For more than a year, Major League Lacrosse was looking for a way to place a team in South Florida.
MLL commissioner David Gross knew that he wanted his league to be in the South Florida market after FAU Stadium hosted MLL’s 2012 All-Star Game and a June 2013 regular-season contest.
Both events were a success in Gross’ eyes, and the league made creating a South Florida franchise priority No. 1.
On Thursday, Gross was finally able to cross that item off his to-do list, as MLL announced the creation of the Florida Launch.
The Launch is looking to call Palm Beach County home, and Gross is confident that the league and FAU will sign a leasing agreement in the next two weeks to use FAU Stadium for the team’s seven 2014 home games.
“There’s tremendous potential here this market,” Gross said in a phone interview Friday. “We’ve been dying to put a team [in South Florida.] It really came down to putting an expansion team there or do we relocate players?
“We were ready to pull the trigger come the end of August, it was just deciding how it was going to be set up.”
When the opportunity finally presented itself to the league — in the form of the struggling Hamilton Nationals franchise — Gross pounced.
The Nationals dissolved and its players have become members of the inaugural Launch squad. The league, which has a single-entity ownership structure, similar to Major League Soccer, has little more than a logo, a head coach — Oxbridge Academy and USA National Team coach Stan Ross — and a 2014 schedule. Everything else that goes into a professional sports franchise will be lined up, hired or accomplished by the season opener on April 26.
“We’ve started hiring some of the staff that will be joining the team,” Gross said. “There’s some people that we had in mind that we’re bringing in… but without even posting jobs, the number of resumes we’ve got in the last 12 hours has been somewhat staggering.”
“There’s a lot to do in a short period of time,” Gross continued. “But we’ve been down here for two years, so it’ll be an easier launch than going in anywhere cold.”
The Launch has inherited a strong roster, though it’s unclear how many of those players will be with the team come early April, when training camps start. The Nationals were a playoff team last season, reaching the final four of the league. The Launch would be well-served to keep 2013 MLL Most Valuable Player in midfielder Kevin Crowley with the team. The former No. 1 draft pick is entering his fourth year in MLL.
The Launch will be part of a supplemental draft to fill the team’s roster on Dec. 4, as well as a seven-round collegiate draft, in which the Launch will have pick No. 5 overall. That will take place on Jan. 10, 2014 in Philadelphia.
“There’s a lot of talent in this league that isn’t on a roster,” Gross said. “Our registrations for this supplemental draft spiked as soon as we announced Florida. We’ve never had a spike like that in a one-day period."
Even if the first-year is a bit choppy, the Launch won’t have to wait long to bring in talent. The 2015 MLL Draft is expected to be one of the most-talent rich in the league’s history, but the Launch won't have to tank in 2014 to be well-positioned — the team inherited three of the draft’s eight first-round picks from Hamilton.
According to USA Lacrosse, the sport has grown at nearly a 10 percent rate annually over the past decade, with Florida lacrosse growing even faster than that.
Because of that, Gross said a state-wide outreach by the league will be critical to the franchise’s success.
“We’re going to be canvassing Florida,” Gross said. “The reason why we called the Florida Launch is because we want this to be a state-wide team. We’re going to be looking to bring in people from across the state to go to games. We’re going to be out there, grass roots, full force.
The Launch opens the 2014 season on April 26, hosting the Denver Outlaws.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun