Mammoth head coach and director of player personnel believes that Dallas can emulate Denver, due in large part to ongoing growth of lacrosse in the north DFW suburbs and the presence of club teams at several local universities. Hamley credits the historic success of the University of Denver lacrosse program for the game growing exponentially throughout the Mile High City.
Patrick Foley later added, “It’s not the same as being in Boston (Foley’s hometown). There’s a lot less youth programming and coaches with experience. The talent is here, and the market is growing rapidly, and Panther City is really helping.”
The Texas High School Lacrosse League oversees boy’s high school lacrosse in the state since the sport is still not sanctioned as a varsity sport as of 2022. They currently have 88 member programs and over 3,000 students playing. Collegiately, Texas has six schools in Division I in the MCLA, six in DII, and three in DIII. Only two schools have DIII accreditation with the NCAA for their men’s and women’s lacrosse programs
One of the ways in which PCLC has activity worked to distinguish itself amid the very crowded Dallas/Fort Worth marketplace involves holding its home games in downtown Fort Worth, at three-year-old and stunning Dickies Arena.
While the Mavericks and Stars play near downtown Dallas about 35 miles away, and the Cowboys, Rangers and Wings take the field/court in Arlington less then 20 miles away, Panther City only shares the western metroplex city with the Big 12’s Texas Christian Horned Frogs.
On the subject of Fort Worth, the feeling of satisfaction is present up and down the organization.
“Not one professional sports team occupied the city and called it home. When you combine that with the fact that there was a brand new, state-of-the-art 14,000-seat arena coming online, it just seemed like a great opportunity,” said Bibb.
“It’s really about introducing people to the game and getting them into the best arena in the National Lacrosse League. It’s about butts in seats and getting people to see this game,” exclaimed Kelusky.
“This is Fort Worth’s team. It’s their only professional team. We are playing in the best arena in North America from an aesthetic and acoustics point of view and its right downtown,” conveyed Hamley.
While gaining traction in Fort Worth and the surrounding DFW metro is paramount, PCLC believes they can cultivate a fan-base throughout Texas and the surrounding states. Foley spoke to this idea when sharing his perspective as a salesman for the team.
“I have been on the phones talking with a lot of fans of the league. Working to get butts in seats and trying to build those relationships within the community. I get to speak with people from Oklahoma, Arkansas, four hours south of the DFW area in Houston and have people traveling from all those areas to watch us play,” illuminated Foley.
While the business side of the operation still has many benchmarks to achieve, on the field at Dickies Arena, the franchise’s three-year plan to contend for championships appears to be ahead of schedule.
“I think we’re right in the thick of it and have as good a chance as anybody of being a West Conference champion in year two,” articulated Kelusky.
The defending NLL coach of the year added, “I’m ecstatic about the group of men we have on board and they know that status quo is unacceptable.”
“Our 2021-2022 group raised the bar for what they did in the back half of the season,” said Hamley, the man responsible for assembling the roster.
With a bright present and a potentially brighter future on the horizon for Panther City Lacrosse Club, the powers that be have set their sights on establishing a lacrosse franchise chockful of success and possibilities.
“I’m a Canadian and am enjoying the weather, no shoveling of snow. We have five guys who live in-market now and they wanted to be here because of the weather, the city itself, and the culture that we’re building down here. We think we have a lot of advantages that some other cities and markets don’t,” uttered Hamley.
Greg Bibb put a bow on this notion when summing it up like this, “I think the ceiling is as high here as anywhere.”
Panther City hosts their first home game since December 17 this weekend when they welcome the Vancouver Warriors on Saturday at 8pm ET (ESPN+/TSN+).