Thursday, February 8, 2024

It's time to bring the NLL back to Boston

By Zachary Baru

We have the venues, we have the fans, we're just missing the league.  That league is the National Lacrosse League, and it is possibly growing better than it ever has before in its 37-year history.  

Beginning in 1987, and currently with 15 franchises, the NLL is capitalizing off growing youth lacrosse participation rates throughout the nation.  No longer is lacrosse just a northeast or mid-Atlantic sport, the game is growing throughout the country with an increasing amount of high school and college programs in non-traditional markets.  Children and teenagers in newer markets like Florida and California, along with basically every region in between, are now playing lacrosse in both the youth-level and high school level.  The NCAA is seeing increased lacrosse coverage across television networks, most notably ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNU and especially ESPN+.  The latter is now offering a great deal of Division I lacrosse games each week during the season, and ESPN2 and ESPNU have routinely televised the NLL on Friday and Saturday nights.  The NLL now has a deal with ESPN, as every NLL match is streamed live on ESPN+, with some being televised on the national networks.  With a growing lacrosse culture throughout the country, where does this leave a traditional lacrosse market such as Boston?

Boston has an outstanding opportunity as a new market for the league.  If you want to begin with the venue, the region has at least three very good options.  The first and obvious choice is the 17,850-seat TD Garden, which would be perfect for television, accommodating premium seating and media, and also great for larger games.  However, TD Garden would likely be too large for the majority of the games, leaving fans in the arena and on TV possibly seeing an unenergetic crowd.

A second choice, and perhaps the best choice, would be Agannis Arena.  On the campus of Boston University, this 6,150-seat arena is much more intimate than TD Garden, and would ensure a better atmosphere for the games.  It would quite possibly encourage multiple sellout crowds, and potentially raise the demand for tickets.  Being on a college campus, not only would the crowds possibly be livelier, but the team could most likely attract a key demographic for lacrosse fans.  Many lacrosse fans are younger, and college-aged, making Agannis Arena an interesting choice for both the in-arena experience and the type of fans the team would reach.

Lastly, the 6,496-seat Tsongas Center in Lowell would be more outside of the city, something that could hurt the team, but the size and arena experience would be beneficial for the potential club's success.  The intimacy of the arena would greatly encourage sellout crowds, and with many lacrosse fans living in the area, including New Hampshire, the Tsongas Center wouldn't be a bad choice at all for the league.  Multiple teams in the league, including Las Vegas, Georgia and Rochester, have smaller arenas.  This can really boost the experience for the fans, and prevent them from seeing potentially a closed 300-level at TD Garden.  

All of the ingredients are there: good venues, a passionate fan base, and a growing demand for lacrosse across the media landscape.  A return for the NLL would be the first since 2011, when the Boston Blazers suspended their franchise and never returned.  New England once again saw professional indoor lacrosse in 2015 when Philadelphia relocated to the Mohegan Sun Arena and become the New England Black Wolves.  However that franchise moved to Albany in 2021, leaving a viable market like New England without a team.  Only time will tell what future pro indoor lacrosse has in Boston, but for an investor with the right capital, this investment could very well bring a positive return financially in an area that is just as ready for lacrosse as any other market throughout the nation. 

Zach Baru can be followed on Twitter @zbaru and reached at

Monday, December 19, 2022

New Bruins' digitally enhanced dasherboards yet another change to a sport full of tradition

By Zachary Baru

Just when fans might have started to warm up to the extra ads in the corners, there is yet another change for fans to accept - presenting the "digitally enhanced dasherboards", or DEDs, new to the 2022-23 National Hockey League season.

It's not just the Bruins or NESN that is debuting this change this season, it is all teams, all broadcasters, both local and national.  A monumental digital change that perhaps some fans will not even notice.  Many, however, will notice the change, which has taken seven years in the making.  The NHL has been working with ad company Supponor, according to  Advertisements along the dasherboards began in 1981 with the Minnesota North Stars, and fast-forward to 2022, the ads are not only digitally on the ice, but "replacing" the in-arena ads on the dasherboards as well.  But are these ads really "replacing", or simply modernizing a decades-old practice?

The Bruins are an institution in Boston.  A franchise with a rich history and rich tradition.  Anytime something affects the in-game experience for fans, even slightly, it is going to undoubtedly create frustration.  So the question here is how have long-time fans responded thus far?  

