Q&A: How Major League Lacrosse Plans To Stick To Its New, Enhanced Game Plan
Tuesday, April 30, 2019 at 11:09AM
NYSportsJournalism.com in Carrie Gamper, Major League Lacrosse, Q&A, Q&A, sports marketing

By Barry Janoff

May 1, 2019: Major League Lacrosse, which was founded in 1999 and began play in 2001, is entering the 2019 season with fresh inspiration, added goals, new and renewed marketing deals and a complete rebrand that is intended to attract a new breed of fans while enhancing the experience for its core followers.

It has also restructured, with two teams shuttered and one on hiatus, leaving MLL with a six-squad roster for 2019. The main catalyst: New Balance chairman Jim Davis, who owned four MLL teams, decided to focus on one, the Dallas Rattlers.

Gone are the Ohio Machine and Florida Launch.

The Charlotte Hounds are scheduled to return in 2021 under new ownership.

Discussions are ongoing for expansion with new owners for teams for the 2020 season, according to MLL.

Teams for 2019, which begins the weekend of May 31-June 2, include the Atlanta Blaze, Boston Cannons, Chesapeake Bayhawks, Dallas Rattlers, Denver Outlaws and New York Lizards.

The league’s All-Star Game, scheduled for July 27, will air on ESPN2; the MLL Championship, scheduled for Sept. 27-29, will have the final game shown on ESPNews.

The league also reacquired all linear, digital and social broadcast media rights to air MLL games and said it would "explore broadcast options with broader distribution that will benefit fans, players and league sponsors."

The rebrand came after months of research — spearheaded by Alexander “Sandy” Brown, who was named MLL commissioner in 2018, and MLL owners and executives — among fans, consumers, players, marketers and brand analysts.

The survey was led by Troika/Mission Group, a global brand experience and integrated communications agency.

The result was a new logo, rebooted Web site, more emphasis on social media and a revitalized effort to build the league and the sport in local communities through the players.

Among marketing partners, MLL has signed new deals with brands including Parkside Collectibles (trading card pictured), Aryse and True.

In addition, MLL renewed or has maintained alliances with such partners as New Balance, Coca-Cola and Powerade, Warrior, Cascade and Maverik Lacrosse Reely, A&R and ESPN.

MLL’s season coincides with the arrival of the Premier Lacrosse League, under the auspices of lacrosse icon Paul Rabil. PLL is scheduled to begin play in June, with media partner NBC Sports and backers that include Creative Artists Agency and investment firms The Raine Group, The Chernin Group and Blum Capital.

Carrie Gamper joined MLL as director of marketing in 2018. No stranger to the sport, she starred on defense for the University of Denver women's lacrosse team from 2007-11 and was named a team captain her senior season.

Prior to receiving a master's degree in management and entrepreneurship from Durham University in England, she was a women's lacrosse brand manager at STX, and has also worked as a consultant for Nielsen.

NYSportsJournalism spoke with Gamper about the challenges, rewards and growth of MLL and lacrosse in 2019 and beyond.

NYSportsJournalism.com: Major League Lacrosse is going through major changes for 2019, not the least of which was a league-wide rebrand, digital overhaul and marketing plans. What was the catalyst behind that?

Carrie Gamper: MLL had been under one commissioner for about 15 years, then last year Alexander ‘Sandy’ Brown was named commissioner. He brought in thoughts, ideas and visions for MLL. One of his first priorities was to work with Nielsen Sports to commission a research study to be sent to both demographically relevant national consumers as well as to MLL fans.

The results of the survey showed among other things that the majority of our fans are Gen-Z with some millennial and Gen-Y. So making sure that we had branding and platforms and a full-scope league that was representative of the fans and the engagement opportunity that was before us was extremely important to the league. Pretty soon after that the plan to rebrand was put in motion.

NYSJ: What are the demographics of MLL fans?

CG: it is right now more male than female, particularly at the youth level. The majority of our male fans are in the 13-30 range. The majority of our female fans are in the 35-50 range. So the majority of our male fans are young and the majority of our female fans are likely their moms, which is key because they tend to be the main decision makers in the household.

