Alibaba Co-Founder Joseph Tsai Brings NLL Team to San Diego

The National Lacrosse League is coming back to Southern California.

Joseph Tsai, co-founder of Alibaba Group and a former Yale lacrosse player, has purchased the rights to an expansion franchise in San Diego. Steve Govett, a longtime NLL executive who was instrumental in bringing the Mammoth to Colorado in 2002, will serve as president of the San Diego team, which will begin play in December 2018 and play home games at the historic Valley View Casino Center.

Tsai, who has a net worth of $11.4 billion, reportedly paid $5 million for the franchise, according to Bloomberg. The team’s name, logo and brand will be unveiled at an event in the fall. An NLL team might just be the precursor to other American sports investments for Tsai, who also has expressed interest in buying a stake in the NBA’s Brooklyn Nets, Bloomberg reported.

“I have a strong passion for lacrosse, and look forward to bringing the NLL to San Diego,” Tsai said in the NLL’s announcement Wednesday morning. “Our team is committed to creating a fan-first experience and to being an integral part of the local community.”

Govett resigned as president and general manager of the Mammoth at the end of June, when the team announced he had “accepted a role outside the company,” with vice president of business operations Josh Gross joining him in “the new venture.” College Crosse reported July 2 that the NLL planned to expand to San Diego and Philadelphia, with Tsai in place as the owner in San Diego and Govett in charge of putting the team together.

San Diego becomes the NLL’s 10th franchise and its first in Southern California since the Anaheim Storm folded after the 2005 season.

“We are thrilled to welcome Joe Tsai and San Diego as the 10th franchise of the National Lacrosse League,” NLL commissioner Nick Sakiewicz said in the announcement. “Joe’s passion for lacrosse and his vision for our newest team is very exciting and, along with the explosive growth in the Southwest, it’s the perfect time for the NLL to come to the great city of San Diego.”

Sakiewicz has overseen tremendous strides in the league since taking the reins in January 2016, launching NLL TV, a digital platform now with 25,000 subscribers, and landing an NLL Game of the Week on Twitter averaging 344,000 viewers. Attendance rose 12 percent last season, eclipsing 10,000 on average.

Sakiewicz has been vocal about his expansion plans, saying back in January that a franchise in Philadelphia is an “absolute must.”  The Philadelphia Wings were one of the NLL’s most popular teams, operating from 1987-2014. The NLL relocated the Wings to New England in July 2014 and rebranded the team as the Black Wolves. The NLL moved its headquarters to Conshohocken, Pa., just outside Philadelphia, in July 2016.

“The expansion of the NLL into San Diego marks yet another positive move forward in the execution of our five-year strategic plan,” Sakiewicz said. “Seeing that vision come into focus is a tribute to our incredible staff, ownership and world-class players.”

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