What is the fastest growing sport in America today? When you ask most people this question, their minds immediately jump to the NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL, or the MLS. However, very few people actually know the right answer.
It is lacrosse.
That’s right … lacrosse. The game that dates back to the 12th century when Native Americans first played the sport. Lacrosse disseminated across much of Canada and the northeastern part of the United States in the following centuries. New York University was the first college to adopt a men’s lacrosse program in 1877. It took nearly another hundred years before the NCAA would sponsor and host the first Men’s Lacrosse National Championship. Today, this event draws upwards of 50,000 people, making it the third most highly attended NCAA championship after football and basketball.
Professionally, the indoor version of the game called Box Lacrosse got off the ground first in 1987 with the National Lacrosse League (NLL). Box lacrosse is a faster paced version of the game in an indoor arena. The NLL features 9 teams from the US and Canada and is played over the winter months. Major League Lacrosse, the outdoor professional league, got started in 2001. The league features 8 different teams and has signed a 10-year television contract with ESPN in 2007. The MLL can draw some similar growth projections to Major League Soccer in this soccer … although the MLL figures to be about 10-15 years behind the MLS.
On the international side of the sport, lacrosse has grown leaps and bounds. Lacrosse was an Olympic sport way back in 1904 and 1908 and then was demonstrated in the 1928, 1932 and 1948 games as well. In 1968, the quadrennial World Lacrosse Championships were founded which featured the four countries that primarily played the sport, the United States, Canada, Australia and England. Today the World Championships are governed by the Federation of International Lacrosse and feature the Senior Men, Senior Women, U19 Men and U19 Women levels each four years. This past summer, the Men’s World Championships drew teams from over 40 countries.
So the question remains … why is lacrosse relevant in the world of the sports business industry? The first reason goes back to the very first point that was raised – lacrosse is the fastest growing sport in the United States. This year there are 351 men’s programs and 494 women’s college lacrosse program across NCAA Divisions 1, 2, and 3 – making it easily the fastest growing game of all NCAA sports. On the youth side of the sport, the game is growing even faster.
Between 2008-09 and 2012-13 school years in high school lacrosse grew 19% among girls and 15% among boys. Over the past decade, the trend is stronger, with participation more than doubling over that time. Among sports with at least 10,000 high schoolers playing, lacrosse has had the highest growth rate since 2009.
A second reason, why lacrosse is relevant in the sports business world, is the notion of untapped areas. Despite lacrosse’s stigma of being a preppy Northeast sport, the states that have seen the highest growth of the game in the last five years are Georgia, Florida, South Carolina, Michigan, Minnesota and Ohio. As the game continues to grow in many of these “non-hotbed” markets, the demand for youth programs and clubs is getting higher and higher.
Lastly, lacrosse draws a very affluent demographic, similar in many ways to that of hockey. As the sport has grown in this country, lacrosse has gained a reputation of being an upper class sport that has drawn upon a very wealthy Caucasian population. It is no coincidence that the best lacrosse schools in the country are also many of the US colleges and universities with the most academic prestige. This has caused a ripple effect of many past college lacrosse players going on to prestigious professional careers in the fields of law, medicine and finance … in fact, the Wall Street Lacrosse Mafia is a real term used to describe the heavy presence of former college lacrosse players occupying many of the big firms on Wall Street.
In looking at the rate of growth in the sport, the untapped markets for the sport, and the demographics that make up the sport, I predict lacrosse to be a booming new source of sports business in the years to come.