There is very little about New York City that I do not love. I grew up here, have lived here almost my entire life, and I'll probably never leave. The sights, the sounds, the smells - well most of the smells - just make this place special and wonderful. I've been all over the world and even tried to live in other areas from time to time, but it seems like every time I leave good old NYC, I can't wait to get back.
All of which is what made the recent and unsuccessful effort by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg to land the 2012 Olympics so difficult to swallow. On its face, it seemed like a great idea to bring the biggest sporting spectacle in the world to the greatest City in the world. However, a majority of New Yorkers - including myself - were as opposed to hosting an Olympics as we would been to having the Yankees move to Arkansas. In New York City, there is enough traffic, enough congestion, and way too many other priorities to make an Olympics fathomable. When the potholes are filled, when the bridges and tunnels are fixed, when we find a way to solve the traffic issues we already have (let alone the one that would be created by the swarms of people converging on NYC for the '12 Olympic Games) when the schools are of higher quality, and when everybody in this City is eating regularly, sleeping in decent housing, and working for a quality living, then we can talk about financing an Olympic Stadium and hosting maybe the 2032 games. Now the National Lacrosse League in Madison Square Garden … that's a completely different story!
Before I even continue, I'll be the first to admit that this column has not been particularly favorable to the NLL - or professional lacrosse as a whole - since I began writing it nearly five years ago. But I will assure you that when I cast my support behind an NLL expansion to New York City, I am being completely sincere without a shred of sarcasm. I love the idea of having the NLL in Madison Square Garden. I'll admit that I have serious doubts over whether such a venture could succeed when it failed at the nearby Nassau Coliseum and the Meadowlands in New Jersey, but it is definitely worth a shot. There is something about bringing lacrosse to the "World's Most Famous Arena" even for a brief and fleeting moment in time that would bring the NLL and lacrosse as a whole to the highest level of credibility.
It's simple: In sports and entertainment, there are many levels of success. One can produce an award winning CD and tour the entire world, but until you have performed at Madison Square Garden, you have not really made it. One can reach the NHL or NBA, and enjoy a fine career, but until you have had a memorable performance at MSG, you cannot become a legend. Ask Reggie Miller … or Wayne Gretzky … or anybody else who has ever earned a living performing in an arena setting. There are great venues in every City in the world, but only one Madison Square Garden. And now, the NLL is having serious talks about expanding to MSG. I say go for it!
The timing is downright perfect for New York City to accept an NLL franchise. As I wrote in a prior column, with the NHL losing a full season to a lockout - and potentially part or most of a second season - now is the time for the NLL to reach the "big time" if it is ever going to happen. There is a vacuum out there with the NHL literally on ice, and I think that the NLL could finally attain the success it has sought for so many years if it fills that void. This is extremely true in New York. Some say the NHL will never recover from the hit of canceling an entire season. But, New York fans still crave action and excitement, and with the right marketing plan, a Madison Square Garden franchise could parallel the success of the Philadelphia Wings.
Add to the mix that New Yorkers are simply fed up with MSG's other franchise - the New York Knicks of the NBA - and clearly the NLL could very well succeed. New Yorkers love a winner more than anything in the world, and right now, Madison Square Garden has no winners. Even before the NHL was locked out, the Rangers went through one of the longest stretches of futility in the history of a franchise that has been the poster child for futility for nearly a century. And the Knicks are a mess - a real mess. A huge payroll, an incredible fan base, a high-profile GM, and a team that is just ugly to watch. Seemingly, neither the Knicks nor Rangers are going anywhere for a while whether or not the NHL ends its lockout. In other words, "The Garden" is ripe for a winner. The NLL could bring just that to MSG's hallowed grounds.
Realistically, could an NLL franchise in New York City really thrive like Philadelphia and Colorado? Unfortunately, it's probably more realistic that NYC could be the next D.C. in NLL terms. Arena Football once called Madison Square Garden a home, and that franchise folded after a year. The NLL's New York Saints folded two years ago despite having a home in the middle of one of the biggest lacrosse hotbeds in the country, less than an hour from Madison Square Garden. Ditto for New Jersey. In New York City, the lacrosse following is even smaller than Long Island or New Jersey. There are a handful of Prep Schools with Boys Lacrosse teams, and the PSAL (Public School Athletic League) which is the governing body for NYC High School Athletics sponsors a Boys' Lacrosse Championship among six different High School programs. 10 years ago, when I played High School lacrosse in New York City, there were three PSAL High School programs. In a decade, Boys Lacrosse has barely grown in New York City, so the fan base among the youth is not quite there. Of course, the city is home to many stock brokers, traders, and corporate executives who played lacrosse during their time and now live in the area, but we're not talking about a group that can produce thousands of fans per home game.
In other words, in order for an NLL franchise to succeed in New York City, the NLL would have to pretty much create a new fan base, a non-traditional fan-base that is attracted to the sport by its speed and excitement just as they've done in Colorado. The NLL would have to convince thousands of people who have a million things they could do in New York City to drop everything and spend a Friday or Saturday night watching their product. They would have to convince a media that has more then their fair share of sporting events to cover to come to watch the NLL regularly. And even if the following and fan-base is created, this franchise would almost be mandated to win, and win regularly. They would have to win championships and dominate. They would have to do so every year, or the fans would disappear … because that's what New York City sports fans do to losers. The thirst for victory is what makes New York City a special place to play, but it is also what makes this city the greatest of all pressure cookers.
Is the success of the NLL at Madison Square Garden a risk? Yes. A long-shot? Absolutely! But is it worth giving MSG a shot? You bet. For the players and coaches and owners and fans of the National Lacrosse League, if a franchise is started at MSG, even if it is only around for a year or two, they can say that they made it to Madison Square Garden. They can say they made it to New York City. A team at Madison Square Garden means that the NLL would have gone further than most ever dream to go. Even if it is only for a year, the NLL at MSG would be the pinnacle.
As a New Yorker - and somebody who has never supported the NLL - I will boldly say that I'll be the first on line to get a ticket to see this New York City franchise, and buy the gear, and support the team. While there is a good chance I'd be alone for a while in doing this, I still love this City and I love our sports, and I love this sport above all. And the chance to see lacrosse at Madison Square Garden is simply too good to be true, and too amazing to pass up. I only hope those involved in potentially making this venture happen see it that way, too.