NYSJ: What role do you and the marketing department have in the new strategy?

CG: Our current partners are fantastic; they have been very engaged. New Balance, Coca-Cola and Powerade, Warrior . . . A main focus of the rebrand is making certain that we are player-first. Cascade and Maverik Lacrosse recently signed Max Adler from the Denver Outlaws. We recently had a social push with Max and Cascade taking about our rebrand.

NYSJ: The 2019 Collegiate Draft presented by Cascade (March 9) was held in the Nascar Hall of Fame in Charlotte, NC. How did that experience play into the new MLL strategy?

CG: As I said, our core demo is Gen-Z, heavily focused into digital, so it is important for us to engage them in places they already populate. Prior to the Draft, we released a teaser video with some rebranding elements featuring some of the players on whom the rebranding is centered. At the Nascar Hall of Fame we unveiled all of our rebranding elements, merchandise and even wrapped a Nascar race car with the new MLL logo. We streamed the event on our new Web site. It was absolutely fantastic.

NYSJ: Even though it’s early in the process, have you received feedback from players and fans on the rebrand, the Web site and other elements?

CG: We’ve had a lot of positive responses, particularly from players. One of the things that we’ve done is to include players in the entire process. This is their league as much as it is the fans’ or anyone else. We wanted to make sure they had a voice in what was happening. One of the strongest opinions from players that came out of the process is that they wanted to have a shield that felt valuable. One of the comments was, When you see a piece of merchandise with a NFL shield on it, you know there is an inherent value to it. I want to feel that with the MLL shield, that we are a national league with national value. So that was very important to us.

NYSJ: With all leagues, be it the NFL or MLL, there is always a challenge to reach beyond the core fans and get interest from casual and even in this case people who are not fans of lacrosse. How are you working to address that?

CG: That certainly is a constant conversation. One of the great elements we added this past year was signing with ESPN, which gives us much greater visibility. ESPN 2 and ESPNews carried games, as they will moving forward, as well as the All-Star Game and the championship.

NYSJ: And as far as the players' role?

CG: We are using our players more, educating them to become influencers on social media rather than as only lacrosse players. We are working with them on content, creativity, conversations with fans and the public, which we feel will attract a larger community. And we have an unbelievable value add in that our teams are community-focused and community-based. They are engaged with their communities, are constantly doing outreach programs with hospitals and community groups, as well as clinics.

NYSJ: Lacrosse is adding Premier League Lacrosse this season under Paul Rabil to air on NBC Sports. Is more pro lacrosse good for the sport and players to raise it from a niche level or might it be overkill?

CG: You might say that the rising tide lifts all boats, that this would support a growing popularity of lacrosse. But our feeling is that we have a great platform centered in our cities, we are very heavily focused on growing those markets and that we are building awareness for MLL and MLL players.

NYSJ: Are players aware of your lacrosse background and skills? Do they show you respect?

CG: (Laughs.) We had two league-wide media days recently, and we were all on the field. I don’t get to have a lacrosse stick in my hands too often these days, so I was able to show some of my skills. And one of the team’s needed an extra set of hands to help coach a girls clinics and it was fun doing that. The nice thing about lacrosse is that there is a lot of respect between the men’s and women’s games, so they know that if I played at Denver it means something.

NYSJ: Overall, what are you looking for this season and moving forward with MLL?

CG: Our league is working to stay focused on the players. They are our priority. The guys feel that, and I want the fans to feel it as much as the players do. The players are the magic sauce. They are in the communities every day, coaching kids, engaging with people in person or on social media. Making sure the fans are excited about the league, the players and the sport. Using our players that way is a priority. These guys not only work hard, but care about building the sport and building this league.

NYSJ: Is this what you expected or beyond expectations?

CG: It is unlike anything I could have anticipated or imagined. I get texts daily from players with ideas, things they would like to see and what we could be doing to make the league and sport even better. That is so inspiring to me. I can’t wait to continue to build this league with these guys to make it what lacrosse needs to go in a direction that will help the sport and our communities.

Lacrosse At Crossroad of Marketing, Olympics

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