There were rumors of expansion before the National Lacrosse League played its first game last month.
The grapevine carried reports of a Western Division based in Calgary, Winnipeg, Edmonton, Vancouver, Victoria and Seattle. That rumor was just that—a rumor, not even vaguely linked to the NLL.
However, expansion is imminent. The league IS considering applications from Long Island, New York City, Buffalo and Boston.
A query has even come from interested parties in Los Angeles, although the fledgling league is hardly ready for coast-to-coast lacrosse.
The Board of Governors met in Toronto in early June and established an expansion committee including Philadelphia Wings principals—Ed Tepper and Dave Natale, Toronto Tomahawks’ general manager-coach Jim Bishop and Rochester Griffins’ general manager-coach Morley Kells.
Kells and Bishop were instrumental in getting the new pro lacrosse league started. Natale, as well as being part owner of the Wings, is a lawyer.
“They’ll determine the legitimacy of the applications and present reports to the board of governors,” said Marty Sear, NLL secretary-treasurer. “It will be up to the board to set the franchise fee. I’m not at liberty to mention the figures being bandied about, but I’ll tell you this much—it won’t be free.”
The league has been attracting most interest in Philadelphia and Maryland, while Toronto and Montreal, the “sophisticated” cities, appear content to sit back and wait for the league to become established.
That, of course, leaves the door open for teams unable to draw fans to relocate. Toronto Tomahawks, admittedly involved in the toughest market, are determined to tough it out, needing 4,000 or more fans per game by the end of the season as a vote of confidence.
“We’re looking for a limited expansion,” said Bishop. “Two teams would be ideal although we may increase to four. As for that West Coast deal, we’re just not ready for that now.”
With cheques ($25,000 each) in hand from all interested parties, Bishop and company are busy checking the credentials of all applicants. Soon after the interested Boston parties mailed their cheque, the NLL heard directly from Boston Gardens president Weston Adams, Jr.
“We’ll be going to Boston soon to make a presentation directly to the Adams group,” Bishop added. “We won’t necessarily be trying to determine which Boston group is best. It might be better for all concerned to get the groups together in a joint venture.”
A similar situation exists in New York where a private group and Madison Square Garden have both shown interest. Should the Garden wind up with a franchise, established rivalries could be exploited by admitting Boston and Long Island.
In the distant future, Los Angeles may indeed be awarded a franchise, along with Vancouver, Seattle, San Francisco, etc.