Alibaba Executive Vice Chairman Joe Tsai has bought the National Lacrosse League’s expansion team in San Diego, bringing another billionaire owner to a league with plans to add franchises and expand its digital footprint.
Tsai, who has a net worth of $11.4 billion, paid about $5 million for the yet-to-be-named franchise, according to a person with knowledge of the transaction who asked to not be named because the terms are private. NLL spokeswoman Ashley Dabb declined to comment on the terms of the deal.
Tsai has a long history with lacrosse –he played at Yale in the 1980s -- but the NLL may also be a precursor to other American sports investments. Those who consider buying a major U.S. sports franchise often start with a less expensive investment in a smaller league as a learning experience and proving ground, and Tsai has expressed an interest in buying a stake of the NBA’s Brooklyn Nets.
“His investment in the league continues to legitimize our five-year strategy and prove what we have all known in the NLL for years –that we have an amazingly entertaining product and a sustainable and profitable business model,” NLL Commissioner Nick Sakiewicz said.
“I have a strong passion for lacrosse, and look forward to bringing the NLL to San Diego,” Tsai said in a statement. “Our team is committed to creating a fan-first experience and to being an integral part of the local community.”
Average paid attendance for the indoor matches eclipsed 10,000 last season, up 12 percent from the previous year, and over the next five years, the league plans to add a couple of franchises annually, Sakiewicz said. With the San Diego expansion, it now has 10 teams in cities including Vancouver, Denver, Rochester and Saskatoon.
The league will continue to employ a “digital first” strategy, streaming games on social media and on its own NLL TV, which has 25,000 accounts after launching nine months ago. The NLL Game of the Week on Twitter averaged 344,000 viewers last season.
About two-thirds of the 2 million lacrosse players in the U.S. are male; about the same proportion is between ages 13 to 34, according to the Sports & Fitness Industry Association. As it grows, its popularity is spreading beyond New England and the mid-Atlantic. The Pacific region, which includes California, Oregon and Washington, has lacrosse’s highest participation rate outside of its traditional base. The University of Denver in 2015 became the first school not on the East Coast to win the men’s national college title.
A number of broadcasters, including Comcast Corp.’s NBCUniversal, Time Warner Inc.’s Turner Broadcasting and Walt Disney Co.’s ESPN, are counting on sports like lacrosse to provide content for new direct-to-consumer services.
Tsai joins a group of NLL owners that includes Kroenke Sports & Entertainment, which also controls the Denver Nuggets, Colorado Avalanche, Los Angeles Rams and Arsenal, and Pegula Sports & Entertainment, which owns the NFL and NHL franchises in Buffalo.
The new San Diego club will begin play in the 2018-19 season at the AEG-owned Valley View Casino Center, which also houses minor league hockey’s Gulls and Major Arena Soccer League’s Sockers.
By Courtesy of Bloomberg