Grow The Game

Why Passion Isn’t Enough To Grow The Game

Editor’s note: It’s Friday morning, & we’ve got just the thing for you. Please welcome Joenandez to LacrosseAllStars, joining the team as our friday columnist. He’ll be digging beneath the surface of the sport and sharing his valuable perspectives on how we can spur its growth. This first post sets the tempo for a ton of great Friday morning insights coming your way. Check it out.

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.

– Joenandez

Follow joenandez on twitter – twitter.com/joenandez

#JoinLAS

About the author

Joenandez

Joenandez is a technology geek by trade and a lacrosse nut at heart. With a passion for social technologies, Joenandez hopes to support the growth of Lacrosse in new and innovative ways. Hey, who ever sad Lacrosse, Technology and the Social Web don’t go together? Joenandez played lacrosse through High School, College and continues to play on a variety of Men’s Club and Tournament teams in the Pacific Northwest.

13 Comments

  • Wow. GREAT insight on the game. Don;t think I have an answer for ya but I like the points about the lax forums and how we get info on lax scores and action…there’s gotta be a better way!

    Looking forward to your friday columns.

  • Re-posting Brian’s Facebook comments on this article:

    The game is already exciting and fairly high scoring, so it doesn’t need a hockey-like rule change to make it more interesting. I two things need to happen; the whole country has to get on board with it, it will never survive with the east coast domination it has now. It has to start from the ground (that is, from the wee ones) up, like soccer did. Almost every kid in this country was playing soccer at some point in their life, and this has contributed heavily to the MLS’ demi-success. So you have to create more casual fans, who, over time, will increase the demand for better coverage, more teams, more stadiums, etc, making it a most valuable endeavor to whomever wants to invest in it.

    The second thing that has to happen, is it has to become less expensive to play. Of all the sports I’ve played in my life, it is easily the most expensive in terms of what is required just to play. (all that sexy gear adds up)

    In my experience, this is probably due to the fact that the high schools don’t have helmets, pads, and sticks the way they would football gear, or anything else. They provide uniforms at best, leaving the initial investment of gear for a new player up the the player or the parents. This is an easy 200 bucks for stick, pads, helmet, mouthguard, cleats, everything. This is why lacrosse has maintained its semi-elitist reputation, because not a lot of people are willing to commit that kind of cash to a new sport at the youth age.

    Maybe with the entry of Nike/Adidas/Reebok into this market will drive the price of some of that gear down, maybe the marketing gurus at those companies will start to offer "beginner’s kits" at a slim margin, to get kids playing. I think that somewhere in the 50-80 dollar range for the whole kit is much more manageable to most families. A move like this would also create more surplus gear as kids grow out of it, physically, or skill-wise that re-enter the market at half of retail, making the sport accessible to most everyone. The costs stay high throughout the sport, I didn’t play in college because it was going to cost too much. I remember making the team, and being super stoked, and then finding out it was going to be somewhere in the neighborhood of 1300 dollars just to play. Nope, sorry, didn’t have that kind of cash as a freshman in college.

    SO there you go, cut the costs, get more kids from all backgrounds playing, and drive interest upward from there.

  • Brian, completely agree with you post above. But think about it this way.

    The high-entry cost into Lacrosse is just a symptom of the root problem. To use a psych analogy, I’m the doctor and I’m prescribing anti-depressents to someone with a serious behavioral disorder that goes deeper than the surface level symptoms.

    Entry cost is so high on the West Coast because the sport isn’t sactioned. Sport isn’t sanctioned because it’s not profitable for the schools; in many cases it deosn’t "break-even".

    Here’s the ultimate equation. More Fans = More Money. More Money = More Revenue. More Revenue = More Players. More Players = More Fans and on and on. Talent level increases, player numbers increase, all of these are enablers to create a larger fan-base. We need people go to the High School/College games, pay to get in, buy Team Merchandise, but hot dogs and diet cokes.

    Fans, fans, fans, fans and fans again are the core, root issue that lacrosse is dealing with (or lack there of). But getting new fans isn’t necessarily the solution. It’s keeping existing casual fans engaged, which will in turn (if my formula is correct) create more fans in the long run.

    Yep, there are fans Back East. BUT they haven’t figured out how to leverage them. They are dealing with the same issue, albeit with more progress.

    Brian, I would never ask you to go out of your way to watch the Utes or Westminster play. For you to do son, you either need to stalk utelacrosse.net (assuming you knew that existed) and/or know someone of the team. You shouldn’t have to sacrifice time/efficiency to be a fan. The information should come TO YOU in a non-traditional way that gets you engaged and excited.

