Is It The Beginning Of The End For MSL?

Less than one month ago, Barrie Lakeshores owner Mike Kloepfer pulled the plug on the Major Series Lacrosse Season, days before the Lakeshores first scheduled game. Of course the announcement was met with angry comments from many, and very damming comments, many of them directed at the owner himself.

When I first heard of the news, I raised an eyebrow, but ultimately was not shocked. My comments have been held to myself and a small circle of lacrosse friends (which is truly hard for me to do), until now. This was because I wanted to see just how this season would begin and progress for the remaining six teams in the league.

It is June 18, 2010 and most teams have now played in the range of 6-8 games. Peterborough sits atop the league with an unblemished 8 wins and 0 losses. Brampton who has played 10 games sits second at 6 wins and 4 losses. Six Nations is third followed by Kitchener, Brooklin, and the newest addition to the league, the winless Ajax Rock.

Now I’m not a rocket scientist, but other than maybe flopping Brooklin with Kitchener, is there anyone on the lacrosse planet that could not have predicted these exact standings from top to bottom? I mean, the fact that I got it right, I’m not rushing out to buy Lotto Max tickets (even though it is $95 million tonight – yeeeeoooow). The question is why would everyone be so able to predict these standings? And when one realizes what is going on, maybe all of the accusations against the Barrie owner may not be justified.

It is no secret that the Peterborough Lakers are one of the greatest success stories in sport. Peterborough is a lacrosse dynasty with some of the most famous names in the game starting in the Lift lock city. Owner Ted Higgins turned the team around with a plan that was masterfully executed; by I am sure a formidable team of Executives and volunteers. Today the Lakers are easily the highest attended team in Major Series Lacrosse. So along with Sponsorships, Peterborough is in a position to offer up a little more than “gas money” to those players that play for them. Exactly what? Who knows, Only those involved know, and everyone else just sits back and speculates.

Is it wrong? I don’t think so. Why should players, who can make a great compliment to their regular “real” salary be denied it if it is there to be had? Do I blame owner Higgins? No way. Why should a business man who has the means to make his business bigger, better, stronger, not be allowed to do so. In the real world of business, is that not prosperity?

Brooklin Redmen GM and Head Coach, Wayne Colley was quoted in the local paper just yesterday. After starting 2-0 (two wins over Ajax), the Redmen are now 2-4, having lost to Six Nations, Peterborough, Brampton and Kitchener. Colley touched on the fact that maybe owner Kloepfer made a valid point and Brooklin may not be far behind in the footsteps of the Lakeshores. Comments like “we just cannot compete” and “we have kids playing against men” were in the article.

The reality of the situation is that Peterborough and Brampton are the only two teams with the ability to finance player salaries. Six Nations to a lesser degree can as well. But Kitchener, Brooklin and Ajax are not in the same position as the top three financially. Therefore they are also not in the same position on the floor.

Who do I blame? Well I don’t really blame anyone. But there is something fundamentally wrong, in a league with what would appear to have no rules or governance over payrolls. I’m thinking this was Mr. Kloepfer’s point. Sure accusations were made that he came in and tried to “buy” a Championship. Maybe he did (I don’t know for sure). But if he did it did not work and he acknowledged that it was not good for the league. At the dispersal draft of Akwesasne players, 3 of the top 4 picks were (ahem) traded to Peterborough, allowing the Lakers to select Mark Steenhuis, John Tavares, and Steve Toll. The only team that did not trade their pick? Brooklin who selected goaltender Angus Goodleaf. Last week, Goodleaf was traded from Brooklin to Peterborough. But you might ask, why would the bottom teams trade to an already powerhouse team in Peterborough?

Players (not all mind you) not already playing on Peterborough, Brampton or to a lesser degree Six Nations want to be compensated for risking their NLL careers when they play in the Summer. If they do not get compensated they do not play. Teams at the bottom that cannot pay, will trade in hopes of either monetary compensation, or young players to the top teams that will eventaully entice the stars to come out. The young players in the exchange mature and get better and then want money. So they get traded for money or other young players. Can I stop beating my head against a wall now? It hurts.

I have said all along, teams at the top deserve to be there. But if the teams at the bottom cannot survive because of their inability to jump in on the financial free for all, how long will any of the MSL teams be viable? I doubt 2500 – 3000 lacrosse crazed fans in Peterborough would go out to watch the team practice. If things do not somehow align, Barrie may not be the only team dropping out. And then we will be left with 5, then 4, then 3. You get the point. Fans in some areas have already given up. The teams might be starting to.

