Back in February, Major League Lacrosse appointed Alexander “Sandy” Brown as its second commissioner. That decision is already paying dividends as the league continues to grow itself, as well as the sport of lacrosse as a whole.
After a notable playing career, Brown entered the sports media world in the late 1980s and had great success growing television markets for brands like the NBA, ESPN, and CNBC in Asia. Brown then moved back to the United States, where he eventually became president of sports at Univision Sports and launched Univision Deportes as part of an impressive rebranding effort for the media outlet.
After that, Brown moved into a role as the president and CEO of ONE World Sports, a television outlet that broadcasted a variety of sports leagues from around the world from 2011 to 2017. This is a small sample of what made him a top candidate for MLL to recruit after the departure of former commissioner Dave Gross. Brown jumped at the chance to make a difference within a sport that he remains so passionate about.
Brown channeled this passion throughout the 2018 season by getting a sense from league owners, players, and fans what the state of the league really was and what the next steps were.
“The first thing I was able to identify was that we have a very passionate fan base, very passionate owners, and very passionate players. That’s a good thing,” stated Brown. “But I do I think there were/are things that that this league can do much better. We’ve made some good progress this year already, which I think has been important, but we’re just getting started.”
One of the next steps that Brown sees the league taking is a rebrand of its marketing materials. MLL has begun interviewing creative agencies that can help spearhead the process.
“The league has operated under the same moniker and the same marks for 20 years, and it was time for a fresh start,” Brown said. “There’s a much different message that we want to try to get into the marketplace this time around.”
— Major League Lacrosse (@MLL_Lacrosse) October 30, 2018
Specifically, the digital, mobile, and social media side of its marketing/communications efforts have become a big focus for MLL as of late. This is part of the reason that it has done so well with the 12-to-20 and 24-to-41 age demographics.
“That 12-to-20 demo is a very highly sought-after demographic and we hit it right between the eyes,” said Brown. “So as a result, we want to focus a lot of our communication to this particular age group, and as we all know, it’s very mobile-centric. They don’t spend a lot of time consuming long-form content, so having an approach which speaks to this audience is very important for what we’re trying to do.”
Meanwhile, offline, Brown and the league are also working on creating and hosting new events and clinics in the offseason to maintain relationships with fans and sponsors. This includes teams being a bigger part of their respective communities in months following the regular season.
It's officially the week of @FishForACure1! To show our appreciation, we are upping the ante: ALL donations made over $500 to the Bayhawks boat will receive 2 Club Level Tickets to a 2019 Regular Season game. Donate to the Bayhawks Boat here: https://t.co/PWitMM8NBJ pic.twitter.com/FnVCLCG4du
— Chesapeake Bayhawks (@TheBayhawks) October 29, 2018
“We want to be able to spread the word. We have the best players in the world in our league and we want to do our part in terms of building the brand for our teams, our players, and for the game of lacrosse,” Brown said. “We may have a four-month season, but we need to be a 12-month league in terms of content. We need to be able to have things in which we can activate with our fan base as well as our sponsors. Having more offseason content gives us more opportunities to be able to do just that.”
In addition to new events, this offseason for MLL looks a bit different in that it will be a bit longer. Lacrosse fans shouldn’t worry too much. though, as the shift to a start date following Memorial Day in late May will certainly benefit the league and sport greatly. The new season structure will run from June to September.
“Historically we’ve had three lacrosse seasons if you think about it,” Brown said. “We’d start our season in April. We’d have our core players; then we’d have college players that would come in as a result of their seasons ending around May. Then you’d have the NLL (North America’s professional indoor lacrosse league) players come in at the end of that season in June. So we just felt it made a lot more sense to have everything start all at one time, and this way we get to go into the fall with our season. That way teams get to have a consistent roster throughout the season.”
Brown and league owners have a few other tweaks this offseason to set the league up for future growth. Notably, MLL announced last month that the league salary cap would be increasing by 51 percent and each team can add one new player to its active roster. This way, the league’s nine teams have more resources to provide a better on-field product.
Statement from Major League Lacrosse pic.twitter.com/tqNERwNnFM
— Major League Lacrosse (@MLL_Lacrosse) October 23, 2018
“It means that there’s more resource for these teams,” Brown states. “It frees up another slot to get some other guys some additional time to take a breather. It gives a coach more flexibility in terms of being able to have players for game day.”
With players and coaches focused on keeping what’s happening on the field at the highest level possible, Brown and league’s executive leadership team are free to focus on the off-field experience for fans and sponsors. This will continue to be part of their growth strategy moving forward.
“I think we want to have a broader media strategy than what we currently do. That’s something that we’re going to be taking a hard look at,” Brown said of next steps for the league. “That includes creating more content, creating more events, and creating a better game day experience. Our league is all about bums in seats, so we want to be able to create an experience off the field which, for all intents and purposes, is better than the experience on the field, which is a high bar for us to reach. We’re an entertainment property, so we have to treat it as such.”
It may not be immediate, but keep an eye on MLL’s growth strategy including expanding its geographic footprint on the West Coast. With the University of Utah recently becoming the third NCAA Division I school west of the Mississippi River to sponsor a men’s lacrosse team, the sport is clearly trending up in that part of the country.
“I think that the game has grown nationally and we play a big part in that. We want to continue to do so, so we’re going to plan to do more out on the West Coast,” Brown said. “Obviously, we want as many fans to experience the sport as we possibly can and that’s a big part of our game plan.”
Even in his early days as a lacrosse player, Brown says he always felt there was great potential for the sport in the Western United States.
“I’ve always felt, even back to when I was in high school when I first went to California, that it would be a tremendous place for the game of lacrosse to grow. I also think with what’s happening in football right now and that game’s head-injury issues provides us with a unique opportunity to be able to have a contact sport that has all the speed and the agility of football, but without the concussion issues.”
After traveling around the world and back, Brown has helped new markets embrace sport quickly and passionately. Based on his track record, there’s not much reason to think he can’t do the same thing with professional lacrosse in America.