One way to look at this is ask has this affected the actual television experience?  With the exception of players skating in the corners and the digital ads blocking players, or in rare cases causing players to disappear quickly, it really has not affected the game experience much at all.  But yes, these slight glitches have been know to happen, with players in some cases completely blocked behind the augmented reality technology of the ads.  Additionally, there is to some level a charm of the game being played the way it has been for decades, with no digital enhancement whatsoever.  And for a franchise like the Bruins who are all about history and tradition, these changes will likely take more getting used to compared to a franchise that began in the 1990's, for example.  

The technology is for the most part new, and while it did take seven years to develop for the NHL, it is still working off augmented reality technology that debuted in 1998 on "Sunday Night Football", which at the time was aired on ESPN.  This technology is best known for the first down markers that have become mainstream on all channels.  Later on, the AR graphics were implemented to full-screen stat graphics that are also mainstream on all national networks.  One example of this is when the NFL on Fox will show a full-screen stat graphic in-between plays, making the graphic look like it is part of the stadium.  In reality, of course, nothing is there - thus the augmented reality technology.  

Here in 2022, the AR technology has made its way to the TD Garden, and is a fixture on all NESN broadcasts.  Perhaps it should be put in the category of green screens used in Fenway Park for ads during Red Sox games, which most likely has not affected anyone's enjoyment of the game.  Or maybe even the category of the Green Monster adding ads, although that is quite a leap for a comparison.  The point is ultimately fans, for the most part, do adjust.  But even more so, ultimately sports as a whole will always evolve.  Like it or not, the game will always change.  The technology on and off the field or ice will always progress.  For the fans, there is nothing we can do about this, it is part of the business model of sport.  And at the end of the day, that is exactly what this is, not just a game, but a business.

Zach Baru can be followed on Twitter @zbaru and reached at

Monday, January 31, 2022

Sports betting is popping up everywhere, but will it come to Massachsuetts?

By Zachary Baru

Sports betting is currently not legal in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.  But just as the purchase of recreational marijuana for those 21 and over became legal in the state, the months until such a bill for sports betting is passed seems inevitable.  

The real questions here are, how will it benefit the state, what are the social effects, and how will it benefit local businesses?  All three are directly related, and all three should be taken into consideration as sports betting can do a lot of good for an economy, but certainly does have social effects on the citizens within that economy.

The Growing Trend Nationwide

Sports betting in the United States is now legal in 30 states, with 18 of those states allowing online sports betting.  Four of those states share a border with Massachusetts: New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Connecticut and New York.  

This can be looked at in one of two ways: how much money is Massachusetts loosing to each of these four states as residents travel to them to wager, or how many people in Massachusetts are prevented from the potential social effects of sports betting due to the inability to wager within the state?  

It is hard to find legitimate stats for the number of Americans with sports betting addictions, as a true survey is virtually non-existent of how many Americans have sports gambling-specific addictions.  However, in research from the National Council on Problem Gambling, and reported across several sources including the New York Times, NBC News and Bloomberg, it is reported that about 1% of American adults, which is roughly 2.5 million Americans, have "severe" problem gambling.  

In a further examination of this data, Bloomberg reports that 2-3% of adults have "less severe problems" from gambling, but gambling still is responsible for "financial and social miseries".  According to Bloomberg, this represents 6-8 million Americans.  

The State's Budget, the Economy and Social Effects

Which brings us to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and the underlying question: is sports betting good or bad for the state?  Clearly there are going to be mixed opinions about the social ramifications of sports betting, but what does it mean for the state's budget and the local economy.

Across the country in 2020, sports betting generated $1.5 billion in revenue, up 69 percent from 2019, according to NBC News.  With those being 2020 numbers, and the amount of states legalizing sports betting rising to 30 as of January 2021, the revenue is sure to sharply increase.  

From these numbers one can make a case for the benefits of sports betting from the state's standpoint.  But there is a little bit more to the story - in fact, there is a lot more.  The economic benefits must be weighed in as well, which will ultimately contribute to state tax revenues.  Local bars and casinos in the state will almost certainly see an increase in patrons, as many television networks have seen a rise in sports ratings as wagering becomes legal in more states.  Sports betting can attract patrons, who sometimes will go to a bar to watch the game, or go to a casino to wager.  Especially if the casino has a deluxe sports book with many TVs, all games, sofa chairs and a bar. Whether betters are attracted to a sports book in a casino, or a bar to wager on a mobile device, the state will benefit from tax revenue.   

The question remains, what will benefit the Commonwealth more: tax revenue from sports gambling, or helping to prevent increased gambling addictions.  There will always be the argument that no matter how long you prevent sports betting apps or sports books from the state, there will undoubtedly be underground sports betting taking place within the state.  With that being said, it should also be noted that keeping sports betting illegal will discourage a certain amount of people from having access to it.  Either way you look at it, there will be a price to pay.  The question is, how does Massachusetts want to pay for it?  A loss of revenue by not allowing sports betting, or a potential increase in addiction by allowing it.  Only time will tell.