    Anyway great thoughts. If we’re talking about growing the game, we need to treat the current environment as a patient. Remember to focus on the root problem, not the symptoms.

  • I agree that the information needs to come to me, I’ve got too much going on in a day to 1) remember, and 2) dig up the info.

    So basically, you’re advocating the opposite route I am. Build the professional leagues up, spur interest that way, and that will drive money to the youth and college leagues. The problem I see with that is demand, particularly out west. Soccer has a hard enough time keeping afloat here, even though it’s literally the most popular sport in the world. This is why the youth leagues and have to come first. The parents have the money, but they aren’t going to take the family to a day of lacrosse unless mom and dad played it, or kids are currently playing it. Same with soccer.

    I know you’re probably tired of the soccer/lacrosse comparisons, but I think it is a similar situation as far as the sports’ entry into american psyche. Soccer is too "euro" or "foreign," and lacrosse is too "east coast" or "elitist."

    Get the kiddies playing and the parents will come along. My dad would never have sought out any kind of lacrosse information if I hadn’t played, and he’s now that casual fan that watches the MLL playoffs on ESPN 12 or whatever it happens to be on.

  • Since I didnt play soccer I cant speak from personal experience but I CAN say that I played hockey and it was just as or even more expensive than lacrosse.

    Hockey is a regional sport too…might be a more apt comparison than soccer.

    Thats all I got for now.

  • "Get the kiddies playing and the parents will come along."

    Actually, I disagree with this approach. This is exactly what we’ve been trying to do for years and years. This is where the current growth, the current market is coming from. And I’m not saying the growth needs to come at the Professional level. I actually think College is the best option – people already have a stake in the success of college teams. They live and die by their loyalty. That seems like a pretty huge opportunity to me.

    I’ll say it again. Innovation isn’t going to come from, or be for the players. It’s going to target the fans. Your Dad, my Dad, my friends and get them involved in a different way. "we need more youth leages" is the wrong approach. It’s a good one, but it’s not the answer.

  • Interesting read. I think we gotta start with the young-uns, and teach them the game. Whenever i talk lacrosse with people who dont know the sport, they tell me they dont watch because they simply dont know how its played, what the rules are, ect. They think its just people with big sticks hitting eachother and occasionally a ball goes into a goal. Start with the kids, teach them the rules of the game- then build from there. Also, with the dynamic of Football in the fall, Basketball in the winter, and Baseball in the spring, theres not much room for another major sport. It seems lacrosse is destined to be among the soccers and hockeys of American sports.

  • Great thoughts everyone.

    @sabertooth – But isn’t teaching the young-uns the exact approach we’ve been talking all along? To me this is a brute force approach. Get as many little ones in the game and maybe eventually we’ll find a diamond in the rough?

    I honestly believe that the focus on youth interest is a cure for a symptom, not the root cause.

    You do make a great point about it being too hard to learn the rules… what if "the answer" was about educating people on the game at the same time that we make it 10x easier for them to attend games in their area? I couldn’t tell you when the next lacrosse game was in Seattle, but I could in about 20 minutes of Google Searching and website scouring.

    My Dad would never go about that. And that is why we will continue to try the brute force approach in hope that we can create more and more Hardcore lacrosse fans.

    Great thoughts everyone.

  • Fantastic post. I’m on the side of starting young and getting the kids playing at an early age. However one of the problems is that the lacrosse experience stops at high school for a lot of people because the schools don’t support it. In my opinion, high school is when the game really takes off competitively. These are the years you can either create a passionate lacrosse player/fan for life or lose them all together. Without that passion you end up with someone who may "like" lacrosse and might watch it if it’s convenient…but they’re not going to seek it out and help drive the sport forward.

    Thanks for the post Joenandez, really enjoyed it.

  • TexasForever:
    US Lacrosse provides a wealth of programs and services to support the growth of the game at all levels. The NGB of the sport serves the lacrosse community with educational programs and services to increase playing opportunities and ultimately promote the game from coast to coast. Here are just a few of the things USL is doing:

    Coaching Education Program
    US Lacrosse offers the only nationally standardized lacrosse coaching education program that bundles online learning, in-person clinics and Positive Coaching Alliance workshops. The program continues to grow and in 2008, US Lacrosse ramped up its Level 2 curriculum. Learning supplements to the program are available online and books and DVDs are available via the US Lacrosse Online Store, with a 10-percent discount for members.

