The National Lacrosse League is stepping outside for a breath of fresh air.
The men’s indoor box lacrosse league is slated to host an outdoor game for the first time in its 36-year history when the San Diego Seals face the Las Vegas Desert Dogs at Snapdragon Stadium on March 4. The league hopes the game will create greater business value for the NLL and appeal to a wider audience by showcasing its on-field product away from its usual confines.
The Seals versus the Desert Dogs—both of which are owned by billionaire Joe Tsai—could provide the blueprint for an annual outdoor contest, depending on the success of the inaugural event. It also marks the first splashy move for the league since former Stewart-Hass Racing president Brett Frood took over as commissioner this past summer.
“Our goal is to build enterprise value for our entire constituent base—players, teams, league, partners and fans,” Frood said via email. “Part of that strategy is identifying and then executing on tentpole events that can elevate the relevance of our sport and, ideally, that we can replicate and compound the impact of.”
Frood maintains this isn’t a move to compete with the Premier Lacrosse League (PLL) or a play to expand into field lacrosse. He reiterated that the NLL will remain focused on the indoor product despite looking at different avenues and venues to attract a new subset of potential fans.
Tsai, who also owns the Brooklyn Nets and New York Liberty, will walk away on the winning side regardless of the outcome, as his NLL teams face each other for the first time. A former lacrosse player at Yale, Tsai has been an avid supporter of the sport for years; he’s a founding investor in the PLL, which merged with Major League Lacrosse in 2020.
“The Seals, under Tsai’s ownership, are doing a phenomenal job in Southern California, growing the game and cultivating a brand-new fan base,” Frood said. “It is important we are proactive in leveraging this momentum.”
Tsai, the Alibaba executive vice chairman and co-founder, who also has a stake in MLS’s LAFC, bought the Seals in 2017 and followed up last year by buying the expansion Dogs, which are entering their inaugural season. The ownership group includes former NHL star Wayne Gretzky, former NBA player and Nets coach Steve Nash and golfer Dustin Johnson.
For the NLL game at 32,500-seat Snapdragon Stadium, home to San Diego State’s football team and the San Diego Wave FC of the NWSL, officials will create a box that mirrors the typical NLL playing field. It will be a nice change of scenery for the Seals, who usually play at 56-year-old Pechanga Arena. A proposal to rebuild the arena as part of a new entertainment district has been circulating in local politics.
The NLL, which is looking for a naming rights sponsor for the event, joins a few other pro leagues in showcasing its product in a non-typical venue. Since 2008, the NHL has put on the Winter Classic, a regular-season game played outdoors at a baseball or football stadium. In 2021, MLB hosted the first MLB at Field of Dreams, a game played in the cornfields of Dyersville, Iowa, in a nod to the 1989 film of the same name.
The NLL’s first outdoor regular season game will be aired on ESPN+.