By Jordan Gold
Chesapeake Bayhawks owner Brendan Kelly, whose team has won five Major League Lacrosse titles, is very happy with the success of his counterparts in the Premier Lacrosse League during their inaugural season and foresees a potential merger in the future.
“I think it’s a positive thing. I think in the long term, it’s got to come back together. I look at it like I looked at the AFL and the NFL and the ABA and NBA,” Kelly said on Glenn Clark Radio July 1. “Sometimes it takes a little bit of that to kind of make the sport get over the hump. I’m excited about what they are doing and I am super excited about what we are doing.”
MLL has been around since 2001 and is comprised of six different teams: the Denver Outlaws, Atlanta Blaze, Chesapeake Bayhawks, New York Lizards, Boston Cannons and Dallas Rattlers. That’s down from the nine teams the league had from 2016-2018, and the league’s attendance has declined every season from its peak in 2011.
The PLL, on the other hand, is enjoying some early success. Instead of the traditional professional sports model with teams in different cities, PLL teams aren’t affiliated with geographic locations. The league, founded by former Johns Hopkins and MLL player Paul Rabil, travels to different cities across the country during a 14-week season. All games are broadcast on NBC, NBC Sports Network or the network’s sports streaming service.
Though Kelly is excited about the success of his rivals at the PLL, he seems to think the best way forward for the sport is having the two leagues come together at some point.
“I think the sport is growing tremendously. I think it’s an exciting time for our sport. I think our sport is in desperate need of coalition and unity and it’s very similar to where soccer was in the 80s,” Kelly said. “When it starts to come back together I think you’ll see a bigger and badder product of pro lacrosse. The fact that these guys are getting fans traveling and we’re getting fans here staying locally, you can tell there’s starting to be a real appetite for lacrosse.”
Some former MLL players have shifted to the PLL, but according to Kelly, MLL is doing just fine when it comes to putting talented players on the field. In fact, Kelly is happy with the opportunities younger players have gotten this year that they may not have gotten without the emergence of the PLL.
“The talent is split right down the middle, quite frankly. I think that the PLL has a lot of older guys that have been around a while and probably would not dress sometimes in the MLL,” Kelly said. “With some of these younger guys — I mean, this goalie from Atlanta [Chris Madalon] has been in the league two years but hadn’t had a chance to dress but this year gets a chance to dress. He had 19 saves on us.”
With the growth of the sport, the Bayhawks are in the beginning stages of building their own stadium and sports complex. They have yet to set anything in stone, but are looking at four different locations throughout Maryland, one of which is in Baltimore City. The Bayhawks currently play their home games at Navy-Marine Corps Stadium in Annapolis, Md.
“I think like any pro sport, you have to have a home. We love Navy, obviously. It’s 45,000 seats. We had 7,100 at the game [June 29] and we think an 8,000-10,000 seat stadium is the right size,” Kelly said. “One of the things we are seeing in pro sports as a whole is this trend of a higher end, more community feel to the stadiums. People don’t really want to sit up in the 400 level in the last seat and row; they want to be in the club levels or by the field.”
The Bayhawks won two of their first four games and sit in fourth place in the league. Their next home game is July 6 against the Atlanta Blaze. All of their games are broadcast on MyTV Baltimore. Before every home game, the team has a Lexus Tailgate where fans can get pumped up to watch the upcoming game and hang out with other fans.
“The tailgate is great,” Kelly said. “There’s live music out there, there’s a lot to do for the kids. There’s corn hole and all kinds of games out there and lots of vendors out there. There’s shot clocks out there to check your shot.”
To hear more from Kelly, listen to the full interview here:
Photo Credit: Courtesy of the Chesapeake Bayhawks