Source: Forbes, National Council on Problem Gambling, NBC News, Bloomberg 

Zach Baru can be followed on Twitter @zbaru and reached at

Sunday, July 4, 2021

Analyzing the benefits and drawbacks of the new Revolution TV contract

By Zachary Baru

As we enter the middle of the New England Revolution's season, the Major League Soccer franchise is in the fourth month of their new television contract.  The new deal with CBS Boston brings all regionally produced Revolution games to CBS Boston's broadcast and digital properties.  In a deal that feels very 2021, with so much of entertainment heading to streaming, is the Revs' new deal positive or negative for the franchise's brand?

To most people, this new deal that allows the games to be both televised and streamed sounds like a perfect one, one with zero negative outcomes.  And while nearly four months in this deal does in fact feel like a very positive one, there is one key issue that this deal causes: leaving NBS Sports Boston. 

The Loss of NBC Sports Boston

This is no small side affect.  NBC Sports Boston has a massive cable and online presence, where viewers can watch on nearly all cable companies in basically every New England city or town.  NBC Sports Boston also has their own app that streams games live, as well as being featured in the NBC Sports app, which allows fans to watch games on smart phones and smart TVs.  All in all, the loss of the Revolution's presence on NBC Sports Boston is one that cannot be measured, as it almost unquestionably will hurt the franchise with so many sports fans no longer seeing the Revs on these platforms.  

On the flip side, the new deal with CBS Boston does allow for streaming capabilities for all games this season.  As sports, television and radio/audio all seem seem to be heading the direction of streaming, or are already there for the most part, this new deal does appear to be very beneficial for the Revolution and the Kraft Group.  

The Streaming Revolution (No Pun Intended)

It is no secret that the Kraft Group has always had a great relationship with CBS and CBS Boston, but this deal goes much further than that.  The deal allows for not just live broadcasts throughout many New England states, but it allows for all games to be streamed live and featured on CBS Boston's digital properties.

Beginning with streaming, all Revolution games this season will be streamed live on ESPN+.  The subscription service is available on the ESPN app.  Games on ESPN+ will be blacked out in the Boston/Manchester market and in Rhode Island, but those fans can watch live on myTV38 or myRITV.  This allows any fans in New England or worldwide who cannot watch the Revs locally on television, the opportunity to stream live on their TVs or phones with the ESPN app.

The Digital Reach of CBS Boston

The new Revolution deal also allows games to be streamed across CBS Boston's digital properties on CBSN Boston, a network that can be streamed on PlutoTV and  So yes, by now it is obvious, and maybe a little exhausting, but the key word here is streaming.  

Finally, although the theme of streaming may be the number one takeaway with this deal, one final part that should not be overlooked is that the first match of the season was aired on WBZ (Channel 4 Boston, Boston's CBS affiliate).  Additionally one other key match will be aired on WBZ, giving the Revolution a large viewing presence in the Boston market.  

When all is accounted for, this deal does appear to have impacted the Revolution positively.  The new deal with CBS Boston allows for all games to be accessed through streaming and digital platforms, something that will undoubtedly be important to keep the franchise up to date with technology and the viewing habits of fans.  As the way viewers watch sports changes, the focus of the teams must change along with them.

Source: New England Revolution, CBS Boston

Zach Baru can be followed on Twitter @zbaru and reached at

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

During a pandemic, Gillette Stadium rises to be much more than a sports venue

By Zachary Baru

When most people think of Gillette Stadium they might think of a home to a world champion football team, a soccer club, or New England's largest concert venue.  But Monday that all changed, as Gillette become more than just an entertainment venue, it provided an opportunity to save lives and vaccinate area residents of the COVID-19 vaccine.  

The stadium became Massachusetts' first mass vaccination site, turning out to be more than adequate with its large parking lots and spacious indoor facilities.  The Putnum Club, which normally hosts fans with club seating and suite ticket holders, was turned into an indoor vaccination site.  The large indoor area and atrium turned out to be extremely safe for people to get vaccinated inside, making it an ideal location in the stadium to hold a vaccination.  

Not only is the parking vast, but Gillette's access to two major highways, Interstates 95 and 495 also make the stadium a highly suitable site.  While clearly not the only large venue in the Greater Boston area, when all requirements for a safe and seamless vaccination are added up, Gillette Stadium proved to be a successful choice on Monday.  

