Brine Gets Bought But Look Who's Selling Out

By Michael Spinner

We got your e-mails. To answer the question I've been asked by so many of you during the last two weeks, yes, I do have an opinion regarding the recent acquisition of Brine by New Balance. I have a very strong opinion. I have a descending opinion that, so far, has not been voiced by any other lacrosse publication and likely won't be. This is a serious matter worthy of serious scrutiny, a matter that will affect you in the lacrosse stores, on the field, and in your wallets.

This is a big deal, and I wrote a long, detailed, impassioned column expressing my opinion on the uniting of two great American lacrosse equipment manufacturers, who now, in the words of the great Owen Wilson, can challenge the Klingons for interstellar domination. The Brine/New Balance matter is that serious, and, as I have done for the last five and a half years, I planned on telling you what really matters, how it affects you, and what it means for the bigger picture of our sport.

Unfortunately, my friends, you're not going to read that opinion. The column will stay buried in my hard-drive forever and The Latest Spin will continue to be published as if all is right in the lacrosse world. You see, I'm selling out. I'm not going to challenge the powerful authority of an equipment manufacturer that is basically swallowing up the competition with the exponential power of an unfettered and unchecked financial backer. I'm not going to stir the pot with the woeful truth about how this merger affects industry-wide standards for advertising, quality control, and innovation within our sport. I'm not doing it because I care.

There is one reality I can share with you concerning the acquisition of New Balance by Brine, and that reality is that we're getting smaller. Lacrosse was a pretty small world at the beginning of the summer with only a handful of manufacturers and only three or four that really mattered. The lack of true competition within the manufacturing industry has made it awfully hard to make a buck in lacrosse. With Brine and Warrior essentially merged into a big corporate conglomerate, what remains are a mere few manufacturing companies on the landscape. That's less advertising dollars for teams, camps, leagues and publications like E-Lacrosse. It pretty much puts a ton of power into the hands of the big boys in the manufacturing industry, especially Warrior/Brine. It's a special-interest circle of sorts, one we see in the news industry everywhere. Basically, when it's corporate dollars that allow a publication to make money, the corporations will directly or indirectly determine what news is reported and how opinions are offered. Often, when a controversy arises, a major news entity has to make the decision as to whether they want to stop accepting advertising dollars from a corporation in order to remove a conflict of interest, or report the news as is and risk losing the advertising money. And these are hard news organizations, which we are not. This is just lacrosse, right?

That's what we're facing here. At E-Lacrosse, we've taken a stand over the years against Warrior's advertising practices. As a result, they do not advertise with us and no other publication has ever criticized them for anything publicly. We've managed without their dollars, thanks in part to the wonderful people at Brine. But with Brine essentially out of the advertising picture, not only do we lose one of our most loyal sponsors, but we are forced to wonder, what's next? Brine being swallowed up by Warrior is akin to the AOL purchase of Time Warner in January of 2000. It changed EVERYTHING. It shocked the collective system and represented either the peak of the Internet stock surge or the start of the Internet stock crash, depending on who you talk to. Will another one of the lax manufacturers be bought next? Will Nike and Reebok come more aggressively into lacrosse's new world or will they perhaps even back off entirely? Can new, smaller lacrosse companies like Maverik, Shock Doctor, and Talon hope to succeed and become viable competitive advertisers in this new climate? And what will the impact be on E-Lacrosse?

The unknowns at this point are too much to bear, particularly when people's livelihoods are at stake. To this point, E-Lacrosse editor John Weaver and I have been very open and honest in our criticisms of some practices by Warrior, and the professional league they sponsor. On this new landscape, those days are over. While it is not the dollars from this company we're concerned with, it's the "next" manufacturer or next scenario we have to worry about. I don't mean to make us sound so self interested at E-Lacrosse, but we've just taken a ride on the reality rollercoaster. In the Brine/Casey/Ryan v. Warrior case, E-Lacrosse took a stand with a company who we whole heartedly believed was in the right. We took a stand with people we believed in. And now the enemy and the friend are one and we may be standing alone. We've never gotten any support in ten years of free publication from Warrior, while Brine has been there most of the way.

