Lacrosse has transformed into one of the fastest-growing sports across the globe. Today, the growth in professional leagues – including Major League Lacrosse (MLL), the National Lacrosse League (NLL) and the recently launched Premier Lacrosse League (PLL) – has aided in lacrosse’s rise in popularity, familiarity and overall viewership.
Professional Lacrosse Leagues Experience Increased Viewership And Fan Engagement
Over the last 20 years, lacrosse has experienced impressive growth in the U.S., with data published by U.S. Lacrosse revealing the total number of lacrosse participants increased 32% between 2008 and 2018. Participation among younger players also suggests continued growth for the sport, noted CNN Sports, surpassing 447,000 active players “under high school age.”
According to the MLL, the league experienced “a broadcast reach of 724 million viewers through expanded national and regional broadcast deals.” In addition to a 16% year-over-year jump in spectator attendance in the 2019 season, the MLL also took home some major digital wins, experiencing a 194% surge in social traffic, 393% increase in overall website traffic and a 97% spike in engagement on social media.
A competing professional lacrosse league, the NLL also reaped the benefits of significant growth during its most recent season, bringing in almost $1 million in ticket sales. The NLL’s digital viewership also experienced significant growth, up 151% from the previous season. As a result of another standout year for the NLL, CNBC reported the lacrosse league upped its ad revenue to nearly $6 million each season.
The newest league to professional lacrosse, PLL enjoyed a standout inaugural season, with the second week of games generating the “most-watched outdoor professional lacrosse game in history, garnering over 400,000 viewers across all platforms,” according to the league.
“It’s a crowded marketplace. Viewers, sponsors and, quite honestly, broadcasters all have a lot of choices,” said Jon Miller, President of Programming for NBC Sports and NBC Sports Network (NBCSN). “You have to be selective and smart and discerning in what you choose to invest and acquire. And these guys [PLL Founders] have done it.” Miller credited much of the positive fan reaction to PLL’s live streaming offering, which features all 39 PLL games.
Major Brands Score With Strategic Lacrosse Partnerships
Recent research from Nielsen Sports revealed the MLL provides brands with “a deep connection to fans through the consumer journey.” In fact, Nielsen’s study showed 65% of lacrosse fans admitted they “feel positive” toward brands that partner with the MLL, and 85% have a greater chance of gravitating toward brands as a result of their MLL alliance. Additionally, 75% of lacrosse fans have a higher tendency of buying products or services from MLL sponsors. Consumer’s positive perception of MLL partnerships garnered the attention of several major brands:
- Gatorade announced its partnership with PLL, becoming the official sports drink for the league. Gatorade’s Global Head of Sports Marketing, Jeff Kearney, said Gatorade became interested in the partnership because “it sees lacrosse as a growing sport and the PLL as an innovative way to establish a larger presence in it.”
- Under Armour shared news of its renewed sponsorship of the NLL, committing to three more years of providing players with lacrosse gear for games. The partnership between NLL and Under Armour began in 2013 and has proved mutually beneficial for both entities.
- Most recently, the NLL added to its impressive streak of partnerships with the addition of AT&T as a league sponsor. The partnership has a strong likelihood of increasing revenue for the NLL, and will welcome AT&T as the entitlement partner of the NLL’s MVP Award.
Because professional lacrosse is still a relatively small league compared to giants like the NFL or NBA, brands enjoy the opportunity to secure media spots that can connect them to target audiences with less competition and ad cost.
Lacrosse Finds Super Fans In Younger Generations
Millennials and Gen Z viewers make up the largest share of the NLL’s audience. In a 2018 interview with AdWeek, NLL Commissioner Nick Sakiewicz described the NLL fan-base as “under 35, very tech-savvy and not necessarily subscribing to cable or satellite and [avid consumers] of video content via multiple devices.” According to the NLL, it’s fans are younger than the average fans of any North American professional sports league. Player demographics indicated in 2018 youth and high school players represented the largest segments of lacrosse participants in the U.S. US Lacrosse reported that lacrosse is the fastest-growing sport among male and female youth players, growing at a rate of 21% and 25%, respectively.
Millennial and Gen Z's use of social platforms and streaming services could help sustain lacrosse’s growing popularity. With the use of Twitter streaming and Facebook Live, NLL content exceeded 344,000 views among social media spectators. After signing a deal with Turner Sports’ streaming platform B/R Live, the NLL reported a 27% increase in the number of unique viewers in the 2018-2019 season compared to 2017-2018.
As the growth of professional lacrosse continues its momentum, brands that have partnered with lacrosse leagues, and the leagues themselves, will need to keep a close eye on their audience’s values and viewing habits. With relevant messaging, innovative viewing options and continued strategic partnerships, this fast-growing industry has the potential to broaden its reach, and continue growing and nurturing fan engagement while monetizing its platforms.
Are You Looking To Boost Engagement With Your Target Audience?
Digital Media Solutions® helps brands flourish by capitalizing on consumer intent and engagement, deploying sophisticated martech with big data intelligence to connect brands with consumers at the moments they’re most ready to take action, using messages proven to resonate.
About the AuthorMore Content by Carolyn Harding