San Diego is getting a new professional sports team.
It will play in one of our existing venues. Signed, sealed and delivered. No vote required.
You probably have never heard of the league in which our new team will play. It wasn’t all that long ago this league’s commissioner had never heard of this league.
So, the least inspiring part of this story – at least for most, at least for now – is that Valley View Casino Center is going to be home to a National Lacrosse League franchise that will begin play in November 2018.
Wait. Stick around. This thing just might be exceedingly cool.
That is, in fact, the mission of the NLL. Cool – and an abundance of athleticism – is sort of all the world’s premier indoor lacrosse league has going for it right now.
Cool and athleticism – and now an awesome owner in San Diego.
Yes, the owner of this San Diego team is committed and passionate. He played lacrosse at Yale, loves the sport.
And he’s rich.
Like, Joseph Tsai is so loaded he makes Dean Spanos seem poor. OK, so most owners of professional sports franchises make Spanos look poor in comparison. How’s this: Tsai’s billions (recently estimated to be a “9” before nine zeroes) emanate from his being the second-largest shareholder of Alibaba, a Chinese e-commerce company whose sales and profits in 2015, according to digitalcommerce360.com,”topped those of all U.S. online retailers combined.”
Forbes says Tsai is the 250th-richest man in the world. A Union-Tribune records search shows he owns a couple homes in La Jolla.
And now he’s ours.
(Actually, he has been invested locally for a while. In 2014, he and his wife, Clara Wu, gave $1 million to the La Jolla Music Society toward construction of the Conrad Prebys Performing Arts Center.)
“We probably couldn’t have picked a better (owner) to start off our expansion run,” NLL Commissioner Nick Sakiewicz said.
Tsai’s San Diego team is the first of two expansion announcements the NLL will make. It might add another before the ‘18 season. A handful more are planned in the next round of expansion. The goal is to be up to 30 teams a decade from now.
Sakiewicz called the NLL a “30-year-old startup.” It has expanded and contracted in the past. The number of teams has held steady for a while now. Sakiewicz came on board in January 2016. He said in an interview Tuesday that the league’s plan – which he claimed it never had in the past – is for “careful, strategic, slow, smart growth.”
One of the men who helped launch Major League Soccer and the driving force behind the construction of new stadiums for that league’s teams in Philadelphia and New Jersey, Sakiewicz knows about the merits of responsible expansion.
And the thing about being the New Jersey-born, New Jersey-brash commissioner of a league with nine (about to be 10) teams with players who make $30,000 a year and who only the die-hard fans can name is that you are unafraid to speak your mind.
And what he says speaks right to the heart of the San Diego sports fan.
“San Diego has a reputation in the industry that may not be great,” Sakiewicz said. “It couldn’t keep its football team. … But I think that’s (rubbish). Because you’ve got to look at what do the teams do to ingratiate themselves to the community. When you (urinate) on everyone – like some NFL owners did – what do you expect?”
None of this is to attempt to lessen the lingering pain of losing the Chargers. That would be a ridiculous try. We’re talking about the country’s biggest league in every measurable way to perhaps its smallest.
But lacrosse is one of the coolest games going. These are athletes, gymnasts. Think hockey, soccer and ballet in one. Place the game in a rock concert. There you have the experience NLL goes for.
Whether you know it, we all have neighbors whose kid has quit football to take up lacrosse in the past decade. This is the soccer of 30 years ago. And things don’t take decades to explode anymore.
And who knows?
Here’s what we have, in a statement, from Tsai:
““I have a strong passion for lacrosse, and look forward to bringing the NLL to San Diego. Our team is committed to creating a fan-first experience and to being an integral part of the local community.”
So that’s good. Sakiewicz spoke a lot about how much NLL franchise get into the community.
And there might be more to Tsai’s plans.
Maybe he is the guy to decide our 51-year-old sports arena is no place for people to spend a Saturday night and he does something about it.
There are rumors he wants to build an arena in East Village — and I’m going way out here, but that would open up the land occupied by the current sports arena for, oh, an NFL stadium — and a Bloomberg News report said Tsai has “expressed an interest in buying a stake of the NBA’s Brooklyn Nets.”
Tsai is already joining L.A. Rams owner Stan Kroenke as an NLL proprietor. And it is likely NBA owners will become NLL franchisees in the coming years.
With money and passion and the type of community involvement that NLL officials pledge, this could be the start of something bigger than we know.