For most of my 29 years, lacrosse has been regarded as a fringe sport played by East Coast prep schoolers and Native Americans. Recently, lacrosse has really boomed and is one of the fastest growing sports in all age brackets and across both genders but at times, there is still a lack of mainstream coverage and interest in the sport. When a lacrosse highlight makes it onto Sportscenter’s Top 10, laxers everywhere rejoice. When there is a game on TV we often find ourselves so surprised that we don’t know how to react. When there is an article in Businessweek about Maverik founder, John Gagliardi, we all say to ourselves, “I know who that guy is because I play lax”… like it’s some kind of exclusive club.
The question remains however, can lacrosse make the crossover to where your average American knows the sport and appreciates all of the benefits it provides? My answer is that, in some ways, it already has. Sure it gets a little coverage from time to time and over the next year or two at least a couple of new movies featuring lacrosse prominently will be released but that isn’t what I’m getting at.
What I am focusing on is one brand name that started out as puirely a lax brand and has since evolved into one of the most recognized names in sports apparel: Under Armour. When I walk down Broadway in Soho (that’s in NYC for those of you who don’t know) on warmer days I am surrounded by tourists and an unbelievable amount of them are wearing Under Armour shirts, shorts, shoes, hats and backpacks. They are not lax dudes and they don’t look like your typical lax parents. They are not wearing any lax t-shirts or shorts and are often rocking NASCAR hats. They look like tourists from Houston, Cleveland, Reno or Louisville. Basically they just look like average Americans. I used to ask people who were wearing Under Armour if they played lacrosse (and yes, I like lax enough to awkwardly ask people if they also like lax) and more often than not they looked at me like I had 2 heads and was named Zaphod. So how did Under Armour crossover without lacrosse and what can we learn from their success?
Under Armour started out with a great product, branched out to football, did some snazzy adds, went into footwear and added some more casual clothes. All of this seems to have been done with one thing in mind: creating a culture that the brand represents. Under Armour isn’t just about lacrosse, it isn’t even just about sports at this point but it is about performance, comfort and a stylish, sleek look. People who have never played lacrosse and maybe never played ANY sports wear Under Armour because of the culture of cool (both literal and figurative) it has created. If you want to see the kind of money flowing though UA, then look here for a quick overview.
Lacrosse can do the same thing in order to make gains in popularity. Lacrosse is already an exciting, great product. Lax is branching out to other sports demographics and areas like Denver and Chicago. The add content is, for the most part, lacking in quality or originality but I feel like that will come along as the markets expand beyond New England, New York and the mid-Atlantic states. Companies like Maverik make a full compliment of hats, sweatshirts and t-shirts that allow you to rock the lax lifestyle 24-7/365. The next step will be lacrosse inspired jeans, jackets and more sneakers. Nike has already released Hopkins and ‘Cuse inspired causal shoes called the Air Lax 1. When you combine all of that with how lacrosse was portrayed in American Pie and the new 90210 and how many movies with lacrosse in them are scheduled to be released in the next few years, the word is spreading and in this writer’s opinion it is only a matter of time before it is officially the hottest thing America. Once lacrosse actually gets to that point, it will be up to all of us to keep it true to the form that got it there in the first place… but that is a topic and challenge for another day.
John Gagliardi Scores with Maverik Lacrosse [BusinessWeek]