News and Views – National Lacrosse League Expansion

by Budd Bailey, Buffalo Sports Page Columnist

News: The National Lacrosse League announces that San Diego has been awarded an expansion franchise for the 2018-19 season.

Views: Finally, membership in the NLL is going in the right direction: Up.

The NLL once had as many as 13 teams as recently as the 2007 season. But some franchises fell by the wayside in the past decade, and the number of teams reached nine in 2014. It has stayed there, although a few franchises have moved since then.

Commissioner Nick Sakiewicz made expansion a priority when he took that job in January 2016. He said he wanted to do it the “right way,” finding good owners and cities that wouldn’t disappear when the going got a little tough. Those efforts resulted in a 10th team for 2018-19. It’s a good fit for the West Division, which certainly will go to five teams to join the five in the East.

We’ll have to see if another team or two joins the league for the 2018-19 season. In the meantime, is this a good move for the league? Probably.

The owner of the San Diego franchise is Joseph Tsai, the owner of a Chinese e-commerce company. Tsai is said to be worth $9 billion, which is enough to buy the entire AFC East – or if you prefer, the entire NLL. If nothing else, the San Diego franchise figures to be given every financial chance to succeed. And that’s worth a lot.

You’re probably heard the line that points out that San Diego is surrounded by water to the west, Mexico to the south, desert to the east, and Los Angeles to the north. That’s a tight squeeze, but the Chargers’ departure for Los Angeles makes San Diego more wide-open in terms of marketing opportunities. The Padres will be the only major competition for the sports dollar.

There is a risk here. California and Arizona haven’t been successful hosts of the NLL in the past. Teams in San Jose, Anaheim and Phoenix didn’t make it. There’s not much of a history of the sport out West, although several colleges play at the club level. It’s easy to be skeptical of how Southern California will take to the game this time.

The NLL has to be careful not to expand too fast as it tries to make a bigger footprint on the sports map. Still, it will be fascinating to see how the San Diego team does. A viable franchise there just might turn some heads in the industry about expanding to non-traditional locations.

One thing is for certain: The Bandits no doubt are already looking ahead to a February road trip to Southern California.

Budd Bailey

Budd Bailey has been involved in almost every aspect of the local sports scene for the last 40 years. He worked for WEBR Radio, the Buffalo Sabres' public relations department and The Buffalo News during that time. In that time he covered virtually every aspect of the area's sports world, from high schools to the Bills and Sabres and everything in between. Along the way, Budd served as a play-by-play announcer for the Bisons, an analyst for the Stallions, and a talk-show host. He won the National Lacrosse League's Tom Borrelli Award as the media personality of the year in 2011, and was a finalist for that same award in 2017. Budd's seventh and eighth books, one on the Transcontinental Railroad and the other about Ichiro Suzuki, are scheduled to be released in the fall.

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