Major League Lacrosse is looking to expand into the Lowcountry.
The professional lacrosse league, which began play in 2001 with six teams based mainly in the Northeast, will hold its 2018 MLL Championship game in August at MUSC Health Stadium and is hoping to bring an expansion franchise to the Lowcountry in the near future.
The MLL's title game is set for Aug. 18 at the Daniel Island venue.
The MLL Championship game is traditionally played at a neutral site. Ford Center at The Star in Frisco, Texas, hosted the title game last season before becoming home to the Dallas Rattlers. Fifth Third Bank Stadium in Kennesaw, Georgia, hosted the championship game twice – in 2014 and 2015 – before the Atlanta Blaze joined the MLL in 2016.
“The last two championship games gave rise to two new franchises, so that’s the hope here in Charleston,” said league president Sandy Brown. “When we look at a potential venue for our championship game, we look at the pocket of interest in the game, but we also want to seed new fans of the sport. Lacrosse has nearly one million participants across the country and we’re seeing exponential growth in this part of the country.”
The MLL consists of nine teams: The Atlanta Blaze, Boston Cannons, Charlotte Hounds, Chesapeake Bayhawks, Dallas Rattlers, Denver Outlaws, Florida Launch, New York Lizards and Ohio Machine.
The regular season traditionally runs from late April until the four-team playoffs, which start in early August.
The MLL averaged 3,844 fans per game last season, which was down from a peak of 6,417 in 2011. Players generally make between $10,000 and $25,000 per season and most hold down other full-time jobs.
The process of bringing the MLL Championship game to MUSC Health Stadium — home of the United Soccer League’s Charleston Battery — began more than two years ago.
“They’ve been on our radar for a while,” said Charleston Battery president Mike Kelleher. “We would have liked to have gotten it a couple of years ago, but we’re excited about having it in August.”
MUSC Health Stadium has hosted concerts, food festivals and rugby matches in the past.
“When you own a stadium of this size, you want to get multi-use out of it,” Kelleher said. “We just can’t be a soccer specific stadium. We can’t just have soccer games in it, so we’re always looking to branch out."
Lowcountry lacrosse fans will get their first look at the league when the Charlotte Hounds face the Atlanta Blaze on June 30 at MUSC Health Stadium. The matchup will serve as a home game for the Hounds and will mark the first MLL game in South Carolina.
“We're excited for the opportunity to host the Major League Lacrosse Championship Game,” said Charleston Battery owner Eric Bowman. “We're looking forward to giving Charlestonians the chance to see elite athletes playing their sport at the highest level right here in their own backyard.”
Interest in lacrosse has grown steadily in the Lowcountry since it was introduced as a club sport at the high school level. The South Carolina High School League held its first state title game in 2009. Wando, which will face Dutch Fork Saturday in the Class AAAAA title match, has won four of the last five state championships.
“We’re always looking for new opportunities to grow the game and we know there’s a passion for the sport here in the deep South,” Brown said. “We want to see what potential there is for growth for Major League Lacrosse here. Lacrosse has had its pockets of interest in the Northeast traditionally, but we’re seeing the sport explode all over the place. We’ve seen tremendous growth across the country over the past five years and we think that’s going to continue.”
The MLL regular season opens this weekend.