When you look at the major professional sports in America, each league can be traced back to a respectable tradition or at least their success can be traced to the point when they began to act respectable. Each one of these professional leagues had players and teams that stand out as trademarks of their time, bolstered in most cases by the PR and marketing of the day.
Michael Jordan is the most well-known athlete in history. He is probably the most accomplished in both his athletic and commercial careers. His Jumpman product line is one of the most popular in all of sports. His signature shoes, the Air Jordan's are the highest selling shoes of all time. I use MJ as an example not just because of his universal recognition and undeniable success but also because he has always marketed himself and his products with positive and responsible imagery and themes. The names of his products are simple, respectable, and to the point - no gimmickry. I say all of this because I am embarrassed by the ridiculous and often disrespectful or inappropriate names of some lacrosse equipment on the shelves today. Names like Mac Daddy, Superfreak, and others just sound ridiculous and many of the ads and commercials for lax products are inappropriate and even offensive.
To build a fan base in any sport in this country that sport must be respected, especially by those who create the sport's public image. Each player must be seen as a role model on and off the field. Products and advertisements which portray the game of lacrosse should be more attuned with the sport's loyal and hardworking persona than X-Gamesque ad firm fantasy. We play a sport where no one has the BIG salary, and no one is a world-wide superstar. Until a few years ago, a great lacrosse player didn't even have a life after college but for club games and the US team. Even now that we do have a professional league, players still don't make a full living just playing lacrosse. Yet we still love it and work as hard as we can primarily to further the game of the lacrosse in this country. I know I share that feeling with many MLL players.
I believe lacrosse is a very marketable sport. I believe that our game can become an extremely popular sport in this country, and if it did, would expand the opportunity to participate in sports for many kids who sit out today. Lacrosse is different from almost every other sport because you don't have to be 6'5", 230 pounds to play it. Someone who is 5'9" and 170 pounds can be one of the greatest to ever play it. The game opens up opportunities for kids to excel in athletics and even go to college. And that growth will eventually open up opportunities for people to play the sport for a living. We just have to make sure that our game isn't looked upon as a joke as it gets more and more exposure.
One of the things people hate about the NBA is that it has become too much of a show. Players forget about the fundamentals, don't work hard, and refuse to play defense. Even the marketing in that league has become lazy and embarrassing. Both are related and both are directly responsible for the decline in ratings over the years.
I believe the way to expand the game of lacrosse in our country is to emphasize the things that really make our sport different from the "big 4" and representing it accurately is the best way to do it. Negative and over-aggressive advertising, product names that misrepresent lacrosse and embarrassing commercials do nothing but set us back. It is important that we keep things simple and respectable/respectful while we try and build a large fan base. Fifty years from now we could be looking back on the early years of MLL, like people today look back on the early years of the NFL or MLB. I want to tell my grandkids, while we sit and watch the sold-out MLL championship on TV, that I was one of the many players who helped to grow the league and the game, and we did it right.
September 30, 2006
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