The San Diego Seals broke into the NLL in 2019, with the twin goals of building a competitive team on the field and establishing a presence in what can easily be characterized as a non-traditional lacrosse market. Entering season five*, the franchise has emerged as a league power, with names like Wesley Berg, Dane Dobbie and Austin Staats regularly putting on a show for the hometown fans. Off the field, the slow and steady mission to grow the Seals brand in the San Diego market presses on at a very aggressive pace.
Paul Speaker, whose resume includes serving as the NFL’s Director of Marketing and Ideas as well as being an Executive for the World Surf League, is now tasked with leading the business side of the Seals’ operation, after owner Joe Tsai hired him to oversee both the Seals and Las Vegas Desert Dogs’ corporate efforts. Speaker recently spoke to NLL.com regarding what lies ahead for the San Diego part of the equation.
Speaker is quick to point out that a world health crisis greatly impacted the Seals’ plans of building major brand recognition within the metro area.
“There were a lot of fits and starts mainly due to Covid,” Speaker explained. “We had a year and a half that was either fully cancelled or partially cancelled. When you have only nine home games, it takes away a lot of momentum inside the market. It was difficult to restart a new brand after you’ve been in the marketplace and spent money to drive awareness to create enthusiasm and excitement.”
He added, “we needed to reposition and relaunch the team to the San Diego audience.”
Geographical considerations have also presented a unique challenge for the Seals’ marketers, with the team competing for both time and attention against a series of competitors quite distinctive to the NLL landscape. While other franchises are seeking prominence within their local sports community, the Seals’ greatest rival is a star that sits 93 million miles from Planet Earth and the 266 days per year it shines brightly on the Southern California city.
“The biggest competition in San Diego, unlike other large cities, is not major league sports. It’s about share of time and share of wallet. The competition is the beach, being outside and sunny days. It’s a citizenship that cares deeply about physical activity, so picking a Friday or Saturday night to go into an arena may not be as attractive as in colder climates,” opined Speaker.
Speaker’s plan to get butts in the seats embraces the opportunity to enjoy reasonably priced tickets and concessions, while experiencing a party-like atmosphere upon entering the great indoors.
“There is something wonderful about playing in an arena with as much history as Pechanga Arena. When the place is packed and going crazy, with the people banging on the glass, drinking beers and having fun, this is our dive bar,” Speaker smiled.
A new approach to this involves the freshly constructed Seals Beach Club, sponsored by Margaritaville Hotel San Diego. This 50-75 capacity field-side area celebrates the city’s beach culture, with the goal of building a community amongst the fans who choose to frequent the premium viewing spot.
An additional non-typical demographic consideration of the San Diego market involves the area’s military presence, thanks to the existence of Camp Pendleton, Air Station Miramar, Naval Air Station North Island and the Marine Corps Recruit Depot, to name a few. A full third of the metro’s 3.2 million citizens are either active, retired or part of a military family. With this situation in mind, the Seals plan to host two military appreciation nights that will feature closed to the public tailgates comprising of military men and women who are coming off deployments. Face-painting, inflatables, along with free food and beverages will be provided both before and during the games.
While Speaker and the Seals are laser focused on packing the stands in the near team, the organization understands the need to organically grow interest and involvement in lacrosse, with even further education needed when it comes to introducing the box game to potential fans.
“We see growth in all of Southern California in lacrosse as a sport, from a participation standpoint, specifically youth. We’ve seen positive growth with the colleges and universities here in San Diego, on both the men’s and women’s side,” said Speaker. “The only connection that youth lacrosse players have to box lacrosse in San Diego is the Seals. Our in-market players run camps and we’ve done a significant partnership with the YMCA of San Diego.”
The Seals/YMCA alliance even includes the opening of a team training facility at the T. Claude and Gladys B. Ryan Family YMCA, located 1.5 miles west of the club’s home arena. The new complex is scheduled to open in December.
With a highly entertaining team on the field, combined with a pro-growth mindset in the front office, Speaker and the Seals believe the opportunity for great success in the San Diego market is abundantly available. It just may take a little extra time to show the public that a Wesley Berg 360-degree goal provides as much satisfaction as a day riding the waves in La Jolla or Pacific Beach.
*2021 cancelled due to Covid-19