by Joe Wilhelm Jr.
Sports fans in Jacksonville will have another team to support next year.
While it doesn’t have a name yet, a professional lacrosse team will take the field at the Arena in January.
The North American Lacrosse League announced Thursday that Jacksonville will be home to one of its five inaugural franchises.
The indoor game is referred to as “box lacrosse” because it is normally played in an arena hockey rink.
League Commissioner Phil Evans said that in deciding where to locate teams, the league focuses on three factors: the quality of the ownership group, the quality of the market in terms of support for professional sports entertainment and the quality of the venue where the team will play.
“We scored a hat trick on that front with the gentlemen beside me, this terrific city and this quality venue,” he said.
The league will announce two more teams in the next two weeks for the 2012 season. Each team will play 12 regular season games, with six home and six away.
The teams will also play exhibition games against national teams from the U.S. and Ireland.
“This is an exciting time for sports fans and the City of Jacksonville. This Memorial Arena was built to be a multipurpose arena and we’ve seen so many things come through here, concerts, arena football, NCAA basketball, ABA basketball, all under one roof and now we’ll have lacrosse,” said Mayor Alvin Brown.
“We are happy to be among a few of the cities that have been chosen for this league,” he said.
While Jacksonville wasn’t on the list of cities rumored to be landing a franchise, it will join two other confirmed cities — Charlotte, N.C., and Scranton-Wilkes Barre, Pa. — when the league opens.
“We are looking for franchises to build their brands because we are bringing teams to nontraditional markets for this sport, which has traditionally done well in the Northeast,” Evans said.
“It’s one of the fastest-growing sports in the country and we want to tap into the passion that the Jacksonville community has for the sport,” he said.
Jacksonville franchise owners Brett Vickers and Chris Milo plan to announce the coach, team name, schedule and mascot within two weeks.
The teams will field rosters of 23 players, with 18 dressing for the games. Each team deploys five “runners” (forwards and defensemen) and a goalie on the field and the game is split into four 15-minute quarters with time between quarters and halftime.
“I’ve got a big passion for lacrosse, having played in New York at Fordham Prep and also here with the Jacksonville Armadillos Lacrosse Club,” said Milo.
“We look forward to bringing a new entertainment option to Jacksonville,” he said.
Vickers said he was impressed with the enthusiasm the community has for the sport, which was on display in February at the Moe’s Southwest Grill Sunshine Classic at EverBank Field.
The classic was a lacrosse tournament that featured teams from Duke University, Georgetown University, the University of Notre Dame and Jacksonville University.
“It was pretty well attended and that’s one of the pieces of the puzzle when you are looking to locate a franchise in a city,” said Vickers.
“You perform the due diligence to make sure you are in the right market and that was one of the pieces we looked at,” he said.
The team wants to duplicate some of the practices that have made arena football a success in Jacksonville, including fan interaction, giveaways and a dance squad.
Ticket prices are also going to be affordable with season tickets starting at $112 and more info can be found at www.jacksonvilleNALL.com. Season tickets can be reserved with a $20 deposit.
Brown welcomed the new franchise and also provided those gathered with a glimpse into Jacksonville’s sports future.
“We are a sports city and I believe this is one way to bring Jacksonville to the next level,” said Brown.
“Lacrosse is here. Who would’ve thought several years ago that we could have a professional lacrosse team here? One thing you keep hearing me say, time and time again, one day we are going to have an NBA team. That’s how you get to the next level, having a vision and looking to the future,” Brown said.
The mayor may have found a connection for that. Evans is the former president of the NBA’s Developmental League, a position he held from 2002-07.