Team Efforts: Students Advise National Lacrosse League on Expansion

LeBow students with Commissioner and CMO, National Lacrosse League

As the sport of lacrosse has spread throughout the United States, it remains most popular in the Northeast, where it first originated – including in Philadelphia and at Drexel, which fields both men’s and women’s teams. A recent student research project, arranged through the Dornsife Office for Experiential Learning, took an in-depth look at where lacrosse fans live and where potential new fans might be unearthed.

During summer 2018, a team of six LeBow undergraduates worked on a project advising the National Lacrosse League (NLL), the largest professional indoor lacrosse (also known as “box lacrosse”) league. The team’s assignment? A feasibility study for a new expansion team on New York’s Long Island, with two potential locations under consideration: the Nassau Coliseum, previously the home of the National Hockey League’s New York Islanders, and a new arena scheduled to be built at the Belmont Park racetrack.

Ashley Dabb, the League’s chief marketing officer, serves on the Sport Management Advisory Council and was both the driving force and the intended audience for the study. After the research team met with her in early June, they had only a little over two months to complete their work. “I put them on a tight timeline, and they rose to the occasion,” she says.

The team, which included five sport management majors, had to coordinate schedules based on members who were on co-op, taking classes or, in one case, back at home for the summer. Guidance from Joel Maxcy, professor and department head of sport management, and Lawrence Cohen, associate clinical professor of sport management, helped to set the scope of their work, and the students immediately set about their search for facts and data.

“They really ended up understanding the demographics of lacrosse and the NLL and matching that up with where those pockets existed in Long Island,” said Cohen.

As the group gathered in-depth, on-the-ground knowledge of the market, they also benefited from some native insights courtesy of Long Island native Dilan Kalaria, a senior marketing and business analytics major who served as project leader.

“I did an internship with the Islanders when I was in high school,” he says. “I had some background information there so I took the lead” in making a market comparison. The team also looked at the League’s recent expansion teams in Philadelphia and San Diego – two markets very different from Long Island and from each other – as well as the longer-standing franchise in Buffalo.

Census data, traffic and public transportation analyses and proprietary data provided by the NLL all informed a comprehensive competitive analysis that formed the foundation for the team’s report. Completing such a high-level project in a group setting was a new experience for Bella DiSilvestro, a junior sport management major. “The biggest challenge was sifting through all of this data and thinking through what was going to be relevant,” she says.

In addition to building new relationships with her teammates and with officials at the NLL, DiSilvestro found that the feasibility study experience prepared her for another group project during fall quarter: an international consulting residency course, arranged through the Dornsife Office for Experiential Learning, advising a sports and entertainment company.

“Working on this project for the NLL really set the foundation for me coming into this quarter,” she says.

At their final presentation on August 10 to both Dabb and Nick Sakiewicz, the League’s Commissioner, the students recommended the Nassau Coliseum as the arena for the new team. The team cited the new team’s presence as the arena’s lead tenant, noting the Islanders will be lead tenant at the new Belmont Park arena, as well as the nearby presence of another professional team, Major League Lacrosse’s Long Island Lizards, which plays close by but during spring and summer – opposite to the NLL’s fall and winter schedule.

“As a team, we came to a consensus, but we presented both pros and cons so they could make the decision,” Kalaria says. “From the perspective of the audience they were targeting, public transportation for Belmont is better for those who are New York City-based, whereas for the Coliseum, it’s more Long Island-based.” He adds that the Coliseum is existing and newly-renovated infrastructure, in contrast to the still-to-be-built venue at Belmont.

The League’s decision, announced December 10: they went with the team’s recommendation, with the Long Island franchise scheduled to start play in 2019.

“It was very helpful to have the Drexel student research because we could say to the expansion team, ‘here’s the outcome in your marketplace,’ and not make a generalization on what’s worked in other like-sized cities,” Dabb says. “We were able to present them with hard facts.”

The project marks LeBow’s first collaboration with the NLL, which has a production facility and its headquarters in Philadelphia. The League has additional connections to Philadelphia: it hosted its annual player draft here in September, after years of holding it in Toronto, and the Philadelphia Wings, a longtime franchise, returns to the League during the 2018-19 season, joining 10 other teams throughout the United States and Canada.

Dabb notes she would engage Drexel students again in the future for other research projects, with an eye toward player performance analytics or a league-wide survey on fan demographics and preferences. “The bar is set very high for any students we work with in the future,” she says.

More information on the new team can be found on the NLL’s website.

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