If anyone has ever listened to me, you know that I have always maintained that the National Lacrosse League (NLL) has been sitting on the greatest secret ever by not putting their games on cable television. Over the years the league has used social media such as YouTube, NLLTV app, and lately the B/R Live app (the latter two being pay sites).
For fans of the game, these are great tools! Being able to watch games anywhere on any device is modern thinking . For hardcore people like me, this is definitely a fantastic idea to be able to see all games at any time for a flat yearly fee.
As convenient as these media outlets are to people who already are fans of the game, is pay per view digital platforms/social media the best way to expose people who aren’t fans, or aren’t familiar with the game?
The league had always left marketing to the teams themselves. Television deals were localized and expensed also to the individual teams. Toronto used TSN, Colorado used Altitude, Philadelphia used Comcast, etc. with the teams paying for their own airtime.
In Canada, TSN and the NLL struck a deal in 2014 where the network broadcast 12 regular season games and select post-season games, including the Champion’s Cup Final on television. The remaining 69 regular season games were available exclusively to TSN subscribers through TSNGO (a pay app from the network provider).
This was a step in the right direction, however, the league, not having blockbuster ratings, took a back seat to most other programming, and the majority of the games were seen late night on the east coast, hindering ratings. The other problem was the feed was from the scoreboard in the arena, sometimes causing technical difficulties for the broadcast at times.
At that time, a lot of people didn’t have the App, and not much was done in the way of advertising and educating the public to the app.
In late 2016, the league developed it’s own app, creating a paysite for all the games, as well as individual team, and league content. Again for fans of the game, this was excellent, but as a recruiting tool, difficult to get new people to pay to watch the games.
Finally a tool to recruit new fans…
In 2017 the NLL struck a deal with Twitter. With this deal, Twitter gained the rights to exclusively live stream games for two years. Twitter would broadcast a free NLL game per week, plus the playoffs and Champion’s Cup games and league-wide highlights, for both the 2017 and 2018 seasons.
The league also said it was hoping that this partnership would attract younger fans to the sport, including millennials and Gen Z (Twitter accounts were among some of its heaviest users).
This was successful in finally getting the word out to new fans, showing off the game, as well as players and teams.
In March of 2018, the NLL announced a three-year media partnership with Turner Sports and B/R Live to live-stream all NLL regular, playoff games, highlights and original programming, deepening its commitment to elevating fan experience through digital programming.
Is it enough to grow the game?
Although these are great advances for the league, using modern technology, and playing into the youth of today’s love affair with their smart phones and tablets, having games on cable TV is still the best and fastest way to reach a bigger, wider audience.
The “Game of the Week” idea used for Twitter, incorporated for TV, in the correct time slot, would do wonders to get the word out to people who don’t know, or never heard of the game. Couple that with an aggressive advertising campaign by the teams themselves, would do wonders to help grow the game, and let mainstream North America into the biggest kept secret of all time…Professional Lacrosse!