Despite the event not falling right at the season’s midpoint every year, like the majority of professional sports, the MLL All-Star Game always finds a way to highlight league milestones. The weekend has grown exponentially over time and finds new ways to stay fresh for fans every year. The skills competition, traditionally held the day before the game, has revamped and revised its flow nearly every year.
Last year in Southern California, we were treated to a concert from hip hop artist Kid Ink. This year, a youth tournament surrounded the event to help connect fans of the game to their world’s best players. The MLL has found ways to keep an event relevant and exciting for the spectators, and athletes, in a landscape where most all-star events are losing attention.
Getting the media involved in any capacity is a big move. The MLL has maintained a contract with CBS Sports Network to broadcast the All-Star Games and Championships. While the channel isn’t standard with all cable package, it opens up a much larger window for viewership.
There isn’t a decent sports bar or wing joint in the country that doesn’t have CBS Sports Network in their lineup. When the only thing to watch on a Saturday night in July is another baseball game, there’s the chance that more eyes can be drawn to that obscure sport on the TV where grown men are hitting each other with sticks.
A big gripe with the current MLL exposure is the limiting of all regular season games to the subscription service, Lax Sports Network. While it’s exciting that there’s a place for lacrosse fans to find games, news, and analysis of the sport they love, it limits the chances of new fans stumbling across the game. The ASG opened up a door for some mid-summer lacrosse on more TV sets.
As the game continues to boom in areas away from the East Coast, there’s a strong chance that kids are finding the game in just about any fashion than it being handed down to them. The new generations are attributing their passion for the game being sparked by YouTube, watching games on TV, and through social media. Putting around 40 of the most talented lacrosse players on a field at the same time is a sure fire way of proving to viewers how dynamic the sport can be. Any lacrosse on TV is better than no lacrosse on TV, regardless of time or channel.
Creating Personal Connections
One of the greatest parts about the MLL is the one-to-one connections formed between players and fans. Simply, there is next to no barrier keeping the athletes away from their support. I can’t imagine how hard it could be for a 10 year old to meet LeBron James, Aaron Rodgers, Sidney Crosby, or any other star. Take your kid to a MLL game and send them down to the first couple rows and they’ll leave with every last autograph and handshake that their little hearts can desire.
What’s even more special is how the MLL athletes treat the kids that show up to All-Star Game weekend. From hotel lobbies to In-N-Out Burger dining rooms and all over the event grounds, there’s players going out of there way make the stars of tomorrow feel larger than life. Gear is given away on street corners, autographs are signed over dinner, and spontaneous games of catch will start between young kids and their heros. Never does it come with an eyeroll or any hesitation.
The world’s best lacrosse players are treated to a mid-season vacation every season, but they understand the valuable role they play for the growth of the game. When these kids are treated to that kind of experience, they are instantly hooked as MLL fans for life. The more kids that are connected with, the quicker the sport makes it into the mainstream with loyalty already built through the youth.
It’s the same way for every MLL game. Head toward the field at the end of the fourth quarter and just wait. Guys will sign autographs, take selfies, and interact with the fans until there’s no one left waiting. The All-Star Game is no exception, except young bucks get the chance to meet each and every last hero of the game. Take our word for it, there is absolutely nothing like it for the youth in all of sports.
Catering to Non-Traditional Areas
The MLL has used the the All-Star Game as a litmus test for non-tradition areas for a while now. Moving from Houston to Orange County last year, the league tested the waters in two warmer climates before taking the event north up I-5 to Sacramento. This marked the first time the MLL has returned to Northern California since the San Francisco Dragons folded in 2008. The community responded in full-force, packing out the shady side of the stadium while temperatures soared. Northern California participation numbers are exploding and clearly the people want more lacrosse in their backyard.
Places like Boston, Long Island, and even Denver get more than enough to watch high level lacrosse almost year-round. It’s not often that kids in places like Texas or California get to watch elevated caliber talent, especially post-high school. What better way to expand the MLL’s footprint and build loyal followers across the board than take the show on the road? The Championship was played in Atlanta for a few seasons, sparking the birth of the Blaze. Now the Championship is moving to Dallas, giving a nod to the passion of North Texas for lacrosse and feeling out if it’s the right fit for expansion. When resources are limited, the best way to learn if an expansion could work is host major events like the ASG or Finals in test markets.
