MLL

An Honest Look at Major League Lacrosse

One hypothetical that often strikes me as funny is the possibility of a NCAA Lacrosse team beating a Major League Lacrosse team. I’ve heard every argument and it still amazes me that it’s even up for debate. Could a college team that practices every day hang with an MLL team during the MLL offseason? Sure. Could the best college team in the country hang with an MLL team come June or July, mid-MLL season? No chance. MLL is filled with former 1st Team All-Americans, Player of the Year award winners, and phenomenal athletes. All of who have a serious work ethic and incredible self-discipline. In wondering why this question was even a topic of conversation – taking into account it being nonexistent across the likes of football, basketball, and soccer – I realized it had more to do with the presentation of our league to an outsider. I am here to inform you that there are professional players working to change that perception.

Playing in our league is hard, and not just because of the competition on the field. For many of us, playing Major League Lacrosse is a second “job” from April through August. We give the term “weekend warrior” an entirely new meaning. Guys fly into a city each weekend to meet up with their team, practice, play a game, and then fly home. All of this is usually done between leaving our first job on Friday afternoon and before returning to said job Monday morning. This “weekend warrior” lifestyle is our best option to play lacrosse at the highest level right now, as the model of our league (on wages along) does not support playing full time. Rookies are playing for fewer than $1000.00 per game and the maximum salary in our league is $16,000.00 – all non-guaranteed figures. Meaning, if you are not an active roster player in the 19-man lineup on game day, you do not get paid.

Note: this isn’t a complaint. We get paid to play professional lacrosse! For many of us, that’s a dream come true. This is just the reality of our situation right now.

Let’s talk about the offseason. It’s difficult to set your alarm clock for 5am to workout before heading to your day job, then try to get out on a field at night to work on the other parts of your game (shooting, dodging, footwork). Those teammates doing all of it with you in college? Most likely long gone. If you are lucky enough, there are a few other MLL players living in your city, with the same situation as you. The commitment to early riser and late night workouts is representative of the work ethic and undeniable passion the players have for the game. Then again, if you don’t have it, you’re not going to last in our league.

You might be asking me, “why do it?”

The answer is simple. We love our sport and believe it belongs at the professional level. If you play Major League Lacrosse, you are playing on one of the top 9 field lacrosse teams in the world. My goal and the goal of many other players in the league is to help improve the on field product, marketability, attendance, and working conditions for the next crop of MLL’ers. We all dream of the day when playing Major League Lacrosse is equivalent to playing Major League Soccer or the National Hockey League; a full-time job where you train with your team every day at world-class facilities while competing in front of 20,000 fans each week.

In 2015, Paul Rabil reached out to me about creating a Player’s Council to represent the interest of the players throughout ongoing conversations with MLL owners and front office management. I jumped at the opportunity.

Different from other professional sports league, we are not unionized. It’s a complicated process with MLL’s standing single-entity structure, and best saved for another conversation. That said, the Player’s Council operates in a similar manner to a traditional union. We host conversations and negotiations with our league Commissioner, debating a range of issues – from player travel arrangements and game rules to social media strategy and sponsorships. We feel like we can offer a unique perspective and bargain for interests like free agency, merchandise royalties and group licensing.

Here’s more on our latest accomplishments.

  1. Player Movement – This is our version of free agency. After 5 seasons, a player can opt-out of their contract to explore opportunities with other teams. In an effort to maintain balance-of-power amongst teams, MLL will designate a price tag (in the form of future draft picks) to a team if their player leaves to go elsewhere.
  2. Player Royalties – MLL players will receive a standard royalty fee for any product or merchandise sold online and/or at live events by MLL, its respective teams, sponsors and/or retailers. Players also reserve the right to audit the sale of items and receive compensation at the end of the season.
  3. Player’s Obtain the Rights to Youth Tournaments – Players’ have the rights to operate youth tournaments in conjunction with MLL All-Star Game and MLL Championship Weekend. This revenue stream will supplement player wages.
  4. MLL Player Camp and Clinic Database –MLL has created a Camp and Clinic database, where fans’ can learn how to connect with their favorite players throughout the year by attending player-owned and operated events.
  5. Live Games on Twitter – While the Player’s Council was not in negotiations with Twitter, we were adamant that this was an avenue that the league needed to explore as a way for our sport to gain more exposure. Our belief is that getting as many eyeballs as possible on our players and games is a key metric to growth. As referenced in Paul Rabil’s latest episode of Suiting Up Podcast, President of ESPN John Skipper says ‘get me as many eyeballs as possible, and I’ll figure out how to monetize.’

A goal of the Players’ Council is to make playing in our league easier while taking significant steps toward building a full-time employee program. We want to create more revenue streams for players while also giving them a place to build their brand. By increasing the league’s social media presence and streaming games on platforms like Twitter, we can continue to push MLL into the national conversation.

We know this is not an overnight process and are aware of how long change can take. That said, Major League Lacrosse was founded in 2001. We have to balance patience with aggression in an open market of opportunity.

As players and pioneers for pro lacrosse, we hope to work with the league to continue to promote our sport to new markets, new fans, across all screens, with profitability for ownership groups, return for sponsors, and full-time wages for players.

About Ryan Flanagan

A 6’4, 235 pound defenseman, Ryan Flanagan plays for Major League Lacrosse’s New York Lizards. When he’s not training, practicing or playing, he’s a full-time associate at Bank of America, Residing in Charlotte North Carolina, Ryan founded Team 24/7 Lacrosse, a full-service Charlotte youth lacrosse organization.

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