IMLCA White Paper to NCAA Regarding Lacrosse Championships

The Intercollegiate Men's Lacrosse Coaches Association formed a committee to evaluate the downturn in attendance of the NCAA Division I Men's Lacrosse Championship. The committee was comprised of college administrators, a coach from each division, former NCAA committee members, a corporate leader and an IMLCA corporate partner.

The committee compiled information regarding attendance history, ticket prices and television ratings. In addition, although the committee was aware that financial guarantees by hosts to the NCAA have significantly increased during the past seven years, it was not privileged to the actual figures.

From its inception as an NCAA championship until 2003 the Division I championship was hosted at a predetermined site on a college campus. Throughout the years the NCAA has responded to the needs of lacrosse fans and created a model event involving three championships, eight teams and thousands of spectators from around the United States and the world.

Although the championship enjoyed a number of very successful years hosted on college campuses, the growth of the event and the added strain on athletic department staffs resulted in only two schools, Maryland and Rutgers, having any interest in hosting it from 1993 to 2002. It was evident that campus administrators had little interest in hosting an event on a holiday weekend after their staffs had supported their own universities' teams every weekend for the past nine months.

When the NCAA Men's Lacrosse committee decided in 2003 to move the event to an NFL venue it did so with the thought that the assets associated with professional sports venues would attract larger crowds, and they did.

Of importance to understand is that the NCAA and the men' lacrosse committee always recognized that the championships were much more than a game and that the event was family and kid centric. The NCAA permitted re-entry between games, which was not a common practice for other NCAA events, and even permitted lacrosse sticks to be carried into the stadium so that kids playing pick-up games or participating in the fan festival did not have to return to their vehicles to store their sticks.

The NCAA celebrates a number of its championships with a fan-festival concept that was born from the practice fields at the University of Maryland. Years ago kids used to play pick-up games in the parking lot; unfortunately not every one of them could catch every pass; thus some miss-fired balls dinged cars. By placing some lacrosse goals on a practice field, the advent of formal fan activity area was born.

Today, the NCAA and the lacrosse community must adjust again and embrace the post-recession challenges faced by many lacrosse fans. Family finances are tighter than they have been in decades, while technology options are greater than ever. Mixing the two has had a negative impact on the crowds attending the championships. We have to work together to rebuild relationships with fans and to encourage them to attend the championships again.

The growth of lacrosse at the youth and high school levels is both a threat and opportunity. The threat is that there are so many entrepreneurs now entering our sport and creating competing events both on Memorial Day Weekend and the surrounding weekends. No longer is the weekend sacred for the NCAA championships. Parents (and kids) now have conflicting events such as youth league season-ending tournaments, high school tournament games and summer tournament schedules that compete with their desire to attend the championships. This factor is underrated but has become significant in recent years.

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