    In 2008, Over 2,200 lacrosse coaches were trained at the Level 1 CEP clinics that took place at 36 sites across the country. Over 2,300 lacrosse coaches were educated through the Level 1 online course.

    Officials Training
    US Lacrosse provides comprehensive training for both new and advancing men’s and women’s lacrosse officials in many locations throughout the country. For men’s lacrosse, the local District Governor coordinates officials training. For women’s lacrosse, the local board of the Women’s Division Official’s Council coordinates umpire training. Additionally, to help support the infrastructure of the growing sport, US Lacrosse sends experienced officials to developing areas to train and mentor new officials.

    US Lacrosse has long recognized the need for a concentrated effort in educating officials on a national level. In 2008, a new staff position at US Lacrosse was created dedicated to officials education and training. The officials training toolkit is now more robust with online tests, a list of clinics across the country, recruiting efforts, mentoring resources, and more.

    In 2008, 2185 new men’s officials were trained. That’s 16.5% more stripes than 2007. 508 new umpires were trained in the same year. That’s 34.5% more whistles than 2007.

    Sportsmanship
    US Lacrosse places a high value on sportsmanship. Through its partnership with Positive Coaching Alliance and its own sportsmanship card program, US Lacrosse is committed to demonstrating the spirit of the game through the positive conduct of players, parents, fans, coaches and officials.

    Equipment Grants
    Equipment grants, funded by US Lacrosse, minimize the expense of launching new girls’ and boys’ programs, and help to establish a legacy of lacrosse opportunity that will benefit countless youngsters for years to come. US Lacrosse has awarded hundreds of equipment grants to programs throughout the country. In 2008, 36 burgeoning lacrosse programs received equipment grants.

    Camp Scholarships
    The Camp Scholarship Program provides educational lacrosse opportunities for children between the ages of 6-18, made possible through generous tuition waivers by camp directors across the country. Since the inception of this program, over 900 children have attended camps through spots donated by camp directors nationwide.

    New Start
    The New Start program is a developmental assistance program for first year men’s and women’s lacrosse teams or programs at any level. Many people come to US Lacrosse asking, “how do I start a lacrosse team in my area?” The New Start program answers that question. In 2008, over 300 New Start kits were mailed to programs across the country.

    BRIDGE
    Currently, 14 affiliates across ten states and Washington D.C. participate in the BRIDGE initiative. BRIDGE stands for Building Relationships to Initiate Diversity, Growth and Enrichment. The program offers lacrosse as well as a life skills component, ranging from tutoring to nutritional programs. BRIDGE programs have utilized the coaching education program, camp scholarships, New Start, equipment grants, and other US Lacrosse programs and services to further reach the scope of their organizations.

    Fast Break Initiative
    Fast Break is designed to infuse an emerging lacrosse area with resources to grow the sport from the roots up. US Lacrosse sends staff and resources to the area to educate coaches, officials, players and administrators. The 2008 Fast Break took place in Birmingham, Ala.

    In addition USL helps get the sport on TV (it paid for the WDIAs to be on CSTV for the past few years) and covered in the news with it’s dedicated communications department. You won’t find bigger advocates for growing the sport than the folks at the HQ in Baltimore and the hundreds of USL volunteers around the country.

    Innovation is always on the mind of USL. It just recently revamped it’s magazine’s website to include video, blogs and commenting features. It also just launched a lacrosse video game and news widget for FREE (http://www.uslacrosse.org/info/widget.phtml).

    I encourage anyone unfamiliar with US Lacrosse, a nonprofit and NGB of the sport, to visit http://www.uslacrosse.org and it’s magazine’s site, http://www.laxmagazine.com. The organization’s very mission is to: provide programs and services to inspire participation while protecting the integrity of the game.

    LacrosseAllStars is an awesome site and keeps us thinking. I love the content and inspiring articles you all provide. Keep up the good work.

  • TeamUSAlax,

    Thanks for laying it all out. We love what US Lacrosse is doing, and to Texas Forever’s comment: I am flattered to hear that you guys are checking out the site. We love what we do here at LAS, and we’re excited to continue growing.

    If you’re interested in talking, shoot me at email: StridingMan@LacrosseAllStars.com. We’d love to get on a call with you guys and hash some ideas out.

    Thanks again for frequenting the site. Happy to hear you’re enjoying the content.

    – Striding Man

Leave a Comment

Yes No