Major League Lacrosse got a bit of a head start to its Fourth of July festivities in Boston last week. Now in its 18th season, MLL had its “fireworks display” at Harvard Stadium with the league celebrating its stars as they took to the field for an intense, exciting All-Star Game.
League Commissioner Alexander “Sandy” Brown explained the outsized excitement for the game — especially this year, as “it’s a matchup that happens only once every four years.” That showdown pitted Major League Lacrosse All-Stars against the U.S. Men’s National Team, which was selected to represent the country this year in the Federation of International Lacrosse Men’s World Championship. Both teams are made up of MLL players, except only one roster earned high honors.
“A number of players on the All-Stars tried to make the U.S. Team, and have been for years, but they didn’t, so it’s a grudge match of sorts,” Brown said.
MLL All-Star Will Manny agreed, saying, “I remember four years ago; it was intense and impressive. This matchup takes place once every four years, I (was) amped to take part.”
That’s exactly the kind of excitement and enthusiasm Brown and MLL are striving for.
Brown was announced as the league’s new commissioner back in February, making him the second person to ever hold the job. In his new role, Brown has been tasked with “really solidifying the league; it’s branding, and identity,” he said. He and MLL are actively and ambitiously trying to grow the popularity of the sport.
Flagship events like this year’s All-Star Game provide the league with a crucial opportunity to do just that. Aside from staging a great game, its objective is to earn new eyeballs and win casual and/or reluctant fans over.
“We want to educate consumers how great the sport of lacrosse is, and with the best players in the world on the field that night, it’s an incredible display of lacrosse.” – Sandy Brown, Commissioner, MLL
And what better way to introduce a potentially new product to those unfamiliar than by showcasing it at its highest level?
Brown admitted that most MLL fans currently have some sort of connection to or association with lacrosse. “It’s either in their past — such as mine — or they or a family member play,” said Brown, who played college lacrosse during his time at Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Va.
The new commissioner aspires to reach an audience much broader than that, believing many more than just those that play or are already involved with the game on some level will find Major League Lacrosse appealing.
“Once you’re able to experience a game, you want to keep coming back to see and be a part of it,” Brown said.
It’s that experience that Brown is hoping will help MLL reverse its downward trend the last few seasons, as attendance has steadily fallen. After posting an average of 3,844 fans a game for the 2017 season, only 2,946 have been making their way through the turnstiles on average this summer. Beyond that, 2017 itself saw a decline from the 4,268 fans the league had averaged the year prior in 2016.
Beyond attracting new fans to experience games in person and drawing fans out to the stadiums themselves, Brown and MLL are also making a big push on the digital front.
“Given that our demo is between 8-9 to 20-25, and they consume a lot of content via YouTube, Instagram, and other social media, we want to be cognizant of that and provide them with as much content and information as possible to the platforms where they are,” Brown said.
This new approach will sit well with league star Paul Rabil, who had been rather outspoken about the league’s absolute lack of a social presence.
Since then, MLL announced a partnership with Twitter to stream the “MLL Game of the Week” for 2017, and anecdotally, players, teams, and the league have been much more active on social media platforms this year.
The league is currently conducting a study with Nielsen to confirm all the information, but Brown emphasized “what is very high on my agenda is creating a very robust stream of content digitally for this demographic that is not necessarily live content but content that is snackable that’s in five, 10, and 15 second bites.”
By giving people more of an opportunity to consume the content and engage with it where and how they’re comfortable, Brown believes that more people have a chance to “touch and feel the product.”
That vision is precisely why Brown was chosen by the league to be the new commissioner. “The reason I was hired is to expand what we’re doing and increase our fan-base; increase opportunities for people to see our games and likewise increasing opportunities for our sponsors.”
It certainly seems Major League Lacrosse found a good man for the job.
“I’ve grown up with the game and it’s always been a passion. The opportunity to combine one’s vocation with something they are utterly passionate about very rarely occurs,” Brown said.
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Brown emphasized the importance of getting new fans to develop a passion for the game by experiencing it themselves, up close and in person.
“It’s some of the greatest form of athletic entertainment you’ll ever see anywhere. Once you go, you’ll want to keep coming back.”