Editor’s note: Today marks the first day we revisit The Joenandez Files. For those that don’t know, Joenandez joined the Lax All Stars team last year (he’s still around, just focusing on organizing our summer team), and his articles focused on digging beneath the surface of the sport and uncovering ways to help it grow. Below is his very first post. To this day, it still fires us up whenever we read it – the LAS manifesto, if you will.
Why Passion Isn’t Enough.
Lacrosse has no shortage of passionate people. Players, their parents, coaches, referees, league administrators, athletic directors, club presidents, etc, etc. They all sacrifice their time and their finances to support and grow the sport. Much of the significant growth we’ve seen in the Lacrosse Community is due to the hard work and dedication of former players and parents of players. Thanks to them, Lacrosse is getting more and more mainstream media attention. Look no further than Nike/Adidas/Reebok’s entry into the equipment world to see that lacrosse is growing. We’ve grown despite the fact that the sacrifice of passionate people has not translated into the dollar signs that fuel REAL growth.
We’ve yet to reach the tipping point. You know, the day that we see lacrosse on TNT or as a regular segment of Sportscenter. Where the MLL is broadcast on NBC on the weekends and the stadiums for regular season games are PACKED (leaving out the Denver Outlaws).
Could it be because passion is simply not enough to grow this game? What we need is a disruptive innovation that brings fans closer to the game in a unique way. More fans = more money. More money = more talent. More talent = more sponsors, etc, etc. Passion doesn’t necessarily lead to innovation, but innovation can lead to more passion.
Sex Appeal, We’ve Got It!
I don’t think there is any doubt that the sport itself would be successful in the mainstream. No sport is faster paced. No sport has the mix of big hits, highlight reel action, storylines, strategy and sex-appeal. Yes, sex appeal. I don’t know about you, but i think we lax players have some of the sexiest looking gear of all major sports. Similarly, and at the risk of sounding like an Us Weekly article, we have some major heartthrobs. Basketball players? Too tall. Baseball Players? Too juiced. Football players? Too big. Hockey players. OMG. Don’t get me started. Our athletes are lean, built and incredibly handsome if I do say so myself.
But why, might I ask, is lacrosse still consider a “niche” sport? Why do I get blank stares when I tell people I play lacrosse? The signs of growth are there; it’s market-able, big brands are coming on board, but has lacrosse reached the tipping point? I don’t think so. Ironically, for this country’s oldest sport, Lacrosse is still very young. What we need is a disruptive innovation to send us on an exponential rise towards popularity.
The Rabbit Hole
But this innovation isn’t going to come on the lacrosse field. Like I said, we’ve got the sexy gear. Offset/pinched heads, titanium shafts and Cascade helmets changed the game, and they are already established. I don’t think this inevitable disruptive innovation will be for the players. It won’t be for coaches, referees, league administrators and that is what makes it disruptive. This innovation will create and cater to a new market of “consumers”.
It will be for the fans. Lacrosse is unique in that the majority of fans are former players or friends/family of players. Most other sports have different sources of fans. We don’t.
How will this innovation in fan-dom come to be? It’s going to come from an entrepreneur who recognizes that there is an absolute treasure trove of unmet needs, pain points and frustrations that Lacrosse fans must deal with. As a former player and now casual fan of lacrosse, I can tell you that my interest in staying up to date with NCAA and MCLA is far out-weighed by the amount of work I have to put into keeping up with it.
Look no further than the MCLA forums for the proof. Hundreds of people stalk the Live Game Updates forum refreshing and refreshing the page to get the latest updates from some forum-jockey who is getting score by score updates from a friend two states away at the game. WHAT??? Why is this happening?
Fans Don’t Know What They Can’t Tell You
In my day-job I’m a Product Development Researcher for a wireless company. It’s my job to uncover the unmet needs and pain points of our wireless customers so that Prod Dev can create compelling solutions. I get giddy just thinking about the universe of unmet needs as large and deep as the one I see among lacrosse fans.
Unfortunately, the unmet needs/pain-points persist, and so many potential lacrosse fans slowly fall away from the sport while the pain-points outweigh the benefits of keeping up-to-date. What this creates is a community of HARDCORE lacrosse fans, and nothing more. Because for the most passionate of fans, the benefit of keeping up to date with the sport far outweighs the amount of difficulty they go through to do so.
This innovation will come to serve a new market of “consumers”. Those people like me, former players, casual lacrosse fans. We need to make it easier to be a fan, stay a fan. It needs to be easier to get and remain engaged with a community of other casual lacrosse fans. The engagement is key, and this is where many a Casual Lacrosse fan falls off the boat. There are a series of trade-offs that are made, and my many other interests outweigh my interest in remaining engaged with ALL the lacrosse websites/news sources online.
Whatever this solution is, it has to be simple, it has to be accessible, it has to be social and I really believe it will be unbelievably successful.
For all you entrepreneurs, investors, developers and social web enthusiasts out there, start thinking of solutions. Unmet needs don’t stay unmet for long.
Got a solution? Sound off in the comments.