For the Western Lacrosse Association (WLA), this should be the best of times.
But as the senior circuit prepares to play again after two years off because of the COVID-19 pandemic, it might also be the worst of times.
The venerable league is facing an existential threat to the way it’s operated for the past 90 years.
WLA commissioner Paul Dal Monte says the Premier Lacrosse League (PLL), a professional field lacrosse organization with eight teams in the United States, is restricting players it signs to contracts from also playing the indoor game concurrently with its summer schedule. While that doesn’t affect players who spend the winter and spring months playing in the professional National Lacrosse League, it is a deterrent for those who want to return to their senior amateur clubs in the WLA and Ontario’s Major Series Lacrosse (MSL).
Dal Monte said the stipulation affects only about 20 players in the WLA so far, but the allure to play for pay is strong. As is the PLL’s business model that gives players the ability to build their own profiles.
“The attraction is for some of the guys to make some money.”
Dal Monte said the WLA has tried to be accommodating by scheduling more games on weekdays this season, so players can play in both leagues but the new provision in PLL player contracts will force them to make a choice. He said that’s not fair, and it could cost the WLA even more players.
“Their approach in contracts is short-sighted.”
Dal Monte said while the WLA doesn’t pay players, its traditions and cultural significance resonate with those who grew up with the game, dreaming of someday playing for a Mann Cup.
“The trophy is iconic,” he said of the national championship that’s been contested since 1910. “They strive to achieve that in their careers.”
Dal Monte recently issued a statement calling for the PLL to negotiate in “good faith” with the Canadian amateur leagues, but he’s unsure if that will be enough.
“We’re not going to hang our hats solely on tradition,” Dal Monte said. “It’s important for us to work with the players.”
Part of that work includes increasing the WLA’s social media and marketing efforts to better amplify its unique brand and the star power of its players. It’s brought on two managers for its social media accounts, engaged a marketing and advertising company to lead the recruiting of new sponsors and the season opener between the Victoria Shamrocks and New Westminster Salmonbellies will be broadcast live on CHEK TV — a league first.
“We want to leverage and support the participation of players,” Dal Monte said. “There’s no doubt we have to strive to be more successful from a business perspective.”
A strong bounce back from the pandemic will be key.
Dal Monte said teams are telling him interest in tickets is good, and new sponsors are coming aboard. Arrangements to webcast every game are being finalized. And rosters are stocked with plenty of fresh, young players who’ve graduated from the junior ranks during the pandemic and are keen to get back on the floor.
As well, new rules like an eight-second time limit to move the ball out of the defensive end and sudden death overtime to decide ties in regular season games will boost interest.
“We think that’s a big step,” Dal Monte said. “The whole thing has been driven by the timing to make our game faster and more exciting.”