The New York Lizards Provide a Fan Experience Second to None 2
Peter Schwartz

Sure, we can celebrate Madison Square Garden, but there’s another local team that does it just as great in the New York Lizards. 

Nobody could have blamed any of the New York Lizards if they had been a little ornery after their 13-7 loss to the Denver Outlaws in their home opener back on Apr. 29 at Hofstra University. They didn’t play well and they knew as did the 4,215 fans that were on hand. But while the fans were certainly disappointed with the result, the evening didn’t end with the sadness of a loss.

Just minutes after the game had ended, my son Jared went up to attacker Ryan Walsh and asked him to please sign his poster. As you can see by the photo below, not only did Walsh sign my son’s poster, but he did so with a smile ear to ear that created just a wonderful moment.

The Lizards just lost a game and you have one of their players smiling while signing an autograph.

Peter Schwartz

“I’m not sure that your son will remember years from now who won or lost that game,” said Lizards owner Andrew Murstein. “But I hope he will always remember how a professional athlete stopped to talk to him, and sign an autograph. Those type of memories last a lifetime.”

Peter Schwartz

Oh, he’ll remember that alright!

Not that there aren’t players in other sports that are great for the fans, but lacrosse players are really down to earth and appreciate the fact that the fans come to the games, support the team, and want to meet them after the game. It would be easy for them to just run to the locker room after the game, but they are more than happy to spend a few minutes with the supporters.

“(Lacrosse players) are probably the most humble and grounded professional athletes that you will ever find,” said Murstein. “Not only do they come from the best colleges and universities in the United States but they care very much about the fan experience and realize they need to go the extra mile.”

They are memories that are and will be created after each and every Lizards home game at Shuart Stadium including this Thursday night’s 7 p.m. ET contest against the Florida Launch. After each game, the players grab Sharpies and sign autographs for the fans down by the railing of the stands, as they exit the field to head into the locker room, or on the field for the lucky fans who have access.

After a week of preparation and 60 minutes of high-intensity Major League Lacrosse, the players’ job description is not fulfilled until they interact with the fans and sign everything from balls, jerseys, shirts, or any other Lizards souvenirs. Each and every player relishes the opportunity to mingle with the fans because those precious moments are critical to the growing popularity of the sport.

“Our sport is in its prime growth phase and the professionals are the gatekeepers for the game’s progression,” said Lizards midfielder Paul Rabil, considered by many to be the best lacrosse player in the world. “We do our best to encourage, motivate, and express our gratitude to those who support us and contribute to our collective passion of playing at the highest level.”

Peter Schwartz

Rabil is the most sought after autograph after each Lizards game, but face-off specialist Greg “The Beast” Gurenlian is a close second. He’ll climb into the stands to sign and may times will pull up a chair when he leaves the field and signs an autograph for everyone who comes up to him before he heads to the locker room.

The postgame autograph session is an awesome sight to see, but it is just part of an amazing overall game experience for fans of all ages. While it would cost a family of four a small fortune, including parking, to go to a Yankees or Mets game, a Jets or Giants game, a Knicks or Nets game or even an Islanders, Devils, or Rangers game, going to a Lizards game is a real New York bargain.

Parking is free and tickets are very affordable, especially for the many groups that attend including a plethora of youth lacrosse clubs. There’s also the overall fan experience that includes the Lizards Dancers, interactive games, the Lizards’ mascot Laser, and the ability for kids to bring their lacrosse sticks to the game. Hundreds of kids can be seen having catch with the sticks or just shooting the ball against the outer wall of the stadium.

Peter Schwartz

My older son Bradley even used his stick to snag a souvenir earlier this season during the t-shirt launch.

“Sports have evolved more and more into full entertainment,” said Murstein, who is also the co-owner of the Richard Petty MotorSports racing team. “I have been very impressed with the fan experience. There is not one other sports league that I am aware of in the US that gives fans the access to the athletes like the MLL does. NASCAR is a close second.”

The Lizards staff works very hard to prepare for each home game and they leave no stone unturned to make sure that the fans go home happy with their experience regardless of whether the Lizards win.

“Not only does our full time staff do a great job but each year we get over thirty summer interns who help out,” said Murstein. “It’s a great way for young people from Long Island to be involved in the business side of sports.”

Speaking of business, winning is the best type of advertising and promotion that any professional team can possibly come up with, but you can’t always guarantee win. So the Lizards organization creates a night or day to remember each time they open up the gates at Hofstra to let in the rabid lacrosse followers from Long Island and the entire metropolitan area.

“Our organization does a terrific job creating a fun, engaging, and home team supporting environment,” said Rabil. “Located in a premier hotbed for lacrosse, our Long Island fans know the game well, and can often sway momentum with their lacrosse IQ and enthusiasm.”

Rabil was acquired by the Lizards from the Boston Cannons in a blockbuster trade prior to the 2015 season. Rabil promptly led the Lizards to the 2015 MLL Championship and a berth in the 2016 post-season. As soon as Rabil joined the organization, his jerseys and t-shirts started to sell like hotcakes on the Lizards website and then at the games.

Peter Schwartz

Anyone who has been to a Lizards home game over the last three seasons has seen plenty of “99” apparel in the stands.

“It’s humbling and motivating,” said Rabil. “Often, i take intentional time to reflect on my career, give thanks to those who’ve helped me grow, and those who model their game off of mine. I don’t take my broader position in our sport lightly, and work tirelessly to improve on and off the field.”

When it comes to professional sports on Long Island, the Lizards are in a strong position to continue to grow and create more fans. Two years ago, the Islanders left the Nassau Coliseum for the Barclays Center in Brooklyn and last year the Cosmos soccer team departed Nassau County and moved to MCU Park on Coney Island.

That leaves the Long Island Ducks, the Long Island Nets who begin play at the coliseum this fall and the Lizards who enjoy a great situation at their home venue.

Peter Schwartz

“Hofstra works out great for us as it’s a beautiful venue,” said Murstein. “We are keeping an eye open if (NYCFC) in MLS were ever to get a new stadium, but even if they did, we are very happy with Hofstra and plan on staying around for a long time.”

At every Lizards home game, thousands of fans fill the seats at Shuart Stadium with the hopes that the home team will come away with a win and that they will compete for the MLL Championship. But there are no guarantees in sports, so the Lizards do everything they can to create a wonderful experience for the fans win or lose.

Even if you’ve never seen a game in person or on television, if you don’t know what the rules are, or don’t know who Paul Rabil is, you’re in for a treat if you check it out. The game is exciting to watch, the other activities are fun and memorable, and you’ll get a chance to say hi to the players after the game.

Try doing that at Yankee Stadium, Madison Square Garden or MetLife Stadium!

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Peter Schwartz
Peter has been working in the New York sports media since 1989. He is currently an update anchor for CBS Sports Radio and WFAN. Peter is also the public address announcer for the NY Cosmos of the NASL and is a play by play announcer for high school sports on News 12 Varsity. An avid Islanders, Jets, and Yankees fan, Peter resides on Long Island with his wife Sheryl and their sons Bradley and Jared who side with their mother in rooting for the Mets!