The National Lacrosse League has announced a partnership with Fanatics, the world’s largest seller of licensed sportswear. The e-commerce deal brings the indoor professional league’s online merchandise and retail efforts into one consolidated location, creating a first-ever unified platform for the NLL and its 14 franchises throughout North America.
“E-commerce is such a mainstay of retail these days, and it continues to grow and be more impactful. Fanatics—in the space of sports merchandise—is far and away the leader in the world in this area. At the league level, we felt that if we were going to compete with other leagues and other sports and entertainment properties, we needed to be aligned with the biggest and the best,” NLL commissioner Nick Sakiewicz said in an interview. “This pulls together all our franchises on one e-commerce platform, and our goal with it is really to expand exponentially our distribution of each of our teams’ licensed apparel and our revenue.”
As the sport of lacrosse continues to grow steadily, the NLL sees similar potential in merchandise. Sales at the team level have historically done well within their markets—Sakiewicz cites the almost 30-year-old Buffalo Bandits franchise, which leads the league in product purchases, as a particularly strong example. But teams like Buffalo do most of their sales in-arena during games, capitalizing on the NLL’s strong attendance numbers. The league ranks third in average attendance for pro indoor sports behind only the NHL and NBA, but what fan attendance will look like next season—slated to start in April—is still to be determined.
Under the old structure, each team sold and managed its own merchandise individually, a disjointed regional approach to a potentially substantial revenue stream. While teams will retain the right to sell locally through brick-and-mortar retail, the centralized global e-commerce business will now be housed under one NLL roof through Fanatics.
“The league has had a very small business in that area over the years because it’s been fragmented. By bringing it all under one umbrella, our goal is to really build a business here,” Sakiewicz added. “Licensing and merchandise development is a long-term strategy, and our deal with Fanatics is a long-term partnership. It’s going to take time to build up the base, but the NLL never really had a global strategy until now.”
The league hopes to leverage Fanatics’ platform to reach a much broader audience beyond those attending games to those viewing digitally (all NLL games are distributed on Turner’s B/R Live), global fans of the sport and league and team contacts, among others. According to the league, almost 60% of its fans come from a “non-lacrosse fan base,” which they hope to target more actively with the new deal. By doing so, they hope to increase revenue as well as the NLL’s broader relevance.
“The opportunity is twofold: revenue and relevance. It’s an opportunity to grow our licensing business and revenue flat out, but the result is that you become more relevant. It’s important to sell products and give our fans the opportunity to buy—then if you’re seeing NLL jerseys, that’s only going to help the relevance in the long-term,” NLL chief revenue officer Kevin Morgan said in an interview. “We’re in a changing world where people root for teams all over the country, and this gives people the chance to represent our teams wherever they are.”
The new NLL online store will utilize Fanatics’ technology and mobile capabilities to reach fans, offering an enhanced browsing and buying experience for the widest assortment of NLL merchandise to date. Fanatics operates more than 300 online and offline stores, including the e-commerce business for all major professional U.S. sports leagues and more than 200 collegiate and professional teams. European soccer clubs–including Manchester United, Paris Saint-Germain and Chelsea FC–also use its infrastructure.
With its breadth and tech infrastructure, the company sees itself as “uniquely positioned to help the league expand its reach through an enhanced direct-to-consumer platform,” Vicky Picca, the company’s senior VP of business affairs said in a release.