The National Lacrosse League has kicked off its 32nd season. The 2016-2017 season was dramatically different from the first 30 though, with Commissioner Nick Sakiewicz forging a new path for the league. JWS had the chance to connect with the former MLS Executive of the Year in a wide-ranging interview. Part 2 (of 2) addresses league’s future expansion plans, its broadcast strategy and marquee sponsors.
Where can we expect the NLL to expand to next?
Sakiewicz: We love Ohio. Ohio is a dynamic lacrosse market. We’re looking at Columbus, Cleveland and Cincinnati. The New York market is very high on our list. We have several interested potential investors; in the Long-Island market particularly, for the newly renovated Nassau Coliseum. I wouldn’t be shocked if the New York market was in the next round of expansion.
You won’t find NLL games on linear television. Why did you guys decide to pursue the digital route?
Sakiewicz: For many years, the league was doing the same thing that we did in the early days of Major League Soccer; which was to acquire time on a network, spend a lot of money producing it (the games) and putting it (the broadcast) out there with very little promotion. We decided the best path for the NLL was to go all digital all the time. We know every user who watches us on TV, so we can create a one-on-one DTC relationship and engage with that fan on an ongoing basis; linear TV didn’t really give us that. We also control our own promotion. The OTT/DTC experience gives us the horsepower to unlock our product to a much wider universe. As we go forward, I think we’ll be looking at how we distribute NLL TV more widely.
Does that mean ESPN+ and Facebook Watch? Twitch?
Sakiewicz: All of the above. We are having conversations with everybody. It’s funny, 5 years ago when you did an RFP to offer your rights to the broadcast world; you might have had 5 or 6 companies on that bid list. Today there are 26 companies that want to steam live content to their audiences.
Who are the league’s biggest sponsors?
Sakiewicz: The league never really had a stable of sponsors that we could rely on. We’ve added 11 or 12 over the last 12 months. The biggest ones are Under Armour (UAA) and New Balance, our apparel and equipment sponsors.
Howie Long-Short: New Balance Chairman Jim Davis owns +/- 95% of the Boston-based company, that counts lacrosse brands Brine and Warriors Sports as subsidiaries. New Balance reported $3.8 billion in ’16 sales; making it Forbes’ 111th largest privately held company. Of course, Under Armour is public; with the company shares up nearly 10% (to $15.17) since Stifel Nicolaus upgrade its price target on the company from $12 to $17, last Friday.
Fan Marino: Nick mentioned the league’s digital approach gave it much wider audience. 12 months after the launch of NLL TV, the OTT service has 25,000 subscribers; 5x the amount the league drew on any linear network. Last season, the Twitter (TWTR) NLL Game of the Week averaged 344,000 fans (avg. view time of 39.7 minutes). Twitter will continue to stream games in 2018 and the league has added CBS Sports Digital as a distribution partner.
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