The Explosion of Lacrosse
31 May, 2012By: Amy Henderson
There is little question about the popularity of lacrosse today. It is one of the fastest-growing sports in the United States and the numbers back that up.
US Lacrosse, the NGB, counts 62 regional lacrosse and local lacrosse chapters located in 39 states. Among those chapters, there are approximately 400,000 players, coaches, officials and fans. According to the NGB's website, youth participation has grown over 138% since 2001, to nearly 300,000 with an estimated 228,000 high school players. By 2009, 557 collegiate teams were playing at the NCAA level.
According to the Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association, in 2010, a total of 1.6 million Americans played lacrosse, resulting in a 37.3 percent increase from 2009. And in 2001, Major League Lacrosse made its debut. It currently has eight teams participating; cities include Boston (Massachusetts), Charlotte (North Carolina), Chesapeake (Maryland), Denver (Colorado), Hamilton (Ontario), Long Island (New York), Columbus (Ohio) and Rochester (New York).
With all of that growth, expect more games, tournaments and events resulting in a need for more facilities and venues and ultimately, new opportunities for destinations to attract some of those 1.6 million lacrosse enthusiasts.
The East Coast has typically been the hotbed of lacrosse. US Lacrosse is headquartered in Baltimore, Maryland where the state proclaimed lacrosse to be its official team sport in 2004. Maryland can also boast 70 lacrosse facilities overall.
Like all sports, facilities must meet specific requirements in order to host a lacrosse event. These dimensions will vary, depending upon the governing body (NCAA, NFHS, etc.), and on whether men or women (or boys or girls) are competing. Field length as well as width will come into play, as will availability of multiple facilities.
“We look to have 8-15 fields in one footprint,” said Beth Porreca, director of special events for US Lacrosse. “That’s very important to us to keep them all together. The event infrastructure is a big one for us as well.”
Signage is a big seller. “Signage standpoints are big for us,” explains Porreca. “That can be really hard to find in facilities because there is a lot of open space, but it makes it easier for us and our sponsors.”
“The ability to have a good maintenance crew so when we show up we aren’t constantly harping on them to mow a field or repair a net,” she continued. “And having officials within the community, we need the people power.”
Ensuring a venue has capabilities for media accessibility can play a part as well and Porreca and her staff try to be ready for anything. “We have a copy of their (media) basic needs,” she explained. “We make sure we have the appropriate hookups, power source or generator.”
John Basso, operations producer with ESPN Regional Television has been covering lacrosse with ESPN since 2009.
“Our events are typically broadcast from a 53-foot expando truck,” said Basso. “An area to place this tractor trailer is the first decision of a site. Some venues have cable that exists in the stadium for us to connect our various cameras and equipment to the truck area to the location in the stadium where it will be used during the game. If this pre-cabling exists, it is factored greatly in the decision. A pre-cabled stadium is ideal.”
“Lighting surveys are required from any venue hosting an event,” he continued. “Lights are taken into consideration not only for night play, but for rainy and cloudy days as well. Camera positions and view are also discussed. A typical lacrosse game will have five cameras with two cameras high at mid-field. These camera positions do not make or break a facility hosting an event, however, careful consideration is exercised if any red flag or extreme difficulties presents itself.”
“We need to have a broadcast system for safety alert issues in case of inclement weather and need to clear people off of the field,” said Porreca.
College campuses offer excellent backdrops to some of the sport’s facilities as lacrosse continues to grow on a collegiate level.
Milwaukee boasts 17 colleges and universities in the area which provide a number of venue choices for event planners.
“Lacrosse is a burgeoning sport in the Milwaukee area,” said Brent Foerster, vice president of sales and marketing with Visit Milwaukee. “That is obviously helping us to expand the facilities. Marquette University has brought on lacrosse and starts competing next season at Valley Fields.”
“Milwaukee School of Engineering is in the process of building a downtown parking structure and the top level will be a lacrosse field,” he continued. The $30 million project will provide 780 additional parking spaces.
Ben Brady Field at Shorter University in Rome, Georgia, hosts the National Women’s Lacrosse League Tournament for the second time in April. Ford Field at Berry College down the road in Mount Berry, Georgia, has hosted several regional conferences and tournaments.
“Surprisingly, for Rome to be such a small town, it is a big lacrosse town,” said Ann Hortman, sports marketing and event coordinator of the Greater Rome Convention & Visitors Bureau. “Darlington School was the first high school in the state of Georgia to field a lacrosse team. The popularity of sport is spreading in this region like wildfire.”
In Baltimore, Maryland, John Hopkins University built a $10 million, 14,000-square-foot facility with the Cordish Lacrosse Center. That facility is home to the school’s men’s and women’s lacrosse teams.
You can even find lacrosse on the West Coast. Maloney Field at Laird Q. Cagan Stadium at Stanford University in the San Mateo, California area is home to that school's women’s lacrosse team. The facility has had several renovations including additional practice fields with Ueland and Johnson Fields providing additional seating, new lighting and a scoreboard. The Leo Weinstein Field House is the most recent addition and offers a press box, additional locker rooms and satellite sports medicine area.
