ON N.J. SPORTS MARKETING
Sandwiched between baseball opening day and the craziness of March Madness sits lacrosse, a sport which has struggled to find its growth potential on the professional side but thrives at every level below it. In the snows of February, kids were out shoveling fields clean and battling soccer balls for space all over the state. New Jersey's college teams on the Division III level have long been a national force, and there are few national powers on the Division I level that don't have a roster dotted with Garden State student-athletes, both boys and girls.
The struggle for business success on the professional level is a combination of limited TV time, a fractured sport that has an indoor and an outdoor league with warring governing bodies, and a strong regional (and Canadian) following but no real national footprint. The goal is to bring revenue from ticket sales, sponsors and the sale of customized lacrosse uniforms. It is a niche but a solid niche and one which has a solid grassroots base which follows the college and high school game but does not have a need to migrate to the professional side. That's not necessarily a bad thing, though, as not every sport needs to be uber successful at the professional level to still thrive and be a healthy alternative to traditional team sports.
Into that mix and passion again comes the Meadowlands, which on Sunday will host perhaps the biggest showcase for lacrosse outside of the Final Four, the third annual Konica Minolta Big City Classic. Last year the event was the first test of a major event at the new stadium, and over 30,000 lacrosse loyalists gave the stadium a good trial run. This year the event will host a tripleheader with perennial powers like Syracuse, Duke, Johns Hopkins and North Carolina, along with a St. John's-Rutgers matchup.
For the diehard lacrosse fan or the school alum, it is as good as it gets in a venue that is a good fit and knows how to hot large scale events.The proximity to New York can also bring the curious, and the earliness of the season will probably lend itself to more kids coming to see the best in the NCAA as opposed to later in the spring when schedules would be too tight. For Konica Minolta it's an interesting chance to again get in on the ground floor of a sport that still has to find its long term legs, and probably presents some nice activation opportunities. Now why it's "Big City" is anyone's guess, as the closest it will come to New York is in the view atop the stadium.
Regardless it is a great showcase for the sport in the marketplace, similar to other showcase events in cities like Baltimore and Washington where the sport is also strong. Could one take such an event to a new marketplace? That was tried with indoor lacrosse and failed miserably, as the margin for expansion and the cost for running a franchise and selling tickets enough to turn a profit was cost prohibitive. The marketing of lacrosse is still growing and still very much a niche despite its young and active demo.
Even with its wrinkles, lacrosse as a one off in key areas does well, and this weekend should be no exception. It is a great stand alone event that fans can point to on the calendar and can return and expand its marketing year over year. What it is not is a signal that the sport can sustain big crowds and big dollars over the long term, but it is a great example of single event marketing with the right schools in the right setting.
Joe Favorito has over 24 years of strategic communications/marketing, business development and public relations expertise in sports, entertainment, brand building, media training, television, athletic administration and business. Visit him at JoeFavorito.com.