The Major League Lacrosse schedule was released today, and for now, I was a little surprised to see the Rattlers were still on the schedule, and that their home games would still be in Rochester. There was a new team and a former city is now dark, but the relocated team was not the Rattlers (Hamilton will now be playing as the Florida Launch).
The Rattlers have never been a strong draw in Rochester, despite being an original team in the MLL, and having won a championship in 2008. For some reason, they can't draw as well as their indoor counterparts, the Knighthawks. The location of the stadium is a cop-out in my book. Sure it's not in the best part of town.. but there are a lot worse places, and I have never heard of anyone having an issue at or around a game.
The team moved to Toronto then Hamilton the year after their championship season. A few years later, the struggling Chicago Machine relocated to Rochester a few years later.
Except for Denver, Boston and Chesapeake, who each averaged over 8k attendance per home game last year, the league overall doesn't draw well. The league average last year was just over 5k with only 3 of the 8 teams in the league over 4k. Most teams are closer to the 3k range. Rochester was under 2k last year. Part of the reason the numbers were so low were inconvenient times of the home games, and having 'home' games down south. What can be done to boost them back to the 3k+ that they were at last the season before, or even push it into the Denver/Boston range? The question may be better than the answer.
In my experience, most people know who the Knighthawks are, but few but the diehard lacrosse fans know who the Rattlers are. Part of that is that the Hawks have been in town for 20 years, and have won multiple championships, including the last 2. The Rattlers have played in 11 of the last 13 years. They have had 3 venues that they have called their 'home field'. They started in Frontier Field. This was not a good fit, so they moved to Bishop Kearney. When Sahlen Stadium, (then Paetec Park) opened in 2006, they called it home.
Let me start off by saying I have no sports marketing experience. I have no idea what kind of money the suggestions I have will cost. I am just a season ticket holder who doesn't want to see the Rattlers leave town again, because if they do, they probably won't ever be back. Many of my ideas are probably not feasible, I am just kind of spit-balling here.
What can they do to grow exposure? I think that regionalizing the team would be a good place to start. Work with the success of the Syracuse Orange and other local colleges. Maybe have 1 game a year in the Carrier Dome. Especially with 6 former Orange on the roster, not to mention the 3 former Hobart Statesmen and lone RIT Tiger.
Another direction to expand to is to reach out to local high schools. Many high school coaches are hesitant to encourage their players to watch the indoor game because off the many differences, but they shouldn't have the same trepidations with the outdoor game. There are some minor differences (2 point line and the shot clock being the two big ones), but it is basically the same game.
I know that the NLL and MLL are separate entities, but I think that there is an opportunity to form a symbiotic relationship in cities/regions where there are are teams in both leagues (currently this is a short list, only Denver an Rochester). Many players play in both leagues. They should push the opener back to Memorial day. Opening in April is too early. None of the teams are at full strength before the NLL season is done, and the rookies don't join their new pro teams until the end of the college season, and championship weekend is Memorial Day.
I understand that this league will most likely never be more than a part time league, but by spending a little on marketing (billboards, buses, radio/tv spots) and getting players out in the communities that they play in can get the league and local teams some good press. Watch what Soccer Sam is doing. Send players to local radio stations for some in-studio interviews where they can give away tickets, send them to Wegmans, send them to the malls.
Fan involvement is key. Make it about more than just the game. Take a page out of Dan Mason's book. Throw tee-shirts into the crowd, play stupid human trick sort of games for prizes. Have 2 for 1 ticket promos. Wrap a few fans' cars (like the 'Hawks did a few years ago, I would be the first to volunteer). What do Denver, Boston and Chesapeake of the MLL and Buffalo and Colorado of the NLL do different than the rest of the teams in their respective leagues do?
Like I said, I am by no means an expert on these sorts of things. I am just a fan, and these are some ideas. Hopefully, a few of them will give one of the experts an idea and attendance numbers will improve.