This sort of thing is not new. But one can argue that the disparity today is far worse than what it was 20 years ago. Star players have always gotten some sort of carrot to play in certain centres. But the 2009 Execlsiors, and the 2010 Lakers, I would estimate would put a licking on any NLL team.

It is all well and good to argue that the other MSL teams should just go and do what the Lakers and owner Higgins have done, Respectfully I believe they have shown that they cannot. But in the interest of this league surviving, something needs to happen.

Now if you will excuse me, I am going to go get a couple of those Lotto Max tickets. Maybe I can do something about the state of the league. I’ll let you know how it pans out for me!

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17 Comments

  1. I couldnt have voiced my opinion on this any better . Like you said I too am tired of bashing my head against a wall when it comes to promoting this sport . If it isnt one group bending the rules it is another . Time for a change at the top ? or is it time for a “Maverick ” league where all the rules are set out before You play , and if you get caught breaking or bending them , it time for fines or out you go .How can I or for that matter anyone sell this league when it is run in such a manner. I am totally speechless ( if you can belive that )

  2. Bending what rules though Ron? Are there any? That might be the issue as I am not so sure any rules are being bent…..

  3. I understand, I’d just like to hear an alternative. (not being combative) If a team can’t sell tickets when an NLL All Star Team (like Peterborough) is in town, will they honestly be able to sell tickets when they have two, three or four High Caliber players on their team? Will Brooklin sell out the Luth if Mark, Steve and John play there next year? I highly doubt it. You have to draw to make money. If you can’t,maybe there isn’t enough interest in that area for a team. It’s pretty much that simple. Just because a team has historically existed in an area doesn’t merit that particular organization a GM buyout. Barrie was poorly run, and is a terrible example to throw at the MSL.

  4. I agree with much that you have to say Gary, I just don’t know the answer. Should the Boro be punished for supporting their team? Should the money generated by a fan base go to other teams. Should we not be allowed to floor local talent and if the means provide add to it? Because we’d be pretty formidable with just locals. Let’s see Barrie floor a local team.
    Near all that you said rings true except for one exemption. Every team has done it at one time or another.

  5. Thanks for the comments Chris. A few opinions to your questions. Teams cannot sell a lot of tickets when an NLL like all star team is in town, because fans know the result without having to dole out their $10. Everyone backs a winner. Peterborough was not gettting 3000 to games when they could not compete.

    Your comment about drawing fans is bang on. If you cannot maybe you shoud not be in the league. But I think any owner would argue, give me a chance to compete and see if we can work to draw fans.

    Boro should not be punished at all, but my comments were based on the fact that if these other teams cannot do something, anything to draw fans, there will be no league. “That” would be a punishment to the Boro and all the hard work they have done.

    Agreed, many teams have done this in the past (all star teams) to a degree, but can you name me one team in any era, that had the equivalent of the following:

    Grant Jr, Evans, Evans, Steenhuis, Tavares, Toll, Sharp, O’Toole / Goodleaf, C. White, Crosbie, etc. or

    Sanderson, Williams, Dawson, Doyle (until the trade), Manning, Teat, B Merrill, P Merrill. Cosmo, etc..

    Those are some pretty stacked teams. Do you think anyone can compete with either of those two except each other? Even fans of the two teams must be getting sick of it coming down to the same two teams year after year.

    Lastly, indeed you (Boro) would be very formidalbe with just locals, but the league as a whole would also be more balanced and more competitive with the big names spread across all teams. That would hopefully generate interest in the non traditional sell out centres.

    And I’m not suggesting any sort of revenue sharing at all, but I will leave you with this thought to ponder. There are a slew of reasons why the NFL is as successful as it is. One reason is a group of owners that work together for the league as a whole!

