Mohegans banking on lacrosse's growing popularity

Blane Harrison, Head Coach of the Philadelphia Wings of the National Lacrosse League, addresses a press conference where the Mohegan Tribal Gaming Authority announces the purchase of a half ownership stake in the team at the Mohegan Sun Cabaret Wednesday, August 6, 2014, in Uncasville.

Mohegan — Can indoor lacrosse fill Mohegan Sun Arena nine times a year?

The Mohegan Tribe is betting it can.

“It’s great demographics for our building, and great timing (calendar-wise),” Mitchell Etess, the Mohegan Tribal Gaming Authority’s chief executive officer, said Wednesday in announcing the authority has purchased a 50 percent share of the National Lacrosse League franchise that bowed out of Philadelphia. The franchise’s previous ownership will retain the other 50 percent.

The team formerly known as the Wings will be renamed by the time it debuts here in December.

“The game has mass appeal,” NLL Commissioner George Daniel said following a press conference at Mohegan Sun casino. “We get families, a lot of young males — guys and girls on date night. Our crowds definitely skew toward the young.”

The league’s 18-game, late-December-through-April regular season will dovetail nicely with that of the other professional team that calls Mohegan Sun Arena home — the Connecticut Sun of the Women’s National Basketball Association. The WNBA’s regular season runs from mid-May to August.

The Mohegans bought the basketball team in 2003.

Daniel said that when the arena’s seating is configured for lacrosse, its capacity will be about 7,700 to 8,000. That’s less than the league’s average 2014 attendance of 9,425 fans per game and less than the arena’s 9,323 capacity when configured for women’s basketball.

The Connecticut Sun has averaged 5,766 fans for 14 home games during the current season.

The tribe’s relatively modest investment in the lacrosse franchise — NLL teams have sold in the $3 million range in the past, so the tribe presumably spent about half that — marks its latest attempt to diversify the casino’s nongaming offerings. Virtually all NLL games are played on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.

Kevin Brown, the Mohegan tribal chairman, talked up lacrosse’s history as an Indian game that originally served to train “young warriors, either to go to war or to return from war.” He said the sport was growing rapidly among young people, more and more of whom are playing it at the high school level.

“On the weekend, you can’t drive around here without seeing someone with a lacrosse stick in their hand,” he said.

The Philadelphia franchise had been in place since the NLL’s founding in 1986, but had experienced declining attendance in recent years. The league’s last New England franchise, the Boston Blazers, operated during the 2009, 2010 and 2011 seasons, playing at the TD Center.

The league now has nine teams, each with a 20-man active roster. Up to six players can be on the floor during play.

The Mohegan Sun team will compete in the East Division, along with teams in Buffalo and Rochester, N.Y., Minnesota and Toronto. The four teams in the West Division are in Colorado and Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver, Canada.

Twitter: @bjhallenbeck


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