The National Lacrosse League has set its target for a return to action. Meeting that target will take a lot of work and a bit of luck.
NLL Commissioner Nick Sakiewicz is optimistic about the prospect of opening the league’s 35th season on April 9, 2021, but the coronavirus will have the final say on whether it starts on time.
“We’re targeting a full season as usual but the circumstances will dictate and in this environment we learned something very valuable over the last seven months or so: you have to be adaptable, you have to anticipate what’s happening and most importantly you have to be ready to pivot,” he said.
Aiming for a spring start gives the NLL a long runway to plan for the season and ample time to adjust that plan should the need arise.
While a full 18-game schedule is the goal, how that schedule breaks down will depend on a number of factors including the approval of health and government officials and the state of the US-Canada border.
Sakiewicz says the league is keeping its options open.
“We have to look at a scenario of playing a Canadian competition and a US competition and then maybe coming together later on in the year for an overall champion. We have to look at inter-divisional play to reduce travel into other jurisdictions,” he said.
The restart timeline is also intended to ensure that fans will be able to attend games in some capacity when play resumes.
“Our business is just built around an event and the economics of our league are built around fans being in the arena, and I’ll tell you, we’re not looking at any scenarios right now where we’re playing without fans,” Sakiewicz said.
Saskatchewan Rush owner Bruce Urban says having fans attend games again is vital to the long-term success of his team and others.
“That’s where we get a high, high percentage of our revenue. Media rights, we’re not there yet, for a media rights deal that’s going to cover expenses. There’s massive losses to teams and leagues that don’t have a strong media rights deal and we’d fit into that category,” he said.
Despite the financial hit of cancelling the second half of the 2020 season the commissioner says the NLL is in good health, pointing to the fact that a 14th franchise was recently awarded to the city of Fort Worth, Tex., and another expansion franchise is expected to be announced in the coming months.
Getting back on the floor in 2021 will be key for the league to maintain its forward momentum.
There are many hurdles to clear in order to get there but NLL staff have been watching North America’s other pro sports leagues closely and after seeing how they have handled their respective return to play plans, Sakiewicz believes his league has the roadmap to a successful restart.
“By the time we end up launching our league in April, I would say we would have seen and have experienced all the best practices and all the things not to do from the other leagues,” he said.
The target is set. But it will still be some time before finding out whether the NLL will be able to hit it.
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