Pro Lacrosse in South Florida: Seminole Gaming's Next Frontier?

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Florida sports history was made Saturday night, and you probably missed it. The state's first-ever professional lacrosse game was played at BankAtlantic Center in Sunrise, between the Toronto Rock and the New York Titans. Rock star (heh) Blaine Manning won the game in dramatic fashion, breaking a 14-14 tie with just 38 seconds left on the clock.

I talked with Kevin Finneran, a former lacrosse star in Philadelphia who coached in Chicago and is now hustling to market the sport to the famously fickle sports fans of South Florida. Considering lacrosse is an Indian invention, will the Seminole Tribe stake some of its fortune on a South Florida franchise? I'll ask Finneran after the jump.

Finneran says the game drew a crowd of exactly 5,733. "It was a respectable number," he says. "We would have liked a little more, to be honest. But with the holidays, and with a lot of football going on, it made it tougher to draw fans. And it was the only weekend that the BankAtlantic Center had open."

Still, the event was popular enough to keep hope alive -- for Finneran, at least -- that Florida would make fertile ground for a professional lacrosse franchise. "That's my goal," he says. "This was a way to test the waters. There's a lot of excitement here, and that's part of it. But you have also have a solid ownership group committed to the long-term stability of the team and the health of the league."

The Seminole Tribe was the title sponsor of the event. And its members have awfully deep pockets, thanks to the Seminole Hard Rock franchise. Tribal Council member Max Osceola, who performed the inaugural face-off Saturday night, even has a grandson who plays lacrosse for Pine Crest Academy. When asked whether he'd approached the Seminoles about financing a lacrosse franchise, an otherwise candid Finneran became suddenly oblique, saying only that his first concern was to analyze how the first game went and then "re-evaluate in the next few weeks" the question of who or what would be the financial engine for pro lacrosse in the region. My guess: Finneran's made his pitch to the Seminoles, and they're still thinking about it.

Lacrosse is growing in popularity, especially on high school and college campuses, but Finneran admits that it remains hard to convince lacrosse stars to stick with the sport after they've graduated. "Those players who went to Duke or to the Ivy League schools, or to Virginia or Notre Dame, they have careers away from the sport," says Finneran. "But they have such a passion that they work around their schedules. On Friday, they'll get done with work, pack a bag and head for the airport."

A key to making the sport viable in South Florida, he says, is to convince lacrosse players to move here, as the league can't afford the same travel expenses paid by major sports. For players, relocating to Florida may be a more challenging proposition if only because in the indoor league at least, the majority of the players are Canadian.

-- Thomas Francis


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