On Saturday April 11th, I spent my afternoon visiting Chapel Hill to see the North Carolina Tar Heels face off against the Syracuse Orange. Having huge seeding implications for the ACC tournament, the Tar Heels displayed their strength and composure winning 17-15 in front of a packed crowd.
Despite being disappointed in Syracuse’s losing effort, it is days like this which I recognize the rapidly increasing presence of lacrosse in the United States. If a sport can be so popular and be growing so quickly, how can it have such a small impact in the spectrum of professional sport?
10,000 to 10 Men: The origin and development of lacrosse
Lacrosse originated far earlier than any of its counterparts. Dating back to the 1630s, Europeans recorded depictions of “The Indian Ballgame.” Originally, the sport was used as a way to train for battle and to win favor with the gods. The game would sometimes be played on miles of land, involving up to 10,000 participants at a time. As the game would be adopted by the Europeans which immigrated to America, new rules and equipment were created. This would ultimately lead to its growth.
The United States Lacrosse Organization does an annual survey tracking participation on a youth and collegiate level. From 2006 to 2013, youth participation has increased by 183%. Furthermore, boys and girls lacrosse is the fastest growing sport on the high school level. Division I athletic directors are putting big money into the sport. Bringing Blue Chip schools such as Ohio State and Michigan will bring the sport to the national eye but will hurt the recruiting ability for small schools like Johns Hopkins and Denver.
In 2010 for Sports Business Journal, Syracuse professor Rick Burton explained why lacrosse has experienced such a rapid ascension to success in relation to its counterparts.
- “Lacrosse has an original history and a devout following that is busting out of its original niche markets like Syracuse, Long Island and Baltimore.
- Lacrosse is generally a high-scoring game that is played and enjoyed by both men and women. Plus, it sets up easily on a football or soccer field.
- Lacrosse is a relatively easy game to learn and understand. Ball in the net equals one goal. Running, dodging, throwing, catching and shooting are frequent actions.
- Lacrosse can be played in a low-cost way. True, the full competition game requires a helmet/eye guard and some padding, but recreationally, other than the stick and a ball, the game can be played on any piece of grass with two makeshift nets. A decent game can be played with as few as six people, and two people can play a game of catch almost anywhere.
- Lacrosse has caught the attention of big-time sports apparel and equipment companies who are helping grow the game while extending their team businesses.”
After dominating at the collegiate level, what happens to the talented All-Americans ?
Upon graduation, athletes flock toward the professional scene: Major League Lacrosse and National League Lacrosse. Major League Lacrosse is the traditional style of lacrosse. Only 17 franchises make up the two different leagues. Success has been more prominent for MLL, due to their traditional style of play. National League Lacrosse is played indoors in smaller facilities.
Despite playing so well over the course of a career, the MLL and NLL’s collective bargaining agreements restrict athletes from making big money. As previously described by Global Mail, “National League Lacrosse Salaries range from a $9,207 max for rookies to a $27,217 max for veterans, with an exception for one or two “franchise” players per team who’ll get an additional $5,000 for the season.”
Over the course of his 15 year career, John Grant Jr. has played 101 professional games while scoring 692 goals in the NLL. After estimating what Grant had earned over the course of his career via numbers in the NLL CBA and accounting for inflation, Grant will likely have made only $231,554 over the course of his 15 year career.
Professional lacrosse players are often forced work more than one job, sometimes playing for more than one team. While it isn’t always the safest option, it is the most logical for some.
What can Major League Lacrosse or National League Lacrosse do differently?
Under one governing body, a unified lacrosse league would be the best possible option. If combined, the NLL (indoor) season could take part from November to February, while the MLL (outdoor) takes place in warmer weather. This rotating schedule would keep players in shape and introduce a rather unknown league to the nation as a whole. Putting their resources together would make the league’s more powerful, and more attractive to sponsors or possible broadcast partners.
When the English Premier League (Soccer) was shown to American audiences by NBC for the first time, interest about soccer grew. This would be no different with professional lacrosse. Local stations should attempt to snag broadcast rights to Major League Lacrosse or National League Lacrosse. With this in their arsenal, broadcasting matches online will increase interest in lacrosse to the professional fan.
First impressions have a lasting impact in the perception of today’s consumer. Upon visiting the websites of the two leagues, I was rather uninspired. Failing to feature team details, rosters, and statistics, the website designs are outdated and it hurts their ability to compete with other leagues around the world.
Lacrosse has unlimited potential. While being a sometimes dangerous sport, played both casually and competitively, its support is evident. I can see professional lacrosse making huge strides to become an elite league in the future.
Born in NYC x Raised in VA