With NHL Out on TSN, Is it the NLL’s Turn?

Earlier this week the NHL dropped a bombshell when they announced an exclusive 12 year tv deal with Rogers television, thus knocking TSN right out of the picture after over a decade of extensive hockey coverage. Many wonder what TSN will do now as the NHL was their bread and butter, filling the majority of their air time, even in the summer off season.

The announcement struck a cord with passionate lacrosse fans who immediately took to social media platforms such as twitter to let TSN know that they’ve found the solution to all their problems: NLL on TSN. Though the NLL would not generate nearly the same revenue as the NHL, it would be a wise decision for the network to partner up with the fastest game on two feet. Currently there are no networks that have exclusive television deals with the NLL and this partnership would make TSN the king of the lacrosse mountain.
TSN already has a core group of lacrosse analysts in Claude Feig, Dave Randorf and Brian Shannahan and it would be very easy for them to add experienced, lacrosse savvy talent to that roster. Names like Tyson Geick, Jake Elliott, Pete Dalliday and Teddy Jenner come to mind right away as well as TSN’s very own Bob McKenzie who has covered lacrosse in the past and is still very passionate about it, even tweeting recently “have your kid play lacrosse, not summer hockey”, a tweet that has received 781 retweets and 461 favourites so far.

TSN has yet to respond to the hundreds of tweets they’ve received on the subject but when Rochester Knighthawks star Paul Dawson brought up NLL on TSN to McKenzie, he responded “if my bosses at TSN/CTV/Bell want to take a tiny fraction of the billions of dollars they offered for NHL rights and invest it…”

A tiny fraction of billions of dollars seems like a no brainer. It would leave tons of advertising dollars and money to spend elsewhere. However, it’s not that easy because on the flip side, the NLL would only generate a tiny fraction of the dollars that TSN has grown accustom to with the NHL. That being said, what other choice does TSN for gaining revenue and filling air time? Darts? Billiards? Equestrian?

Lacrosse has a cult following; with the right exposure the sport will expand its fan base which will lead to the one thing we all want, and that’s to grow the game. We all know why we love lacrosse; the skill, speed, intensity, toughness, finesse…… but for some reason people who haven’t been properly exposed to the sport seem to think it’s barbaric when it is nothing of the sorts. The most talented athletes in the world play lacrosse but trying to explain that to these people is a near impossible task. Some think of stick swinging when they hear lacrosse while others judge the game from one rough highlight they saw ten years ago, giving them tunnel vision as to what this beautiful sport truly is all about. If these naysayers had access to regular televised NLL games, they would see the beauty for themselves.

That’s not to say lacrosse wasn’t barbaric at one time but it has really turned a corner in the last few years; the WWE type characters that once existed in the league have all been weeded out.

The fact that the NHL was once viewed as barbaric and is now mainstream should give some hope to lacrosse fans.  It wasn’t that long ago that Mike Milbury of the Boston Bruins climbed over the glass and into the crowd to beat a fan with his own shoe. We look back at that now and laugh at how crazy hockey once was. Is lacrosse ready to look back and laugh at some of the insane things that have happened in the past? I think so. Am I ready to look back and chuckle at seeing the NLL’s all time leading penalty minute leader, Kyle Laverty, reach into the crowd at Iroquois arena in Whitby and pull a fan into the players bench because that fan poured orange soda on him during the intermission? I think so. In fact I’m laughing right now because it’s funny to have witnessed an incident that chaotic; a memory of the normality that once existed in lacrosse. You don’t see stuff like that anymore; the game has grown and matured and it’s ready for a mainstream, prime time audience.

TSN has had up and down success over the last few years with their NLL coverage but many factors have played a role in that, most notably their inconsistent coverage. This is of no fault to TSN as they have lots of long standing obligations to other sports. It makes it frustrating to fans though because they never know when a game is going to be on. TSN might show a live Toronto Rock game three weekends in a row but then on the fourth week, fans might tune to find curling. It’s tough to establish a loyal fan base when the fans can’t rely on the coverage.

Last season most lacrosse fans relied on Youtube for their NLL coverage. The Lacrosse Network partnered up with the NLL which made every game accessible at the click of a button. You knew the games would always be live and you knew you could watch all of your favourite teams; that is unless your favourite team was the Toronto Rock. Those games were all blacked out on Youtube because of TSN’s deal with the Rock. If TSN did get an exclusive NLL deal, what would it mean for the people we relied on for great, consistent coverage last season? Would all the cameramen, announcers, producers and everyone else involved be out of a job? Possibly, but to grow the game these are the things we might have to sacrifice.

Youtube is a big part of why lacrosse fans haven’t been relying on TSN to get their lacrosse fix but another reason is because TSN only covers Toronto Rock games. This is a huge plus for many fans but to others it’s a great injustice. Some fans not only despise the Rock but the city of Toronto is general. There are several anti Maple Leafs fans out there who refuse to watch or cheer for the Rock because they hate the Leafs that much. Although that hatred is excessive, an all out deal with the NLL would allow TSN to broaden their horizons and allow them to reach a fan base that currently sees them as the Toronto Rock’s network.

From the outside, the NLL on TSN appears to be a no brainer for both parties; but will it happen anytime soon? My guess is probably not. TSN’s contract with the NHL doesn’t expire until next season which gives them plenty of time to sort things out.  It’s unlikely that another network will step up to challenge for the exclusive NLL rights so TSN doesn’t have to rush into anything. They’ll have lots of time to explore other options and perhaps find something to fill the giant financial hole that will be left by the departing juggernaut we call the National Hockey League. Let’s face it, TSN will fill the air with whatever makes them money and unfortunately at this time that’s not the NLL. In a professional sport where the players have to work full time jobs on the side, the money is just not there and probably won’t be there for several years; it took the NHL decades before they were viewed as mainstream……but they did it.

Scott Arnold is Lead Writer at In Lacrosse We Trust and the Director of Broadcasting for The Lacrosse Radio Network. He is the play by play radio voice for the Peterborough Lakers and the Canadian Lacrosse League. You can read his column, Behind The Back, right here every Saturday and you can follow him on Twitter @ScottArnold12