Other notable spots on other campuses across the country include the Carrier Dome at Syracuse University; Cornell University's Schoellkopf Field (a 25,597-person capacity stadium), Klockner Stadium at the University of Virginia and Shuart Stadium at Hofstra to name a few.
Flexibility is an advantage when considering field usage with area parks and recreation departments.
“Uihlein Fields is a significant soccer complex with 14 fields including two stadium fields and domed as well,” explained Foerster of Visit Milwaukee. “While it’s a soccer facility, it has been converted to lacrosse many times.” There are 150,000 acres in the Milwaukee County Parks system.
Easley, South Carolina is also hoping to capitalize on the growth of lacrosse.
“Lacrosse is growing around the Greenville area,” said Scott Price, tournament director for the City of Easley. “We have five lacrosse/soccer/football fields side by side. Three of those fields are regulation.” The J.B. Red Sports Complex is a 104-acre multi-sport complex with lighted fields and eight baseball fields that can be used for lacrosse competition as well.
“The complex itself was one of the first multi-sport complexes in the state,” continued Price. “Two of the fields have scoreboards and we are looking to add them to the other fields in the next three to four months.”
Binghamton, New York capitalizes on the multitude of high schools in the area and partners with Binghamton University and Broome Community College as well as the Greater Binghamton Sports Complex and the Edge Sports Complex.
But sometimes, everything old is new again. The Third Annual ESPNU Warrior Classic recently relocated to American Legion Memorial Stadium in Charlotte, North Carolina with Syracuse, Rutgers, Hofstra and North Carolina Universities competing this April. Memorial Stadium will also act as the home for the MLL Charlotte Hounds.
Memorial Stadium was built in 1936 and offers seating for 21,000. “It’s just a really cool spot,” said Wade Leaphart, director of sales and marketing with the Charlotte Hounds. “It’s a bare-bones facility. The fans are literally on top of the action, there’s no other stadium in the league where fans are that close to the players.”
The 'bare bones' of Memorial Stadium allow the Hounds to get creative with VIP seating and sponsor hospitality. “We created an on field VIP area using a Boxman Studio with a bar, television and food and beverage included in the ticket price,” explained Leaphart. “We call it our blue ribbon seating. There are 200 seats in that area and that area gives access to the field and behind the safety net to those ticketholders.”
The NCAA is taking the best of both worlds for the NCAA Men’s Lacrosse Championship by putting the top collegiate teams in professional arenas. In May, Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts, hosted the NCAA Men’s Lacrosse Championships, where the Loyola Greyhounds triumphed over the Maryland Terrapins. The Men’s Championship will be held at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia in 2013, and at Baltimore's M&T Bank Stadium in 2014.
THE EVENTS AND THEIR SUCCESS
The 2012 US Lacrosse U15 National Championships will be held at Lake Buena Vista, Florida at the Hess Complex at ESPN Wide World of Sports in July with 64 teams competing. Regional championships were held in Arizona, Texas and North Carolina in June.
Spring in Maryland brings a statewide explosion of lacrosse events. June in particular brought multiple competitions. The Warrior Lax Splash was held in Baltimore County; the 2012 Salisbury Shootout Lacrosse Tournament took place at the Sea Gull Stadium & Soccer Complex at Salisbury University; the Summer Showcase at Cedar Lane Regional Park was held in Bel Air and the 2012 Girls Beach Lax Festival Invitational was played at Northside Park in Ocean City.
In its first year at Memorial Stadium, the ESPNU Warrior Classic generated the most revenue in its three-year run with the blue ribbon seating. The Major League Lacrosse All Star Game was held at Florida Atlantic University in June, marking the first time a non-university sporting event was held at FAU Stadium. Connecticut, Maryland, New York, Colorado and Massachusetts have hosted the event in the past.
But what makes a successful event?
“We first step in and help out with the introductions at the venues,” said Foerster. “We start at that level and then move on and offer help at the airport. We provide 150 volunteers, digital signage to help promote the event and we work with the event holders. We have a very supportive role on the marketing side; website, social media campaigns and we have about 65,000 opt-in email database.”
What does the rights holder look for to ensure a successful event?
US Lacrosse is all about the people. “We look for affordability for our guests,” said Porreca, “and the overall cost for them to be able to participate in a tournament. We look at the whole combination, not just the hotel, but also the flight and car. Sometimes, we target specific regions and rotate throughout the region and offer more teams the opportunity to participate.”
But that’s not all, she notes. “We look for CVBs that are full service. We look for people with marketing, promotion, secure volunteers and welcome bags with information. We want them to handle the destination side."
The State of Wisconsin is doing everything it can to entice events to their area by offering the Ready, Set, Go! program. “Ready, Set, Go is a grant program through the Department of Tourism,” said Foerster. “Groups have to go through a CVB or Chamber of Commerce and apply for grants on an annual basis for funds to go cover facility cost (rental).”
With the explosion of lacrosse across the United States, whether you looking to the pros, college campus or local parks and recreation department you’re sure to find what you’re looking for to host your event.