As announced last week, Commissioner Nick Sakiewicz has stepped down, and his second in command Jessica Berman has been named interim Commissioner. Mr. Sakiewicz will stay on as a consultant until June to help with day to day activities, and transition.
The league he took over:
When Sakiewicz took over, the league consisted of nine teams. Two of those nine teams were having financial problems. Nick would be tasked with stabilizing, and growing the league, a challenge he took very seriously.
The first years:
Most would come in guns ablazing, changing, and probably unsettling things further. Sakiewicz came in, took his time, learned the game, the players, where the game was, and where he wanted to bring it.
Part of the stability process was to help teams that weren’t making money, to be in a position to make money. Teams like New England, playing in Lower Uncasville, Connecticut, Vancouver playing in Langley, or Toronto being in a bad arena deal, were all things the Commissioner worked to solve in his years in office. New England now has a home in Albany as a prime tenant, Toronto has a much fairer deal in Hamilton as a prime tenant, and Vancouver has moved back to the downtown with transit dropping fans right at the door of their arena (and now owned by the Vancouver Canucks of the NHL).
Part of the modus operandi for the Commissioner became NHL or NBA ownerships, owning their buildings, & major net worths.
The original expansions had the storied Philadelphia franchise come back to the city of Brotherly Love with Comcast as owners (also owning the Flyers), and San Diego opening up the west coast, with Joe Tsai, the CEO of Alibaba (worth approximately $18 Billion) at the helm.
Curt Styres moved his Rochester franchise to the east coast of Canada in Halifax, Nova Scotia, but to fill the void, the Pegula’s (Owners of the Buffalo Bills, Sabres, Bandits, and Rochester Americans) were awarded another franchise in Rochester. GF Sports was awarded a team on Long Island, New York, and Bill Cameron (part owner of the Oklahoma Thunder of the NBA, lead owner of the Dallas Wings of the WNBA) was awarded a franchise in Fort Worth, Texas.
All part of Sakiewicz’s “Blue Chip” ownership plan.
The next franchise announced (and will start next year) is a group consisting of Wayne Gretzky, Steve Nash, Dustin Johnson, and Joe Tsai (a few recognizable names) in Las Vegas, Nevada.
More than just a gate driven league:
When Sakiewicz took over, owners rolled out a carpet, put a team on the floor, and hoped for the best.
Nick added layers to the ability of ownerships to make money. Originally testing a social media platform, NLLTV was born to broadcast the games at a fee. Soon a deal was made with Turner Broadcasting to air the games on B/R Live, again for a fee. There was also a game of the week put on Facebook and Twitter for exposure to more of the general public.
This past summer Sakiewicz finally made it to the mainstream, striking deals with ESPN in the US, and TSN in Canada, buying the rights to every game, in a multi year deal.
Mainstream Merchandise Sales:
To help sell team merchandise, Sakiewicz made a deal with Fanatics.com to carry NLL gear. Fanatics carries everything from NFL, NHL, MLB, etc. and getting the extra exposure was an extra bonus to the owners, and the league.
Jessica Berman, when hired in 2019 became the first female Deputy Commissioner of a men’s professional sports league. She previously served as Vice President, Community Development, Culture & Growth at the National Hockey League, and was also the Executive Director of the NHL Foundation.
Jessica has been in the Commissioner’s inner circle from her beginning with the league, and was being groomed for this next step in her, and the National Lacrosse League’s future.
With her resume, as well as the day to day on the job training with Sakiewicz, she will be a great asset to the league, with a seemless transition.
Although unfortunate that Nick is moving on, not only has he left it much better than he found it, but has the right people in place to take the NLL to heights it only dreamed of 10 years ago.
Nick, Good luck in all your future endeavors! We, the lacrosse faithful, are indebted to your forsight and diligence in bringing the league securely into the 21st century.
Don’t forget to check out Gary and his co-host Candid Frank Stanisci’s weekly Lacrosse talk show…”NLL Lacrosse Talk”
This past week’s guest was Damon Edwards of the New York Riptide
Gary Groob has been involved with Lacrosse for the majority of his life, whether playing, coaching, or covering the sport for the media.
An avid fan, with a real drive about helping to “grow the game”, Gary became part of podcasts about the game 10 years ago. Through the podcasts, Mr. Groob had an opportunity to write about lacrosse, and the rest as they say, is history.
Through many miles (flying and driving) Gary has made inroads with the National Lacrosse League, Major Series Lacrosse League, the Ontario Lacrosse Association, as well as the Arena Lacrosse League, covering the leagues, their teams, and players, working for, and in concert with all of them.
In the year 2020, Mr. Groob was made the media person for the Arena Lacrosse League, voted onto the board of directors of the Brampton Excelsiors Lacrosse Club, as well as being made administrator of the Lacrosse page “Global Lacrosse” with a membership of 9000 members in over 90 Countries. Gary was also made an administrator of Lacrosse History Past Present and Future in 2022.
Mr. Groob co-hosts a weekly Lacrosse show on Spanglish Sports World, and ZingoTV channel 250, as well as writes a weekly lacrosse column for La Portada Canada News (both in print, and online).
Mr. Groob also hosts a Lacrosse talk show and podcast for The Edge of Philly Sports Network, seen live Sunday nights at 9pm (ET), and archived on the Edge of Philly YouTube page, as well as Spotify.
Mr. Groob’s other sports interests include Hockey, Football, Boxing, Wrestling, and Baseball, competing competitively in Boxing and Wrestling for many years.