By Graeme Perrow
Most NLL fans know that every year, teams appear, disappear, or move. But here's a sobering fact: the last time an NLL season began with exactly the same teams as the previous year (in the same cities) was 1993. That's eighteen straight seasons with some kind of team movement. Here's what's happened since then:
- 1994: Removed Pittsburgh
- 1995: Added Rochester, removed Detroit
- 1996: Added Charlotte
- 1997: Removed Charlotte
- 1998: Added Ontario and Syracuse, removed Boston
- 1999: Ontario moved to Toronto
- 2000: Added Albany, Baltimore moved to Pittsburgh
- 2001: Pittsburgh moved to Washington, Syracuse moved to Ottawa, added Columbus
- 2002: Added New Jersey, Montreal, Calgary, Vancouver
- 2003: Washington moved to Colorado, removed Montreal
- 2004: New Jersey moved to Anaheim, Albany moved to San Jose, Columbus moved to Arizona, removed New York and Ottawa
- 2005: Added Minnesota, removed Vancouver
- 2006: Added Edmonton and Portland, removed Anaheim
- 2007: Added New York and Chicago
- 2008: Removed Arizona
- 2009: Added Boston, removed Chicago
- 2010: New York moved to Orlando, San Jose moved to Washington, removed Portland
- 2011: Removed Orlando
Sometimes franchises fail because lacrosse just didn't sell in that city (Ottawa, Anaheim, Orlando, San Jose). Occasionally they fail because of corrupt or incompetent ownership (Vancouver). In the case of Arizona in 2008, it was some mystery reason that made no sense. This was the year that the NLL season was temporarily cancelled due to a labour dispute. The Sting shut down operations because of the cancellation, but then the season was resurrected two weeks later. Arizona management announced that they had already shut everything down and couldn't restart it in time (though every other team managed it), so they'd just sit out 2008 and return in 2009. Of course they didn't return at all, so it sounded to me like they used the season cancellation as an excuse to fold up operations since they weren't making much money. This is too bad for Arizona fans, since they had a very good team that had made the finals twice in three years. The Chicago thing the next year was another mystery reason — their owners said that it was just too difficult to manage the team in Chicago from their offices in Atlanta and LA. Mmmmmmkay. Never heard of phones? Email? Video conferencing? Hell, hire someone who lives in Chicago that can run things.
Whatever happened to due diligence, not only on the part of NLL ownership groups, but on the part of the NLL itself?
Apparently the Chicago owner announced that he wanted to sell the team during the middle of the 2008 season, which means that less than two seasons after he bought an expansion franchise, he was trying to sell it. Did he not consider the "difficulty" of running a team from a thousand miles away before spending $3 million to buy an expansion franchise? Did the NLL not ask him how he intended to run the team from a thousand miles away?
Twenty-six NLL teams have folded or moved since the league was formed in 1987. Of those, four (Ontario, Charlotte, Montreal, Orlando) only lasted a single season. Compare that to the NHL, where a total of eighteen teams have folded or moved since 1917. Four cities (Pittsburgh, Washington, New York, and New Jersey) have had NLL teams fail twice. Does this sound like a good league to purchase a franchise in?
Having said that, the Toronto, Colorado, Calgary, Philadelphia, Buffalo, and Rochester franchises are all healthy. I don't know about Edmonton or Minnesota, but I haven't heard any negative rumours about those. Boston and Washington are probably too new to really have a good grasp, but 2011 will be Boston's third season in the league, so that bodes well for them, and Washington won the Championship last year, which can't hurt. I really hope that the late 90's and early 2000's were a kind of experimental phase for the NLL (where they tried lots of new markets, many of which failed) and not the norm. Now that they have a core of seven or eight franchises that are doing well and are unlikely to fold, perhaps we'll see a little more stability.