By Anthony Caruso III
Phillylacrosse.com, Posted 2/25/20
Mark Burdett is the President of the relaunched Philadelphia Barrage that will begin play this May in Major League Lacrosse. He is also the MLL’s Chief Revenue Officer.
The Barrage are returning to the MLL for the first-time since the 2008 season, bringing a large group of players from the former Atlanta Blaze. In their final season in Philly, low attendance and lack of a stadium forced the Barrage to become a travel team. From 2004 through 2007, Philadelphia – after moving here from Bridgeport, CT. – won three MLL Championships while playing at Villanova University and then United Sports.
Burdett is confident the Barrage – led by coach Spencer Ford – will both succeed and win in the region and that the MLL will prosper. Burdett said the Barrage assistant coaches will have Philly ties and will be announced this week; as well as the team’s new home stadium.
He answered the following questions in an exclusive interview with Phillylacrosse.com.
Q: What intrigued you about relocating to the Philadelphia market?
MD: “Data led us there in one compacity. The amount of youth lacrosse through high school lacrosse in the last 10 years has grown expeditiously, so the US Lacrosse statistics show that Philadelphia is the fastest growing market in the country. Secondly, we wanted to consolidate our league, as much as we could to focus on the Northeast. This was for efficiency and to create some rivalries. We want to dominate the narrative in the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast. We felt there was more potential in Philly than there was anywhere else. That’s why we took a struggling team out of Atlanta and put it in a place, where it can really succeed.”
Q: Will the former Atlanta players come to Philadelphia? Or will there be an expansion draft?
MD: “We’re taking the majority of that roster from Atlanta to Philadelphia. If there’s anybody who does not make that [roster], it’s basically because of their own personal preferences — whether they are retiring or potentially being traded. We’re trying to make life easier for each player, so if you live in Boston, we think you should play in Boston. And if you live in Philly, we think you should play in Philly. We want to be able to accommodate that without hindering or hurting any of the teams. We’re going to try to do the best that we can for the communities, as well as the individual players, and the teams as a whole. Life is hard enough as a professional player. We don’t want to put an extra burden on them by traveling all over.”
Q: How are you going to drum up interest when you’re going to be playing from May to August in the summer months with so many other things going on? The team will be competing to draw fans with the Jersey Shore, the Philadelphia Union, and potentially a visit to the market from the PLL.
MD: “There’s always competition. We’re never going to find a window where there’s not. The reality is, it’s the best weather months of the year by playing in the summer. We believe we’ve got that going for us. We represent a very unique experience. The level of play is at the highest level — and that itself is a pretty exciting attraction.
“We intend to do a lot of community service, as we intend to be very engaged in the community. We will be working with youth teams, middle school teams, and high school teams. We intend to be invested in our sponsors, who will support the team. We want to be active in the market with them. We believe we have a pretty robust digital, mobile, and social media presence that will allow us to communicate to the fans for events.
“We’re going to do the hard work to get people involved. The second part of that is, once you get them to participate at your event, I think you have to make it a special event so that they really feel it was worth their investment of time and money. We want them to be pleased with the result, along with the quality of play. We want to have introductions with youth players, post-game autographs, activities for the whole family — those are the important parts that we need to create. We need to continue to create them, as we’ve been successful with them in Chesapeake, Boston, New York — and we need to bring those same best practices to Philadelphia.”
Q: What price will you charge for admission?
MD: “Our base ticket prices will be $20. We believe we’re priced at a point, where we’re very affordable. There will be some VIP hospitality for the adults, who may want to participate in adult beverages. All five and under will come in free. And ages 5 through 14 will come in for $10. We’re going to make it very affordable. We’re not going to complicate it with a lot of seating; as with general admission, you will be able to sit wherever you want.
“The baseline ticket will be general admission. There will be some upgraded tickets for hospitality. But it’s not going to be like going to be like a [Philadelphia] Phillies game, where there’s 20 different options for tickets. We want to keep it simple and streamlined. We want to make sure it makes sense to the family unit, it makes sense to the millenial, it makes sense to the high school student — and it’ll work.”