The significance of this in the sports and entertainment world is simple: it proves the importance sports franchises can play in the community, and the role they can assume in helping the region.  In this case, the Patriots' role was literally life and death, and Monday's accomplishment of the staff of the Patriots and Gillette Stadium goes well beyond the typical role of a standard sports franchise.  What everyone at the Kraft Group, owners of the Patriots and Gillette Stadium, accomplished proves just how important and valuable a franchise can be for its citizens in the community.  

The COVID-19 coronavirus has forced us all to look at life differently, and now we can do so in sport as well.  It shows us that while a stadium might normally be a venue to simply watch a game, sometimes it can be much more.  In this case, Gillette Stadium became a community gathering place, serving the highest purpose a sports team can serve - the health and safety of its fans and its community.

Source: Boston Globe, Boston Herald, WPRI-TV

Zach Baru can be followed on Twitter @zbaru and reached at

Friday, January 1, 2021

The Arena Football League may be gone, but the Pirates are bringing the next best thing to New England

By Zachary Baru

Arena football fans in New England have long anticipated the return of the sport to the region.  And although the Massachusetts Pirates have brought indoor football to Worcester since 2018, this spring marks the first time a coast-to-coast indoor football league will play in New England since 2000.

The Pirates announced in August they would be joining the Indoor Football League for the 2021 season.  The franchise will continue to play at the DCU Center in Worcester.  Unlike the Pirates’ former league, the National Arena League, the IFL has teams on both the east and west coasts, making it in terms of geography the largest indoor football league.  

Fans should be careful to use the phrase “arena football” as the former AFL once held patents on parts of the sport that are still not incorporated into other indoor football leagues.  The most noticeable are the nets behind the end zones.  And yes, this invention alone helped the AFL classify their brand of indoor football as their own sport, called “arena football”.  But before we go down that rabbit hole, let’s save that for another story on another day.

The Arena Football League certainly has interesting rules, but also a well known brand name in the sports world.  The Pirates’ new league is has built up a following, but has some growth to do before it can get onto ESPN like the AFL for many seasons, as recently as last year.  

The IFL, by all accounts, is a strong, large league, with a good online and social media presence.  It’s YouTube Channel not only is well run, but streams the leagues’ games live each week of the season.  And with both an east and west coast presence, the Pirates have found a good home in a league that continues to grow each season.

For fans of the indoor game, the future of indoor football in New England looks like a positive one.  A new league, a good venue, and a bright future all surround the Pirates as they go into their new season this spring.

Zach Baru can be followed on Twitter @zbaru and reached at

Monday, December 28, 2020

What to do with the empty space on the floor at TD Garden and around the NBA

By Zachary Baru

It's a problem only the year 2020 could give the Celtics and teams around the league - what to do with all of that empty floor space without fans at the games?  Typically at TD Garden or any other National Basketball Association arena, the court is surrounded by about three rows of seats on each side of the court, while the ends usually have ten or more rows set as "risers" extending into the lower level.  But in a pandemic, with the Celtics and most teams playing in empty arenas, that is just not the case anymore.  

Or should it still be?  No, not seats with fans, but just the seats themselves.  Watching the game on television, the sight of a court with no seats is not always so visually appealing.  And let's face it, sports have basically become "made for TV" in 2020.

If you've ever gone to a minor league basketball game in a large arena, this not-so-great visual of empty floor space is nothing new.  Many G-League and other minor league teams have battled this problem for decades.  Even scenes of the old American Basketball Association show that teams struggled with figuring out what to fill in floor space with.

It's an issue that does not get a lot of press, but during this 2020-21 season, you can't watch a game without noticing it.  Some teams have done a great job, as seen in Sunday night's Celtics game against the Indiana Pacers.  The Pacers have filled in empty floor space with not only an additional press table, but also a new car on display.  This has been done in other leagues, and even on concourses inside NBA arenas in the past, but to see a car right next to the court of an NBA game is an interesting use of space.  

For the Celtics, watching a game at TD Garden without seats on the floor has an issue: TD Garden, unlike Indiana's arena, is built for hockey dimensions.  Most NBA arenas have this design, where the floor's corners are curved, rather than arenas such as the Barclays Center that are angled inward.  The Barclays Center was built with the ability to have hockey, which it has had, but was ultimately designed for basketball.  Since the TD Garden does have a hockey design, an empty floor would be just that - very empty.  

It might be more visually appealing to add seats even if they are unused, and would also add an interesting perspective of seeing a completely empty floor, and a completely empty arena.  It’s a rare sight for sports fans, and once it’s all over, hopefully we won’t have to see it again for a very long time.

Zach Baru can be followed on Twitter @zbaru and reached at