It was interesting to be in a world over the weekend where indoor lacrosse mattered so much to the people I saw during All-Star Weekend. That includes executives, players and fans. A few notes about the league seem in order after an interesting weekend in Central New York:
* The placement of the All-Star Game in Verona always struck me as a little odd, since it isn't near any league cities. I did see Buffalo, Rochester, Philadelphia and Minnesota (well, a few) fans there. Considering that the game was only announced a month ago, I did wonder what sort of crowd the game would attract.
Well, there was no official attendance, but we all got together and guessed about 2,000 in a 2,600-seat facility. Should an All-Star Game in such a small arena be expected to sell out under most circumstances? Perhaps. I assume Turning Stone Casino took on some of the financial risk for hosting the game, and it did get some people into the building; casinos like that.
By the way, the players seemed genuinely thrilled with the way the game was staged, even if it was squeezed into the schedule.
* I hung around the Fan Fest held before the game. As usual, I was impressed by the players and how well they interact with fans. It was mostly an autograph session, although there were some fun clinics. Some of the players came in the night before, but they still chatted with everyone and posed for pictures. It's a good group of people in this league, and they all seem to realize how lucky they are to be playing the sport as a part-time job.
* I went to Verona rather worried about the state of the league because of the Calgary situation. The Roughnecks are threatening to fold if they don't get financial help, and soon. I drove home without a great deal of reassurance. I know everyone is trying to come up with a short term solution for now, at least, but it's a difficult situation.
I will add this: the players and other people I spoke with are worried as well -- maybe not right away, but certainly for 2012. Calgary is in trouble, Rochester and Washington aren't doing well, and Minnesota is said to be down in attendance. That doesn't include teams that play in buildings with high rental charges, such as Toronto and Boston. It's hard to know where they fit economically in the league.
If the league gets below 10 teams, you have to wonder if it stops becoming a viable group -- especially in terms of television, group marketing deals, etc.
* By the way, there seems to be a formula for how to make a team run in this league, and the Bandits are the pioneers. Buffalo and Colorado are both owned by NHL teams, so that means the lacrosse teams fill the building with eight dates a year. Those teams don't have to hire completely different marketing and sales forces; they simply roll them into the hockey team's areas and cross-promote. Want an ad at Sabre games on the scoreboard? You can get one at Bandit games too!
You'd think it would be a great fit for the Calgary Flames for example. Heck, it would be a great fit for the New York Islanders, who play in a lacrosse hotbed in Long Island.
--- Budd Bailey