    • It would Seem Ted has All The Aces in This League (Called the Summer league by Most), These are Fans in Ptbo. who Have The Nicest Arena, with The Soft Seats (for the Wealthy), Huge Restaurant and Beverages Area with, A/C included and The Highest Paid Players – Not just One or Two and An Owner Who is making a fortune from All this and Relishing it Completely while Riding The Gravy Train, So He will be silent as long as possible on This Topic of Interest. The Best Players are Paid to play there (Ptbo.) and with That Kind of a Crowd Behind You … Need I Say More. It would take a Miracle to happen for a Team like Brooklin or Kitchener who get hardly any Support or Crowds – Other Than Theie parents to Really Compete here – Even Brampton (The 2013 Version) with Mostly All young Players and a Very Small bit of help from The City/Mayor and Although They Have The Best Goalie in The League in Anthony Cosmo, Struggled Badly this Year when Cosmo and Masters had Work Commitments. Meanwhile, Other Clubs are very fortunate if They can Muster 200-300 Fans per game at The most. Some teams like Oakvile even Less 50-100 fans a game. It’s Comparable to David toppling Goliath here. A Good Example in This case would be like The Edm. Oilers Dynasty (with Gretzky and The Like) vs The AHL Clubs like the Marlies, Bulldogs etc.). Have a Good One Day and a Great Summer too Everyone !

  6. Working together towards a common goal ? I am sure that all the owners would love to follow that credo Gary . However it takes solid leadership backed by consistency and integrity . Right now it seems that in all Lacrosse ,if you have the bucks you will be sucessful and honestly no one should be mad at or jealous of the Lakers/Brampton , it evolved this way because the guys that call the shots in this province are way too cosy in their “Jobs”. Good people and good fans with intelligence and free thought will eventually turn to another pastime , who knows maybe that is what happened in the past when lacrosse took a nosedive .

  7. Good Points Gary and well taken.

    What would you propose? A league wide draft? It could work, but there are many, many what ifs associated with such a thing.

    We would require a player pool that is contractually committed to the new design. (I smell a CLA players union to keep the standardized ownership group at bay)
    We would have to get confirmation by every player that they would report to the team that selects them. (the old Eric Lindros)
    We would require an owners group that is truly committed to the league, it’s promotion, and a set standard at which each franchise would have to be run.

    What if a team ended up with Grant, Steenhuis and Dawson? Those are their three marque players. Fans would love such a team, but hate the fact that their three top players are going to miss any game played on a night the Nationals were playing and the World Field Lacrosse Championships.

    Could the players be required to only play summer ball in the MSL? We could lose all of the Marque Talent that is to be spread throughout the league to paying jobs elsewhere. (MLL, WLA, …..) Would it be possible to get the West on board with this or would the Eastern Teams falter every year in the Mann Cup as the West continued to load up squads?

  8. “solid leadership backed by consistency and integrity” – cheers to that!
    “Right now it seems that in all Lacrosse ,if you have the bucks you will be sucessful” – cheers again!

    I’m not sure of the exact answer, but if teams A and B can pay players (because they can), and teams C, D and E cannot (because they do not have the pockets), how can a league survive?

    Your Lindros example is exactly what is happening right now. Where is Prout, Zywicki, L Wiles for the Redmen? They cannot be paid so they will not risk it. Do I blame them? Nope. (Not all) players play anymore just for the “love of the game”.

  9. I’ve been following this story for a while and often asked myself one question. Do the owners really control this league? But a couple other questions would always pop up to contradict the first one. 1. Everyone is saying that the top players are being compensated to a certain degree, because they don’t want to risk thier pro careers due to injury, and if they aren’t compensated, they won’t play. Now, does that sound like the owners are in control, or the players? 2. If the lower seed teams can’t pay players, they shouldn’t be in the league. Maybe it should be the other way around. If top players expect to be paid, maybe THEY shouldn’t be in the league. Why punish the teams ? This would create parity in the league, with room for all the young up and coming players to make the rosters, and allow the pro players to sit out the summers so they DON’T risk injury. I’m sure some people will argue this point, that the top players draw the crowds, but in my opinion, they may also be the cause for the demise of this league. How can a top player demand compensation because of ‘ risk of injury ‘, when they are at the same ‘ risk of injury ‘ playing in the MLL or a world championship ? Maybe there should be an outright ban on pro players ( NLL, MLL ) or at least a limit to the number of players a team can dress, that would eliminate the risk of injury and return the MSL to it’s TRUE amatuer status. Treat the pro players like the third string players, if you miss a practice or game, you sit the next game.

    The 2009 St. Regis Indians had what many thought was a dream team. John Tavares, Mark Steenhuis, Athan Iannuci, Steve Toll, Pat Madelena, Brett Bucktooth, Mike Thompson, Mike Accursi, Kevin Dostie, and the list goes on. Many thought this would finally get Akwesasne an Ontario Championship, let alone a Mann Cup. Fan support grew and expectations were high, but it was another disappointing season. Why ? Player commitment. Sure they showed up to play, but they never pacticed as a team, because many of the PRO players thought Akwesasne was to far to travel to “risk injury” just for practice. You can imagine the payroll for this roster just for games that they were ” available ” for.

