Hot Pot Of Lax: Lacrosse & Rugby Are Booming

lacrosse game fans attendance
Photo courtesy

Good Morning!  This week’s Hot Pot is filled with promise and (mostly) good news!

Yesterday, Sports Business Daily dropped some info on core participation numbers for a variety of popular US team sports.  As it has been for years, lacrosse was one of the big leaders when it came to growth.  Rugby was also pretty high up on the growth charts, especially last year when participation in the sport (according to this study) increased by around 50%!  Lacrosse’s growth over the last year was said to be around 38%, and lax’s most impressive stat was its 218% growth over the past 10 years.  For sports that have been tracking these numbers for at least 10 years, nothing else even came close.  Lacrosse sits all alone at the top right now, although as more Rugby data becomes available, I expect that sport to hit similar levels of year over decade growth.

The only other sport to even see year over year growth of over 10% (09-’10) was Gymnastics, but that number is somewhat deceiving because 10 years ago gymnastics had the same number of core participants as it does now.  It didn’t actually grow.  After at least 2 years of some drop off, they’ve seen a recent bump back up to previous levels.  One possible explanation for this up and down participation could be the fact that Gymnastics are primarily viewed as an Olympic sport in the US, and that interest waxes and wanes with the Olympic years.  Or it could just be a very volatile sport.  But I’ve seen nothing to explain the latter.

There are some other quirky things I noticed about this study that really made me think, and it’s not just the gymnastics stats.  First off, look at the numbers for our sport, lacrosse:

US sports participation rates
Look at lax. Notice anything?

Every sport that has complete info in the chart above saw a dip either between 2000 and 2008, or between 2008 and 2009, and some sports even saw dips at both times – like Wrestling.  Every sport except lacrosse, that is.  At first glance, I was really pumped to see how well the lax world was coming along, but then I looked at the numbers for 2000, 2008, 2009 and 2010 a little more closely… and I get confused again. Between 2000 and 2008, lax grew at a rate of about 76,000 participants per year.  Between 2008 and 2009, participation increased by 70,000 people.  And then between 2009 and 2010, participation increased by 451,000 people?  Um, excuse me, you cannot be serious.

A sport simply doesn’t grow by 70,000 people per year for about 10 years and then all of a sudden add on an additional 450,000 players in one year, in the middle of a recession.  Either lacrosse was over-counted this year, or under-counted in the past.  Either way it is a bizarre growth sequence and it really makes me question the effectiveness of this study.  Or maybe it’s true and lax did grow by almost 500,000 people last year. But is that even possible?

And then I got to the underlying problem with this study.  And it comes from the study details themselves:

study methodology

So to represent 283 Million people, this study contacted 0.013 percent of the total US population with an online survey?  Ok, now these wacky numbers make a little more sense…

lacrosse game fans attendance

In the end, the numbers look great for lax, but I would be hesitant to put too much credence in them.  The sample size is awfully small and there are some number sets that raise concerns.  In the end, I’m just not so sure this is a truly accurate assessment of US sport participation.  Since lax is doing so well in the study, I’d love for it to be true, but I’m definitely not going to treat these numbers like gospel either.  I’ve seen the sport grow firsthand, and can speak to the truth of the growth trend, but I just hope that people don’t start throwing around these numbers too much.  If they keep the same methodology, the 2012 study could look totally different!!!!

So what’s the point here?  Good question.  The point is to look at the survey, give yourself a quick pat on the back, and then GET BACK TO GROWING THE GAME!  There can be no rest for the weary!

Lacrosse has a long way to go before it even begins to approach the numbers for basketball, baseball, soccer and football.  And if we want to see our sport continue with its current upward trajectory, we can’t become complacent.

In my opinion, the most important growth is still happening on the youth and high school levels, and the college and pro games will take some additional time.  As more and more kids pick up sticks, the future fan base grows.  D1 colleges and professional leagues will decide to offer teams because demand is there, and because money can be made.  But if we want to see that in our lifetime, we need to keep our main focus on youth and high school growth. We can catch up to the more mainstream US sports in terms of community first.  Then we can work on the big time sports schools, additional pro teams, and trying to get lax into the Olympics.



– What do college coaches look for in recruited players | ESPN

– Kentucky gets some pro lax!  Growing the game.  Muamer will love this! | Courier-Journal

– Can you just “add” sports?  Do cuts have to be made too? |

– Drexel player takes lax to China last Summer | Drexel University Athletics


LACROSSE VIDEO OF THE WEEK: We’ve got a great highlight video from the Grand Final (Championship game) from Melbourne, Victoria.  That is in Australia!


  1. Another thing to keep in mind is that when the denominator is small to begin with, adding even a nominal number of athletes can create a non-trivial gain as a percentage. The fact that lax is growing at all is the big story when you take a look at the 10 year delta for the other sports.