The National Lacrosse League’s 2018-2019 season is in jeopardy of not being played. The league and its players union have been in a bitter labor dispute over a new collective bargaining agreement.
Fans of the National Lacrosse League had a lot to look forward to. The league added two expansion teams for this season, signed a media deal with Turner Sports and Bleacher Report Live, and was heading into its third year with New Balance as a title sponsor.
But that could all be put on hold as the NLL and the Professional Lacrosse Players' Association have yet to agree to terms on a new collective bargaining agreement. The first two weeks of the season have already been canceled.
“A lot of the things that were seen as major issues of the CBA have been taken care of by the league. But the big issues for the CBA right now is the lacrosse-related revenue, or the average team revenue. And those two things are just so far apart,” said Pat Gregoire, a contributor to the website ILindoor.com.
“Lacrosse-related revenue” is a term that is being used often during the labor dispute. So what does that mean?
“The players want to get a share of the money that not just comes through the turnstile, they want merchandise and parking and sponsorship money. I do know, I have a source from the league, that they are offering some sponsorship money and contracted TV money to get to the players. But even that had a bit of a hang-on,” said Steve Bermel, a staff reporter also with ILindoor.com.
The league has brought in several new owners this year. Billionaire businessman Joe Tsai, the Vancouver Canucks ownership group, and Comcast Sports Ventures all now own franchises in the league and the NLL envisions those types as the future. But at this point, there is a clear inequality when it comes to owners.
“Not every owner is a billionaire. Not every owner is Joe Tsai. Not every owner is the Pegulas. We do know that owners lose money, that there’s times with some of the smaller market teams. So if they were to impose some of these higher salaries, it could cripple teams that do not have these big owners.”
Bermel says in order for the NLL to be seen as viable, franchises need to be self-sustaining. And with that disparagement amongst franchise budgets, where is the middle ground?
“That’s maybe the literal million dollar question. How much can the owner’s side afford to give, without shooting themselves in the foot?,” said Bermel.
New big name owners bring talk of pro lacrosse becoming more mainstream. Jake Elliot of LaxAllStars.com and the former play-by-play man for the Vancouver Stealth says the players union is looking at this CBA based heavily on the “maybes” of the future.
“I think the major kind of roadblock of it all is that the players are trying to get a deal done for what is going to happen in the future for this league and the owners are saying, we’re not there, yet. Let’s get a deal done that is going to take us to that point,” Elliot said,
Is there an end in sight? The jury is still out. The first two weeks of the season have already been canceled and Elliot is reporting that weeks three and four will soon be on the way out as well. At this point, negotiations between the Professional Lacrosse Players Association and the NLL are ongoing.
WBFO reached out to the Buffalo Bandits for comment, but a representative deferred to the league office, which did not return calls. The players' association also did not respond to a requent for comment.