The professional lacrosse model up to this point has been a familiar one. Find investors to develop franchises branded to their respective cities, bring in the talent to field a winner and put butts in the seat. It’s a paradigm used by just about every North American team sport.
For the most part, it has worked. While the National Lacrosse League and Major League Lacrosse have dealt with labor dilemmas and expansion/contraction issues during their evolution, the NLL (indoor) is entering its 23rd season while the MLL will celebrate its 10th season in 2010.
On Nov. 21, however, a new professional lacrosse prototype will be introduced when LXM PRO holds its first event, dubbed LXM 949 (coinciding with Orange County’s area code), in Southern California. It will consist of a professional “All-Star Showcase” sandwiched between a casting call for an upcoming lacrosse movie, a clinic by Kyle Harrison and Team STX and an MCLA exhibition between Chapman and UC Santa Barbara and capped off by a live concert featuring The Cab, Qwes and Akon.
Kyle Harrison & Team STX conduct a special clinic. Learn the game from the best in the world!
The competition featuring professional lacrosse players is part of an overall experience, as opposed to the main focus of the event.
“We’ve created this model that will re-brand the professional lacrosse player and the professional lacrosse sport,” said Scott Hochstadt, one of the organizers of the event and a former Maryland player. “We’re going to give the players more mainstream PR and make them more of an X-Game athlete than an NBA player or even an MLL player.”
As opposed to the MLL pattern and its traditional focus on the team, the LXM tour will be a traveling festival that aims for success through the name recognition of participating professional players as opposed to fan allegiance to a particular franchise.
Hochstadt believes that while popular, professional lacrosse is still a niche sport, demonstrated by the fact four franchises formerly located in California – the MLL’s L.A. Riptide and San Francisco Dragons and the NLL’s Anaheim Storm and San Jose Stealth – were unable to establish a loyal following. They ended up moving or folding.
“But if those teams came out once a year, it would be a different story,” said Hochstadt. “You’d have everyone coming out to see the event. That’s kind of what we’re creating here.”
That’s where the X-Games example comes in. The LXM tour will visit certain venues — similar events are planned in Austin, Texas, Portland, Ore., Columbus, Ohio and St. Louis, although dates have not been set — once a year and put on big show featuring professional lacrosse. Instead of highlighting a schedule of home and away dates, there will be just one huge home event each year.
Attempting to drive a team sport through its individual players is a new concept, but LXM has rounded up some of the biggest names for its first go. All three Powell brothers, Scott Urick, Kyle Harrison and Trevor Tierney will be in Los Angeles in hopes of drawing lacrosse savvy fans in the area.
While the LXM founders believe their event is a good fit for professional lacrosse players — “They aren’t making a ton of money, so they’d rather train for one of these events, kind of like a marathon,” said Hochstadt — they are going out of their way not to compete directly with the other pro leagues, especially the MLL.
None of the LXM events will be held during the traditional MLL season, which runs from late May to August, and none will be held in cities currently featuring an MLL franchise.
The players participating in Los Angeles either did not play in the MLL this past season, such as the Powell brothers, or were left unprotected for the MLL supplemental draft on Dec. 9. Those players on teams’ protected rosters are not eligible to play in L.A.
After Feb. 28, 2010, when MLL contracts expire from the ’09 season, all professional players will be eligible for LXM PRO events up until the start of the regular season.
MLL representatives were unavailable for comment.
Hochstadt and the LXM PRO organizers have set relatively modest attendance goals for Nov. 21. For the events leading up to evening concert, the quest is for 4,000-6,000 paying fans, which is reasonable considering the MLL averaged 5,500 fans per game in ’09. The musical portion of the festival is expected to draw another thousand fans or so, according to Hochstadt.
Hochstadt himself has become a bit of a Hollywood lacrosse icon. He worked as a technical coordinator to authenticate the lacrosse scenes in the new “90210” and has gotten face time from People Magazine with girlfriend and “The Hills” cast member Lo Bosworth.
The success of LXM 949 will be an intriguing case study about the viability of this new pro lacrosse business model. Not only are the organizers eschewing the traditional vehicle for delivering the sport and attempting a different, player-centric marketing campaign, but they’ll do it in the teeth of a relatively daunting economic climate.
If the event meets or exceeds expectations, it could force a reappraisal, if not an overhaul, of the accepted pro lacrosse format. Until the numbers come back from L.A., Hochstadt is putting a low-key spin on the LXM PRO festival.
“It’s about the professional players and it’s about building up the professional lacrosse player in the sports entertainment world,” he said. “We’re bringing some good lacrosse to the area and we hope to have a good turnout.”