Let the speculation begin.
Since taking the helm, National Lacrosse League Commissioner Nick Sakiewicz has been quite public that the loop needs to grow beyond its nine teams.
Initially, Sakiewicz suggested 16-18 teams when talking about growth, but has since hinted at as many as 30, although the latter number has to be a dream set far into the future.
True to his vision, Sakiewicz has brought Philadelphia and San Diego into the fold, with the two franchises set to hit the floor in December at the start of the 2018-19 season.
And now a report is out in the lacrosse community suggesting the league has signed up three new expansion franchises, the exact cities involved being released later this year. The additions would take the NLL to 14 teams.
The story also suggested Sakiewicz has said that after the league reaches 14, it would only add one further team until 2022.
The suggestion of the league stopping at 15 teams until 2022 is a surprise to me. I expected 16 was sort of baseline target and I would have expected the expansion ‘rest’ period to come after hitting that mark.
It has been suggested in various leagues that 16 is the minimum where a professional league gains a level of legitimacy in terms of attracting television and sponsorship deals. It is, for example, the number the Major League Lacrosse (the field league). Commissioner Alexander ‘Sandy’ Brown has mentioned since assuming the helm of that league earlier this year.
As for Sakiewicz’s bold prediction of 30 teams, I doubt it will happen in my lifetime. A more reasonable expectation might be 24 teams, but it will be years before that is reasonably achievable.
But what of the three mystery teams that will be announced to join the likes of our Saskatchewan Rush sometime in the not so distant future?
There has been speculation Edmonton wants back into the NLL after losing the Rush in an arena dispute. It would be great in terms of rivalry with the departed Rush and the Calgary Roughnecks, but unless they are team 15, I doubt they are in at this juncture.
From the chatter on a user group or two I frequent my two cents are on Dallas, Long Island/New York, and Halifax.
The more difficult question is who might be 15 or 16 if the rumours are off a bit and the Commissioner moves to hit his initial target?
I think the NLL wants Nashville and, in particular, the Predators ownership group pretty bad. The Preds have built a rabid fan base for hockey in a somewhat non-traditional market, a market without the added competition of a National Basketball Association team, so it looks like a great fit. Sakiewicz also likes the idea of NLL owners having NHL/NBA teams as a way to offset some lacrosse costs.
There also has to be some desire with the NLL to build some natural rivalries as it moves forward.
San Diego has a deep-pocketed owner in Joe Tsai, so the Seals will be a good beachhead in California for the NLL, but they could use an in-state rival and there are lots of cities that are large enough if a good owner can be found. For example, it was pointed out by someone on the Saskatchewan Rush Fan Club – Unofficial Facebook page the Chase Center Arena in San Francisco for the Golden State Warriors is scheduled to open next year and may need an additional tenant.
If Dallas is in the next trio of expansion teams they will be a lone bastion of the NLL in a very large Texas, and Houston has an NBA team with no NHL competition, and there is also Austin, El Paso and San Antonio, all that would be a natural rival for Dallas.
Then just for the sake of crystal ball gazing, box lacrosse is a natural for a hockey fan to quickly appreciate, so there are a few NHL cities without the clutter of an NBA franchise that might look to the NLL; Pittsburgh, Las Vegas, St. Louis, and the soon to surface Seattle among them.
Montreal and Canadiens ownership would be in that group, and as a founding NLL city years ago, a successful return would be a positive for the league. If not Montreal, Quebec City seems a possible location as well.
You can make arguments for Hamilton, Ottawa, and Winnipeg in Canada as well.
When you start doing the math, 24 teams is not hard to comprehend on the basis of potential homes and maybe even Sakiewicz’s 30. Certainly, in my books, the NLL is as exciting as any sport and if the Saskatchewan Rush are typical, highly entertaining based not just on the sport, but all they do around a game to engage the fans. Maybe it is indeed the NLL’s time to shine.