Leaders from US Lacrosse and the National Lacrosse League recently met at the new US Lacrosse headquarters in Sparks, Md., and the two organizations are exploring ways to work together to help expand the sport.
“We’re kind of getting to know each other and what we discovered today is we have a lot of common interests — common interests in growing the game and making the sport bigger and better for players and all the constituents,” said Nick Sakiewicz, who took over as the NLL Commissioner in January.
“I was really impressed by Nick and the new management team he’s brought in,” said Steve Stenersen, President and CEO of US Lacrosse. “There are great possibilities for synergy between our two organizations. We’re increasing our investment in the U.S. Indoor Team, and there are exciting opportunities for us to collaborate with the NLL and each of its teams on growth initiatives, as well elite athlete development.”
Sakiewicz also sat down with US Lacrosse staff for some quick thoughts about the NLL after finishing up his first season with the league.
USL: You’ve had a long history with soccer. What attracted you to the NLL?
NS: What really attracted me to the National Lacrosse League was the quality of the entertainment product, the sport itself. It’s so dynamic and action packed. The physicality of the sport combined with the finesse of the players and their stick skills is extraordinary. I’ve seen every game this past season and probably attended 50 plus in person, and I have not walked away from a bad game.
USL: How has your first year in the league shaped your priorities?
NS: We’re a league that’s been in business for 30 years and you have to ask yourself, why? It’s keeps taking me back to the quality of the sport and the entertainment value that the fans get. But the sport’s never really had a long-term strategy or a business plan to go forward. That’s what got me really excited over the last six months. Any business that is successful has a plan, it has people and it has people that can execute that plan.
USL: You’ve mentioned expansion in the past. How realistic is that and what needs to happen for it to be successful?
NS: We have a great model. Some of our teams do extremely well financially. Our NHL-owned NLL teams are all very healthy and vibrant and robust. We want to export that. We think there’s an opportunity with other NHL and NBA operated buildings and teams to take that on. We’re very focused on that strategy. Twenty-five cities that have reached out and said, ‘Hey tell us more.’ We also have great success stories with our independently-owned teams with double-digit attendance growth in Rochester and Saskachewan so we know and understand that model as well.
USL: How do you think the NLL can grow and prosper?
NS: Expansion is one of the strategies and we have four other pillars that include digital, video distribution, commercial and television strategy. We have a grassroots strategy, which we’re going to deploy. That is about going out and spreading lacrosse throughout 25 to 30 markets and telling the NLL story in markets where we don’t have teams. In markets where we do, they’ll be branded around those teams. We’ve got to broaden the base and we’ve got to broaden the story.
USL: Do you see a day when lacrosse players can play the sport full-time?
NS: That’s one of the goals – make lacrosse players full-time athletes all year-round, living in their home markets and helping to grow the sport. In order to do that, we need to get more money in the game. Right now it’s about planting more seeds across North America – Canada and the U.S. – and cultivating those seeds to help grow more expansion teams, more relevance, more participation in the game at the grassroots level all the way up to the professional level. We all need to work together to make that happen.
USL: How do you see the relationship between the NLL and the MLL and how the leagues can work together?
NS: I think they are two great sports – the field game and the indoor game. We would absolutely love to work with the field game. We had a major presence around the NCAA weekend in Philadelphia. We want to grow that presence and really connect the indoor game with the outdoor game, particularly in the United States.