Joe Tsai’s investment in two National Lacrosse League franchises — one whose partners include Steve Nash — looked a lot better Tuesday when ESPN announced that it had reached an agreement with the league to carry indoor — or “box” lacrosse — games both on linear TV and ESPN’s streaming services. Under terms of the agreement, ESPN will air every National Lacrosse League game this season, 139 in total.
Tsai has owned the San Diego Seals franchise outright for three years and launched an expansion franchise in Las Vegas with Steve Nash and fellow Canadian Wayne Gretzky earlier this year. The Vegas team has yet to be named. NLL rules permit owners to control more than one franchise in the 15-team league. Tsai played lacrosse at Lawrenceville School in high school and at Yale.
Financial terms for the multi-year deal have not been announced, but Sportico, which broke the story, reported NLL commissioner Nick Sakiewicz said the agreement takes “what our rights are worth to a new level.”
The deal will not only further enhance the fast growing popularity of the sport but significantly boost the value of NLL teams. Tsai is believed to have paid $10 million for the Las Vegas expansion franchise, which will play in the Mandalay resort’s 12,000-seat arena. The next NLL expansion team will likely pay double that, Sportico reported, in large part because of the league’s increasing presence on TV. The NLL reached a similar deal with TSN Canada in July.
“Over five years we’ve gone from nothing… to this,” Sakiewicz told Sportico. “I get asked all the time, like, How does a league like ours get exposure? How do we play with the big boys? And it’s an evolution.”
The “big boys” of course are the four major sports leagues: the NBA, NFL, MLB and NHL.
“Media distribution and the media business for a sports league is the No. 1 driver of franchise value,” Sakiewicz said. “This combination of TSN and ESPN deal really gives us yet another proof of concept that the NLL’s content and the value of its content is growing, and so subsequently the franchise values are growing.”
In addition to the two NLL franchises, the Nets, both in Brooklyn and Long Island, the Liberty and NetsGC, Tsai also owns part of the Premier Lacrosse League, the outdoor league, and a minority stake in the LAFC soccer team of the MLS.
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