Las Vegas is getting another professional sports franchise.
Billionaire Joe Tsai has reached an agreement to bring a National Lacrosse League expansion team to Sin City. Co-founder of ecommerce giant Alibaba, Tsai owns the NBA’s Brooklyn Nets and another NLL franchise, the San Diego Seals.
The club, which doesn’t yet have a name or a home venue, will be the NLL’s 15th franchise when it debuts in the 2022-23 season. Though financial terms weren’t released, Tsai said that the all-in cost, including the expansion fee and operational runway, will be in line with the recent price for the Saskatchewan Rush. That club, according to people familiar with the matter, sold for more than $10 million.
“Joe has been nothing short of a spectacular investor in NLL,” said league commissioner Nick Sakiewicz, who noted that there were several groups vying for the Las Vegas club. “We’re ecstatic Joe won the day.”
The string of recent growth for the indoor lacrosse league, which had nine teams in its 2017-18 season and will have 14 once the new Dallas/Fort Worth team joins next year, was modeled after MLS’ rapid expansion, Sakiewicz said in a Sportico op-ed earlier this year.
While owners have historically considered their teams primarily as local businesses, the league is now also starting to think more about collective revenue opportunities, according to Tsai.
“There’s a galvanized group of owners who feel very good about the league’s next five to 10 years,” said Tsai, whose portfolio also includes an investment in the outdoor Premier Lacrosse League. “The league is looking for a major media deal. We can take the league to the next level in terms of national sponsorship. Crypto, sports betting—there are a lot of commercial opportunities the league can expand into.”
Long considered off-limits by major leagues because of its proximity to gambling, Nevada’s largest city has become one of the hottest new markets in sports. It added an NHL team in 2017, and the NFL’s Raiders moved to town last year. As legal sports betting spreads across the country, Las Vegas is a potential city for MLS expansion, and has been discussed as a possible landing spot for baseball’s Oakland Athletics.
Tsai, who played lacrosse at Yale, purchased the Seals as an expansion franchise in 2017, and the team recently participated in the league’s first-ever game in Las Vegas.
Tsai isn’t the only owner with multiple NLL teams. The Pegula family, which owns the Buffalo Bills and Sabres, owns NLL teams in Rochester and Buffalo.
(This story has been updated with details that Tsai is invested in the Premier Lacrosse League in the seventh paragraph.)