    So to all the lower seed teams in the MSL I say, go with local talent, put your best team on the floor, and hold your heads high, because when the battle is over, the team that played with heart, outshines any team that plays for egos. And that’s a fact !

  10. It’s an interesting issue you raise here Marksy. While I agree Brampton and Peterborough have the most success, and the stats are there for anyone who disagrees (see also the perennial OLA Championship), I am not sure I entirely agree that they happened by accident or by the reason for this post, money.

    Sure money must have something to do with it, for the reasons you specified, but in other sporting leagues where the bankroll is somewhat more significant (MLB, NHL, NBA, etc) there are still the top teams and the rest (Yankees/Red Sox, Celtics/Lakers, Red Wings/Capitals/Penguins for example).

    Let’s not forget in Brampton this off-season, their major sponsor pulled out. I don’t care what league you’re in or how many people you get to your games (in Brampton for most regular season games it hovers between 800 – 1000) when you lose an estimated 50k in support (and some believe it is more) that hurts.

    Where these teams have excelled over the past few seasons has been draft day (entry and dispersal). Peterborough, as mentioned, traded for the top 3 picks. If I’m not mistaken Brampton at one point held 6 first round picks in one of the recent entry drafts. These were done through trades, not money.

    Factor in development programs and I believe we’ve found the formula for success. Up and down the ranks Brampton is chalk full of great young players. There is no Toronto/Orangeville/Oakville team so scouting for these drafts goes a long way. Historically speaking, Peterborough/Barrie/Brampton have drafted the best players while other teams like Six Nations or (sorry Messer) Brooklin have tried to stick with home-grown talent. Take nothing away from the kids they’re picking but I ask, is this the right strategy?

    Let’s be honest, money probably is the biggest issue here, yes. But there are other factors involved and other ways to defeat the giant. Running away sulking isn’t one of them.

  11. Hey Matt,

    Good post, but I beg to differ. I am pretty certain Brampton did not lose their big Sponsor. We had commented on it in an earlier video this season and I was immediatley corrected by a Brampton Executive personnel. And yes it is significantly more.

    Yes indeed Peterborough traded for the top 3 picks, but what do you think they traded? Yes, other picks, but the backbone of the deal was the old $$$$$. And those other teams have yes drafted local talent, but it really is irrelevant, because nobody appears to want to play if they are not getting paid.

    I don’t know that anyone is sulking, as I said, I think they are only making the case that they cannot compete under current conditions, and will not continue to lose money. Then nobody wins.

  12. Hey awesome article, I’m a season tkt holder for the Lakers, love the game, but I’m afraid of the league going under, like everyone else Revenue sharing I think is a good idea. How do you promote Lacrosse well my first ever lakers game I won free tkts from a local radio station. This was before the lakers moved to the mem. centre, and I just fell in love with lacrosse. In fact I like it better than hockey.(OHL or NHL). If you can convince the public it is good entertainment for a GOOD price and family friendly, than I beleive that should work. If everyone works together the league will servive.

    • you mean like the wla?

  13. I’m a avid fan of the lakers, live in petertbrough and go to games whenever i can, which is much less then i want, since having five bucks makes me belive im rich….i remember when the lakers used to only bring in like 200-300 fans every night, soon as the team started playing good, and winning games, attendace whent up in the playoffs to about 2000, then the next couple years, regualr season started attendance was going up, pretty soon every game is 3000+ fans, people complign about sponsers, and not having the money, well imabye 5-6 years ago i belive the lakers lost there main sponsor, who are the sponsors now? one of them a small local resturant in peterborough that sponsors them, and in return, there’s advertisment, there workers get free tickets, can no other team get a small buisness, last time i checked almost all cities have this small buisness that are overlooked in facve of the big box companies

    • I’m a resident of Whitby and I would still be supporting MSL except that it’s a bogus leauge. Don’t blame the players. If they didn’t have lame-ass league administrators who are in the owner’s pockets they’d be coming back to Peterborough in the summer and working joe jobs in the south end. Why has this league that used to field 12 to 14 teams shrunk to five and occasioally six? Just asking!!! Not expecting anyone at MSL to provide an answer; they’re all dead from the neck up.

      • Absolutely true – Jim Brady and Close (Wealthy Friend) Ted Higgins. And The Ref’s …


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