Lacrosse Scores: New Growth For America's Oldest Game 
By T. Wayne Waters 
Lacrosse has been played for centuries, but US Lacrosse, the national governing body, began operating in 1998. In fewer than 20 years of existence, the governing body has seen fantastic growth of the sport. According to the 2013 SFIA Sports, Fitness and Leisure Activities Topline Participation Report, casual participation in lacrosse has increased 18 percent in just the past five years. According to a US Lacrosse 2012 participation survey statistics, the sport had 722,000 players nationwide at the time, marking a 5.5 percent increase from the previous year. “One reason the growth has been sustained in a recent timeframe is that we’ve seen more mainstream media expo- sure, particularly of the college game,’ said Paul Krome, associate director, marketing and public relations. “We’re able to reach new audiences with that.”  

US Lacrosse coordinates the Women’s Collegiate Lacrosse Association (WCLA) regional championship series and runs the WCLA national championships. US Lacrosse has a more limited role with men’s lacrosse club associations. The organization does not oversee or operate NCAA lacrosse championships, nor is it involved with any professional leagues. 

Another reason for the growth in US Lacrosse participation is its New Start Program, which in 2013 provided free resources to 755 applicants representing the 50 states and the District of Columbia, according to Krome. The program is designed to help new teams form and operate according to US Lacrosse rules.

Krome also alluded to lacrosse’s multi-sport “friendliness” as a factor in that the skill sets required of a number of other sports translate well to lacrosse. “Also, the kids like the fact that lacrosse is a fast- paced sport. And there’s a kind of style element to the game. The kids like being able to dye their sticks and things of that nature.”

The growing social element of lacrosse competitions is yet another growth inducer, according to US Lacrosse Director of Special Events Beth Porreca. “We see a lot more people getting involved in lacrosse events because there’s a growing trend of providing a community environment. You’ll see teams come to the competition site in the morning with tents and tailgating gear and they’ll stay all day. They’re not just there for their game. They are there all day, they hang out, they interact with other teams. There’s a community atmosphere at any lacrosse event that you don’t traditionally see at a lot of other sporting events.”

So strong is this “Tent City” trend at lacrosse competitions that it’s become something that US Lacrosse needs to address in consultations with bidding venues.

US Lacrosse has more than 430,000 members nationwide in 67 chapters in 45 states—Louisiana, Nevada and North Florida being the newest chapters.

Host City Considerations

US Lacrosse’s major competitions include one Champion Challenge in January, which is a showcase for the top two or three collegiate teams in the nation; four regional events (which are open to competitors outside of the region) in June; and three national championship events (Women’s and WCLA in May and U15 in July). US Lacrosse was accepting bids through April 3 from athletic facilities and CVBs to host its 2015 Regional Championships and 2015 U15 National Championships.

The US Lacrosse National Convention and FanFest is held each January and draws about 7,000 attendees. The 2015 event is set to take place at the Baltimore Convention Center.

According to Porreca, the facilities a host city offers are the most crucial consideration for US Lacrosse’s choice of playoff venues. “We require 10 to 15 contiguous, full-sized lacrosse fields. We want high-quality fields. Based on the timing of our major events, which is June and July for the majority of them, that’s typically the end of fields’ busy seasons so they could be a little beat up. So we do like to use artificial surfaces where available. That way, we don’t have to worry about weather issues, and we don’t necessarily have to wait for fields to dry out in the event of extreme weather. Ideally, we want a field that’s in quality condition and can hold up to a long event.”

Another concern, Porreca said, is finding a quality volunteer base. “It’s important to us that a CVB be well connected within the community and have the ability to reach out and get people there to help. Every event needs volunteer help. People who have experience recruiting and that have a proven history of getting quality volunteers are helpful to us.”

Porecca said that for new venues or locales just emerging as lacrosse markets, initial talks with potential host sites typically address the availability of certified officials and coaches.

“Our first conversation with new bidders is about certifying officials and having US Lacrosse-certified coaches, as well as ensuring that they have league play that supports both those aspects so that we could host an event there successfully.”

US Lacrosse trains and certifies coaches and officials.

Potential Payoff

US Lacrosse statistics show there were about 1,250 participants from several dozen states at the last U15 national championships, which meant approximately 7,000 people in total, counting spectators. They also show that, on average, US Lacrosse’s major events draw two spectators for every one participating athlete.

“We average between $3 million and $6 million in economic impact depending upon the size of the event and the location,” Porreca said. “Our convention is even higher, in the $7 to $9 million range because of the number of participants, which includes many vendors.”