Lacrosse is coming to the Lone Star State. The National Lacrosse League announced Wednesday that it has awarded an expansion franchise to Fort Worth, Texas, which will become the 14th team in the country's longest-running professional lacrosse league.
The Fort Worth team, whose name, logo and colors will be unveiled later this year, will begin play in the 2021-22 season. It will play all home games at Dickies Arena, which opened at the end of 2019.
The venture into Texas is a first for the NLL, and Fort Worth will join the Georgia Swarm as the league's only teams in the southern United States.
NLL Commissioner Nick Sakiewicz said:
"We welcome Fort Worth as our 14th team and are excited to be working with a first-class organization led by Bill Cameron, Greg Bibb and the leadership at Dickies Arena, one of the premier state-of-the art facilities in the United States. Greg's accomplishments with the WNBA's Dallas Wings, one of the greatest business success stories in professional sports in North America, and a Fort Worth fan base that craves what we provide—fun-filled nonstop action—will make this franchise a must see and must follow, not only for fans in the area around Fort Worth but also for the global sports-business community and all those with a passion for lacrosse. All the pieces we look for in a new partner are in place, and we have already begun assisting with the ramp up to the opener 18 months from now."
Cameron, part owner of the NBA's Oklahoma City Thunder and lead owner of the WNBA's Dallas Wings, will be the majority owner of the NLL franchise. Bibb, the Wings CEO, will be its managing partner. Dickies Arena is a 14,000-capacity venue that holds concerts and rodeos and is set to be a host site for the 2022 NCAA men's basketball tournament as well as conference tournaments the next two years.
"As we look to expand our sports-business portfolio, the National Lacrosse League and the model Nick and his team have created in the past few years is a perfect fit. We wanted a growing sport that is on the rise and that fans can engage with, not just at the arena but at the grassroots level, and one that understands the value of the digital-native fans and how brands can engage in these fluid times. The NLL checked all those boxes, and we can't wait to bring this new franchise to the fans in greater Fort Worth."
Bibb noted during a media conference call that the organization is still in the process of deciding on a team name, adding that the final identity will have an "unmistakable Fort Worth bend" and won't fall into a traditional name category.
The Fort Worth franchise marks the league's first expansion since 2018, when it announced a new team, the Riptide, in Long Island, New York, and the relocation of the Rochester Knighthawks to Halifax, Nova Scotia, as the Thunderbirds. Both of those teams began play in 2019-20, along with a new Knighthawks team in Rochester under new ownership.
Like those franchises, Fort Worth will take part in an expansion draft to form the foundation of its roster, and Sakiewicz confirmed that expansion draft will follow the same rules as the last one the league conducted in 2019. In an expansion draft, teams around the league protect a certain list of players, leaving a remaining pool of players available. Fort Worth will be able to choose from among those player pools. Here's how last year's expansion draft worked.
There will then be a standard entry draft of amateur players in which all teams will participate, with Fort Worth likely to receive the first pick. Both drafts will occur between the end of the 2020-21 season and the start of the 2021-22 season.
NLL canceled its 2019-20 season in June, nearly three months after postponing play in March because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The league plans to start the 2020-21 season in December or January and will announce more key dates for that season, like the 2020 entry draft, later this year. Check out a timeline of what's already been announced.