Business aside, more fans, in more places are gaining access to the game. The events bring clinics and vendor villages to town, giving the kids the elevated resources that they typically turn to the internet for. Some of the country’s most passionate lacrosse players are pouring out of the woodwork west of the Mississippi River. They deserve every last opportunity to soak up the action in front of their own eyes.
MLL Stepping Up
Aside from the fans staying engaged, the MLL has done a great job of finding ways to entice the players to care. Yes, every lacrosse player loves to play lacrosse. We also all love to hangout around the game’s best players and just kick it for a weekend. But that doesn’t mean that these guys need to give any sort of effort. Who would want to get hurt mid-season in the All-Star Game?
Yet, somehow we still got to see guys like Myles Jones fight all game long, all the way down to his game-winning goal in overtime. If the NBA All-Star Game made it to a 200 point (or whatever obscure number they get to) tie, we’re willing to bet Steph Curry won’t be hitting the buzzer-beating winner. For whatever reason, the MLL guys keep going after it for over 60 minutes. Yes, a small handful sat the weekend out to make sure they were rested for this week’s Team USA tryouts, but that really was a small sample.
This year, the MLL shelled out $10k to the game’s MVP, Myles Jones. In every year prior, the check was just $1k. Making 10x more for an exemplary effort in a league where guys aren’t able to earn full-time wages is a big deal. It seems like Jones was completely aware of the sacrifices every last player makes to compete in the MLL and he took the beefed up check and distributed equally amongst his squad. This is a pretty special gesture, the MLL works to treat players better and the players use the resources to honor each other. Getting $500 from your team MVP after a win would entice just about anyone to try to get back there next year and put forth the same effort.
The winners of the skills competition were also treated to $1k each, in a much more relaxed environment. Connor Buczek shot 112 mph, Scott Ratliff threw down a long pole dunk, and Will Manny sniped 6 targets with time remaining. Nothing too grueling and mostly a lot of fun for any lacrosse player, and these guys each got to pocket an extra thousand bucks for enjoying themselves.
On top of the chance to win a little extra scratch, players also had custom USA-themed New Balance Freeze cleats hand-painted by Cruz World Customs waiting for them in their lockers. It’s not just like they got another set of gear or an extra t-shirt to hit the bottom of the closet, they got a custom piece of artwork that they could be proud of. When the players are incentivized, they start getting involved in greater capacities, and paying guys that don’t earn a whole lot goes a long way.
But, once again, the event found a way to not just make the players, or the MLL, rich. The All-Star Game went back to custom jerseys this year, with a full-nod to America by going with a flag theme with the Stars versus Stripes. After the game, each player signed their sweat-soaked uniforms and turned them back in for auction. The MLL is using the proceeds from the memorabilia to provide financial support and awareness for the American Cancer Society. It’s a simple case of people helping people.
Everyone benefits from All-Star Weekend. Non-profits gain more resources. Players get a break and a little extra scratch. The MLL builds a larger fanbase. The world gets access to more lacrosse on TV. Most importantly, the fans in attendance get a once in a lifetime chance to rub elbows with the best in the business. If the caravan rolls into a town near you in the coming summers, load up the wagons and get your whole community there. If you want the game to grow, this is a really simple way to get it done.
Friday – Skill Competition
● Fastest Shot – Connor Buczek (FLA)
● Freestyle – Scott Ratliff (ATL)
● Accuracy – Will Manny (NYL)
Saturday – All-Star Game
● Stars 20, Stripes 21 – Myles Jones MVP
Thursday, July 13th
● Blaze @ Lizards – 12 pm Shuart Stadium
Saturday, July 15th
● Cannons @ Rattlers – 7 pm, Capelli Sports Stadium
● Lizards @ Hounds – 7 pm, Legion Memorial
● Bayhawks @ Launch – 7 pm, FAU Stadium
● Outlaws @ Machine – 7 pm, Fortress Obetz