Part of bringing lacrosse to Des Moines, Iowa is making the national lax scene more visible. Sure the NCAA Championships are highly attended, but are they highly watched? What I am saying is, the championships are pretty much held on the east coast in traditional hotbed areas like Boston and Maryland. The games are broadcast on ESPN, but does anyone outside of the east coast or Colorado even watch the games? Obviously people like me do, but then again I have Mediacom's college sports pack so I watch a lot of regular season games too.
Along with the exposure problems the NCAA lacrosse faces, the Men's Collegiate Lacrosse Association suffers from a nearly complete lack of visibility. Pretty much any casual fan is unaware of the league's existence. Their championships were televised on CSTV (channel 171 in Des Moines) this year, but were not advertised at all. All of the local area college teams linked in my sidebar play in the Great Rivers Lacrosse Conference or the Upper Midwest Lacrosse League. Most of the people I know who went to Iowa or ISU are completely unaware that lacrosse teams even exist there (but, they were unaware of the hockey teams too, so...).
Major League Lacrosse, the only professional outdoor lacrosse league in North America, is pretty much unknown to everybody. With its ninth season coming next spring, the fledgling league is still struggling to establish itself. It has slowly been building itself from an exclusively east coast league by expanding to four western cities in 2006. When Chicago, Los Angeles, San Fransico, and Denver joined the league, the new teams set new attendance records. Now they are looking to add even more western cities and relocate poor performing teams on the east coast. It is a step in the right direction at least...
The other pro league, the National Lacrosse League, has been around longer and has had its own expansion over the years. Unfortunately, the league has had a few teams go kaput as well. Now the league has more secure sponsorship, a higher quality of player, and a more visible presence. Many of the teams are owned by NHL owners and can piggyback on the rink leases of the hockey teams, which saves money. Others, notably Chicago, are in otherwise empty state-of-the-art facilities and receive decent deals as the marquee tenants.
Perhaps by examining the top levels of lacrosse, the lower levels can flourish. Improving the existing games to ensure their longevity may inspire more states to enact youth lacrosse programs. As many adults in states like Iowa have no clue about lacrosse, their kids tend to not be exposed to the sport either. However, more and more kids are getting interested in the game due to its semi-underground status; it is almost the modern equivalent of skateboarding. Flashy marketing by companies like Warrior help reinforce this image. While this approach is somewhat successful, getting potential coaches interested is the key to creating successful youth programs. This series looks at how this might happen.
Continue to Part 2