A trio of world-renowned athletes and a billionaire sports owner have taken up the torch for lacrosse.
Dustin Johnson, Wayne Gretzky and Steve Nash join Brooklyn Nets owner Joe Tsai as investors in the National Lacrosse League’s new Las Vegas franchise.
Gretzky, considered to be the greatest player in ice hockey history, was a 15-time NHL All-Star who won four Stanley Cups during his Hall-of-Fame career. Nash, a Naismith Basketball Hall of Famer, was a two-time NBA MVP who just concluded his first season as coach of the Brooklyn Nets. Johnson won the 2020 Masters and 2016 U.S. Open and is currently the No. 2-ranked golfer in the world. He has been engaged to Gretzky’s daughter, Paulina Gretzky, since 2013, and the couple has two sons. Johnson is third on the PGA Tour’s all-time money list.
“It is an honor and privilege to work together to bring the game of box lacrosse to the Las Vegas community,” the new owners said in a joint statement. “On the business side and across our franchise generally, we will also be forward-thinking and innovative – and all while staying true to the fast-paced and exciting nature of both box lacrosse and the city of Las Vegas. We can’t wait to get started.”
The team does not yet have a name but is slated to start play in 2022. Las Vegas is part of a two-team expansion that includes the Panther City Lacrosse Club in Fort Worth, Texas, which will debut in 2021-22. The Vegas team will play at MGM’s Michelob Ultra Arena, located inside Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino.
Gretzky started playing lacrosse when he was six years old after his father thought it would help his hockey game. According to the Steve Nash Foundation website, Nash played lacrosse growing up before turning to the sport that would become his career. Tsai also has a connection to the game. He played collegiate lacrosse at Yale and now invests in the Premier Lacrosse League and owns another NLL team, the San Diego Seals.
“We are very proud to welcome Las Vegas NLL as our 15th franchise, led by an elite group of businesspeople and accomplished current and former athletes – most importantly great people in Joe, Wayne, Dustin and Steve on the ownership level,” NLL Commissioner Nick Sakiewicz said. “When our industry looks back years from now on the growth of box lacrosse as a sport and Las Vegas as a home of a first-class franchise, we believe this will be one of the seminal days in NLL history. The people in this community are going to be in for a treat both on the floor and in the community.”
According to the Sports & Fitness Industry Association, lacrosse is considered one of the fastest-growing sports in the United States, with participation up 16 percent from 2015 to 2019. In both 2019 and 2020, 30 colleges added men’s and/or women’s lacrosse as varsity options, and most recently, Clemson and Pittsburgh announced the addition of Division I women’s lacrosse programs to their athletics departments.
The professional game is growing as well. The NLL had nine teams in 2017-18 and has nearly doubled that number in three years, according to Sportico.