Q: What would you say to a person, who may not have seen your game and saw a high school game, to get them out to the games?
MD: “Speed. Athleticism. Scoring. Energy. Passion. The level of the game never ceases to amaze me. These young men play at such a high level for the love of the game. They’re high character young men. They play with a lot of passion. They do not play outside of the rules. Also, they do not play selfishly. They play for each other. It’s truly inspiring.”
Q: How will the Philadelphia Barrage compete with the PLL?
MD: “I think they’re two different entities. The PLL is a weekend event and mostly, they do not have any ties to Philadelphia. They come and go. So, they’re not going to do community work and they’re not going to be there for the sponsors and support them. Plus, they’re not going to be there to support the youth events on an ongoing basis.
“We’re a community-based league. We believe our presence in the community will differentiate us from them. The PLL has a great product. They have great players. It’s no knock on them. It’s like a golf tournament with them. It comes to town for a few days, then it leaves town after it’s over. We have to control what we can control. We’re not going to worry about if they come into the Philadelphia market. I wouldn’t blame them for coming to Philadelphia. It’s a great market.”
Q: When would you like to start working with the local organizations?
MD: “We’ve certainly started the grassroots operation to reach out. A lot of the former Barrage players, who are in the market, have been very positive and have reached out to us, as the league. They have also reached out to Spencer, as the new head coach. They have pledged their support. A lot of those alumni are already running leagues, camps, and tournaments in the area. Plus, they’re coaching high schools, as well as coaching youth lacrosse. So, we think our first entree is to tap the alumni, who have already played in the MLL with the Barrage. And then, with the network that we have with the former players, who played college lacrosse in the area, or know those that have, they can help us with the grassroots to do the work to get out in front of people to let them know how our game and their game can work together for everyone.”
Q: Will you try to tap into the Philadelphia Wings audience?
MD: “We would love to be able to do that. We have certainly talked to and have worked with the NLL. There are members of the Wings, who may potentially be able to play for the Barrage. It’s up to us to be able to make that happen. They’ve been very successful this season. I’m very impressed with the types of crowds that they’re drawing and the level of energy that they have in their building. We would love to work with them. We consider them to be a strategic partner — and somebody that we need to work hard to endear ourselves to. To be able to get 7,000-plus fans — and potentially even more on Saturday nights — at the Wells Fargo Center, that’s pretty good. It’s a very good event and a very good product. Hats off to them.”
Q: You mentioned that the league wanted everyone to be strategically aligned on the East Coast and you want the teams and fan bases to create a rivalry. But you have a Western team in the Denver Outlaws — who are far away from everybody else. Why didn’t you move them out East, too?
MD: “Denver is a hotbed for lacrosse. It’s not like they’re out in the waste land. They’re in a great place. They have a really great relationship with the University of Denver and with Mile-High Stadium. They have the option to play in really great venues. They have had great success in the marketplace. They also have a strong relationship with the Denver Broncos and their ownership. They’re set up well out there. We felt like we needed to focus on the Atlanta Blaze and the Dallas Rattlers first. Whether we ever need to move the Denver Outlaws, I don’t know. And I’m sure we’re not worrying about it right now. We believe if you can control the 95 corridor, you may have success, like the Big East basketball had in the ‘90’s. Part of that was that the rivalries were robust along with the proximity, the media, and TV contracts at the time fell in line, which made it very positive. We would like to do the same thing now with Philadelphia and Connecticut joining the market.”
Q: With the East Coast teams being close or a short flight from one another in terms of Boston, Mass. to Chesapeake, Virginia, could you talk about how this can work out like you envisioned with the old-school Big East rivalries from the ‘90’s?
MD: “There can be some rivalries made and some energy there that might not have been there previously. With the proximity so distance before, it was tough to create that. We hope that some fans can get into a car and drive to their opponents’ venue. And with this, teams can travel in a way that’s more accommodating than previously, with the teams all over the country than travel with planes and trains. We hope this makes things more streamlined for the teams.”