By Nate Puciato
The Major League Lacrosse All-Star Game is coming to the Old Line State for the first time since 2002, and MLL commissioner Sandy Brown believes that despite competition from the newly-formed Premier Lacrosse League, the future of the MLL is brighter than ever.
The 18th All-Star Game in league history will take place July 27 at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis, Md., home of one of MLL’s original franchises, the Chesapeake Bayhawks.
“I think that it’s a tremendous franchise, and I think that we have great fans in the Annapolis area,” Brown said on Glenn Clark Radio July 8. “It is and has been a hallmark of the league for many, many years. I think it’s only appropriate that Annapolis should have the game.”
With the rosters being finalized July 15, fans will be able to see Team FIRE, captained by Rob Pannell (New York Lizards), face off against Team ICE, captained by Lyle Thompson (Chesapeake Bayhawks).
“I think the Bayhawks have arguably the most exciting player in the game of lacrosse right now, Lyle Thompson,” Brown said. “So we’re obviously excited to showcase that.”
Besides showcasing the talent on the field, Brown also hopes to showcase the league as a whole, as he feels this is a prime opportunity to engage with a broad audience across the nation and in Annapolis, where the Bayhawks have been based since 2010.
“I firmly believe that we have the best fans in the game of lacrosse,” Brown said. “The fans in Annapolis really are the pinnacle of that, and I’m hoping that they’ll come out in droves to support this game.”
When it comes to the rest of the league, Brown, who took over as commissioner in 2018, is still working to make the MLL the best in its class. As stated on the official website of the MLL, the league plans for a comprehensive rebrand, along with development of a “robust digital team and infrastructure.”
However, this will be a challenging task in a landscape that now features the PLL, founded by former MLL All-Star Paul Rabil and his brother, Mike.
“When I walked into the job, I knew none of what was about to happen, as you can imagine,” Brown said. “There was no crystal ball there.”
“We had a lot on our plate this year. We made some changes in terms of our team ownership, restructuring internal workings in the league, which resulted in us being a six-team league this season,” he added.
MLL featured nine teams from 2016-2018 but just six this year without the Florida Launch, Ohio Machine and Charlotte Hounds. Florida and Ohio disbanded, while Charlotte suspended operations until 2021. Similarly, the PLL has six teams, but the league travels the country as part of a barnstorming-style tour.
The goal of the PLL is to give players an avenue to become full-time lacrosse players. PLL players earn an average salary of $35,000 and receive health-care benefits along with equity in the league, according to CNBC. In comparison, MLL players on average made about $8,000 last season.
The PLL has also partnered with NBC, which has been broadcasting the league’s games on its platforms since the league began play in early June.
MLL owners have increased the league’s salary cap by 51 percent and added two games to every team’s schedule for this season. The league’s first games this year took place May 31-June 2, one week after college lacrosse’s Final Four. That’s a month later than last year’s April start date, which overlapped with the National Lacrosse League.
“To me, the changes we’ve made in terms of expanding the season, changing the season, increasing the rosters, increasing the salary cap, getting our media rights back, these are all table stakes for us to be able to take the league to the next level,” Brown said.
“The other element of it [was the] game day experience, really trying to create something for our fan base that was really second to none in terms what had been experienced here before,” he added.
Looking ahead, Brown also feels there is more to come from MLL, with expansion being a very real possibility down the line.
Currently, the league features six teams, located in the cities of Annapolis, Atlanta, Denver, Quincy (Mass.), Frisco (Texas) and Hempstead (N.Y.), with the most recent team to join being the Atlanta Blaze in 2016. However, with a majority of the teams now located on the East Coast, Brown hopes to take the league out west.
“I would like to see us expand to the West Coast, into other markets,” Brown said. “In Minnesota for example, or the Pacific Northwest, these are all areas that have double-digit participation growth, and I’d love to be able to showcase our players in these parts of the world.”
“I think it’s going to do a lot to be able to grow the sport, and grow the league, and I think at the end of the day that’s what we’re all trying to achieve,” he added.
To hear more from Brown, listen to the full interview here:
Photo Credit: Courtesy of MLL