I suppose it's possible that the New Balance purchase of Brine could be a good influence on Warrior. It is possible that the move could, in some way, ease some of the tension between the E-Lacrosse and Warrior crowds, but it is more likely, unfortunately, that our friends are now our enemies and the lacrosse world is split in two. We can lose a few friends. We have over two hundred thousand of you. But contributing to the toxic environment that is building to a boil and further divide the lacrosse community is something we can't do. In the new lacrosse world, perhaps friends and enemies, good and bad, right and wrong are idealistic luxuries at best. And it's not just that. When we took a stand over the use of inappropriate advertising by Warrior in an editorial, did it hurt them or draw more attention to the marketing and draw rebellious kids toward them? When we supported the Powells during their move from Warrior to Brine and they started turning the Brine marketing effort around, did it drive the New Balance/Warrior decision to "just get it over with" and buy Brine?

As much as I'd love to seriously tee-off on this acquisition of Brine by New Balance, it's just not worth the risk to the game and to this publication. There haven't been too many publications in this sport, and I've pretty much been a part of all of them. I was there with my good friend Bob Carpenter when Inside Lacrosse was a fledgling publication and we advertised by handing out free copies in the Byrd Stadium Parking Lot during Memorial Day Weekend. Once Inside took off, I helped another good friend, Jeremy Bryant, get off the ground and this column was started. I'm still on the writing staff at Lacrosse Magazine. A lot of great people are involved with these publications, people who work entirely too hard with limited financial reward. In the past, it seemed safe to write a column criticizing somebody without fear of losing our livelihood. Now it just doesn't seem that way.

So I'm selling out. I'm doing it because E-Lacrosse is an important part of the lacrosse journalism community. We have Lacrosse Magazine as the feature capital of lacrosse journalism, and Inside Lacrosse that has reported the news faithfully on a weekly basis for almost a decade. E-lacrosse, with John at the helm, has carved out quite a niche in the lacrosse world. I could not make it to the World Championships this summer, but thanks to E-Lacrosse, I was able to see much of it via broadband. We're not necessarily the hard-news epicenter of the lacrosse community, but the features, columns and video programs we run are important, and have quite a loyal following all over the world. That's why I teamed up with John when closed its doors. I've been here for four years and I hope to be here for 40 more. And while it's no guarantee, selling out could be one of the few ways to make sure we're going to be here for a while to come. My silence today will hopefully mean that E-Lacrosse will continue to grow and flourish tomorrow, and the spartan efforts of John Weaver will continue unimpeded by the shrinking of the lacrosse equipment manufacturing industry.

For the first time in my life, I am a sellout. Now, don't get me wrong. I intend to still tell it like it is. If the NCAA Lacrosse Committee hoses a team and keeps them from the post-season despite their earning of a spot, I am going to give my opinion openly without hesitation. If the members of the Duke University Lacrosse team are indeed exonerated of allegations that plunged our sport as a whole into scandal this past spring, I am going to write about how much of an apology so many people in our community deserve and I might have to lose my friends at the Durham, North Carolina District Attorney's Office. I am going to continue to see this sport as I know it I'm just going to pay a little closer attention to who I am affecting by what I write. The Latest Spin will remain and will hit hard when hitting hard is necessary and when it won't exacerbate troubles in the lacrosse community or make matters worse.

So, yes, I do have an opinion on the Brine/New Balance deal. It's very strong and very pointed, and would generate a ton of chatter within the lacrosse community. It would hit hard and ruffle some feathers. I would take some heat and E-Lacrosse might lose an advertiser, but we'd both be proud as hell. But I'm selling out and keeping my mouth shut. Not because I don't care but because I care too much.

August 21, 2006

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