That didn’t last long.
Three years after packing up and moving to Connecticut, a brand new version of the Philadelphia (Wings) will start playing lacrosse at the Wells Fargo Center next season.
I put “Wings” in parentheses because that’s not the team name, at least not yet. A fan vote will determine the new franchise moniker, with “Wings” currently beating out “Ligers” by a 2 to 1 margin, based on what I saw inside the voting booth after Thursday’s presser.
National Lacrosse League Commissioner Nick Sakiewicz was joined by Comcast Spectacor President and CEO Dave Scott for the official announcement. Comcast, who will own the team, reportedly put five million dollars into the expansion franchise.
“We just needed to find the right owner,” Sakiewicz said. “It’s all about the owner. We couldn’t have found a better one in Comcast Spectacor. They run an amazing operation. They’re a top shelf, blue chip owner, whatever you want to call it. They’re the best at what they do. It was a lot of work getting them on board, but they looked at it very closely and diligently and made the right decisions.”
Scott says talks regarding expansion Philadelphia began about a year ago, not long after Sakiewicz took the NLL commissioner gig after leaving his post as Philadelphia Union CEO.
“He and I worked together when he was in soccer and with the Union,” Scott explained. “I got to know him and we had a good business relationship. That was probably the moment in time when I started to think more seriously about it and what we could do.”
The wings played 28 seasons in the NLL and won six championships during that time. In 2014, after several years of dwindling attendance, Owner and Team President Michael French sold half of the franchise to the Mohegan Tribe and moved it to Uncasville. The team rebranded as the New England Black Wolves.
At the time, French said that Philadelphia’s market was “unsustainable” for the Wings because of sport and entertainment alternatives. Financial stability was only achievable through relocation.
“It was very difficult,” said French, who attended Thursday’s press conference. “I was, at that time, the principal owner. We were treated extremely well by Comcast Spectacor. We were a tenant, we were not a partner, but we were treated very well. The team probably hadn’t performed as well as it should have, and it was just a financial situation where I, and our partners, didn’t want to sustain any more losses. I was very sad and disappointed. But I did whatever I could and probably stayed a few more years than I should have. I was fortunate that I was approached by Mohegan Sun.”
While running the Wings, French was a partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers. The two other principal owners were Brad Brewster, a lobbyist and advisor at the Princeton Public Affairs Group, and Ted Goldthorpe, then-President of the Apollo Investment Corporation.
This time around, the (Wings) have the backing of a regional powerhouse, so finance shouldn’t be an issue.
But the idea of market saturation does remain, amplified by the fact that the NLL season is played from December to April, which overlaps with the heart of the Eagles’, Sixers’, and Flyers’ schedules.
“Quite frankly, when we left, there were so many sports alternatives,” French said. “Sometimes our dates weren’t the greatest. Lacrosse became so big that when parents were out in the sun with their kids playing lacrosse all day, they didn’t want to grab their kids, put them in the car, and come down here for a game, maybe on a Friday night or whatever. I think it’s much better. I think the fans have realized how much they miss it. You’re also going to have much more infrastructure, and you have a year to do it.”
In addition to Comcast Specator’s bank account, the (Wings) will benefit from their vast market reach and resources.
“I think we’re really looking at our marketing arm,” Scott said. “We’re a pretty good organization as you look at – I think we’ve done really well with the Flyers – how we market them and how we sell tickets, and sponsorship, too. We’re going to try to leverage all of that strength. I think that’s going to make a difference.”
Sakiewicz, who brought the Union to Philadelphia alongside majority owner Jay Sugarman almost ten years ago, is certainly familiar with niche sport administration and expansion.
Since 2010, the Union’s inaugural season, Major League Soccer has added seven teams, with Los Angeles FC, Miami, and more soon to come.
“MLS has done an awesome job with their growth strategy, and I commend commissioner Don Garber, who is my friend,” Sakiewicz said. “I learned a lot from how he managed the growth of that league and we aspire to be as successful. But it’s all about finding the right owner, in the right marketplace, and putting them in the proper building situation, whether they own that building, like Comcast Spectacor, or whether they’re leasing the building from a third party. We are not going to a city unless those three characteristics exist. Sports teams are supposed to be forever, right? They’re the fabric of the community. They’re never supposed to leave or fold. When we make decisions like this, it’s the right decision – right owner, right market, right building.”
I for one, hope to see more of this when the (Wings) return: