Lacrosse For Fun And Profit

Sometimes the most ingenious ideas in sports marketing come from the unlikeliest of places. Consider this totally hypothetical scenario…

Imagine you are attending the NCAA Men’s Lacrosse National Championship game at Baltimore’s M&T Bank Stadium and you are not familiar with the Revolutionary War era tangle of streets. You see a bright yellow sign with two words on it: Closest Parking. Sweet. You pull in and although the price you pay elicits a bit of a wince, you know you’re a short walk from the stadium on a 90 degree day. You walk in the general direction of the stadium and in three blocks you come across a bright yellow sign with two words on it: Closest Parking. Three more blocks – another bright yellow sign with two words on it: Closest Parking. Knowing you’ve been had, you stop and ask the guy waving cars into the lot “How can every parking lot be the one closest to the stadium?” He smiles conspiratorially and says “Closest Parking’s just the name of the company”. Brilliant.

And this also from the intersection of sports and capitalism…

The sport of college lacrosse has grown in visibility by leaps and bounds over the last decade, so much so that its “final four” championship weekend receives the full ESPN treatment of heavy advance promotion and live telecast – one of the few “second-tier” college sports to rise to this vaunted status. The NCAA, much to their credit, has capitalized on this and created a true extravaganza by staging the championships of not only Division 1, but Divisions 2 and 3 all in the same venue over Memorial Day weekend. Five do-or-die games in three days – invariably held at an NFL stadium, which it nearly sells out. Good for the game of lacrosse, great for the local economy of, in this case, Baltimore. Not so stellar for the ticket buying public.

See, you can’t buy an advance ticket for just one day’s action. If you want to see the Division 3 national championship, for example, you have to buy a three-day package. And if you are a humble Sports Fan on a tight 100-event schedule that simply wants to secure a good seat for the Big Game on Memorial Day, good luck to you. This (minus the “good luck” part) was explained in detail on the website, but in the days leading up to the event, the following notice was tacked on: “Single game tickets will go on sale at the box office on Friday”, meaning 24 hours before the whole thing faces off. So you’re saying there’s a chance…

Fast forward to Monday and our arrival at M&T Bank Stadium. As The Bird and I worked our way toward the box office to purchase whatever types of tickets were left over, we were – to paraphrase Casablanca’s Captain Renault – shocked, shocked to find that illegal ticket scalping was going on. What was amusing though, was the effort on the part of the scalpers to convince the public that seats were in short supply. This was the fifth and final game. On Saturday, two teams had been eliminated in the semi-finals. On Sunday, the smaller division champions had been decided. Were we to believe that each and every one of the fans of those other four teams would return on Monday to watch a game in which they had only a passing interest in? And did I mention that the temperature was north of 90 degrees?

We sidestepped the amateur scalpers and proceeded to the box office – where we met the professional scalpers, the NCAA themselves. For there we viewed the price list for that day’s game, which started at $35 for an upper level seat. I couldn’t help but laugh. So Mom, if you’re reading this, you can surely understand that we were forced into delving into an illegal activity.

A Sports Fan’s Kindred Spirit

Warming to the task, and knowing full well that there would be lots of empty seats in the stadium from which we could choose once inside (via the Voluntary Upgrade Program), we set about getting the cheapest tickets we could find on the, ahem…“secondary market”. And what’s more, we were willing to wait it out. I had always heard that the price of a game ticket on the street reaches its lowest point during the playing of the National Anthem, so what better time to test that theory? And sure enough, moments after the final notes of the Star Spangled Banner drifted away, we had two lower-level tickets in hand for less than the NCAA was charging for one upper-level seat. Is it just me, or did the NCAA toss away additional revenue while trying to make a killing?

Once inside a bigger challenge faced me: who to root for in a game between Duke and Notre Dame. Not only have I never found a decent reason to pull for either of them in anything whatsoever, I have spent a good deal of my fan-hood to date actively rooting against both of them. These are two schools that need absolutely zero help in celebrating their athletic accomplishments.

I recently went online to Google how many national championships Notre Dame is credited with, and the uber-objective WikiAnswers came back with a football-only answer of 13, a list of the years in which they were attained (exactly one in the last 32 years), and this interesting footnote: “Actually, in division 1A, the NCAA does not award a championship. The reference made to thirteen championships here are ‘POLL’ championships. The early ones especially have to be taken with a healthy dose of skepticism.” So noted.

Still trying to find an answer to the simple question “How many total NCAA championships has Notre Dame won?” I persisted. But the Internet seemed a little evasive – it only wanted to talk about football. Some more digging, and I understood why: A program that presents itself as the epitome of success in men’s athletics has logged exactly seven non-football championships, despite competing in pretty much every sport ever invented. The most recent? Fencing in 1986. And if you take fencing out of the mix, only the 1959 national tennis title was earned in my lifetime – which as The Bird might say, is a wicked long time, mis-tah. This track record has the Notre Dame athletic department beating away contributors with sticks? An exclusive network television contract with NBC?

To be fair, Notre Dame is not the only college to sport its own network. Duke owns Dick Vitale, which is more or less equivalent to owning ESPN. And while Notre Dame is largely a legend in their own mind, Duke has the annoying habit of actually backing up their bluster with 11 NCAA championships since 1991, with seven of those coming since the turn of the millenium. This does however, pale in comparison to…

WARNING! West Coast Bias Alert!

…the 200 NCAA championships that USC and UCLA have combined to win. But that’s beside the point – which is that Duke alums act like they’ve won every championship ever conjured up.

After much deliberation, I was left with a decision akin to picking one team over another in a contest between Goldman Sachs and BP. Both bigger than life. Both their own biggest fans. Both poster children for the Hubris Foundation.

Then it dawned on me – Duke lacrosse. It’s hard to believe that it has only been four years since the words “Duke lacrosse” meant “out of control rapists” to the tabloid-fueled society in which we live. In 2006, coming off a loss the previous year in the national title game, Duke was again one of the best teams in the country. Then, in the middle of the season, a stripper who had been hired to perform at an unofficial team party claimed that she had been sexually assaulted by three Duke players. The circus that followed highlighted many of the worst aspects of American jurisprudence, politics and, ah…“journalism”. It took way longer than it should have, but eventually the three players were completely exonerated – but not before the remainder of the season had been cancelled, the coach had been fired, and those three players and their families had spent more than a year in a pitched battle for justice.

OK, so maybe I’ll root for Duke.

As for the game itself, it earned the distinction of being the lowest scoring NCAA Championship game in lacrosse history (6-5), and of having the shortest sudden death period. Duke’s C.J. Costabile won the overtime face-off, sprinted up the field, and scored from point-blank range – total time elapsed: five seconds. Not exactly a satisfying fan experience if you weren’t from Duke.

Well at least we had scored the absolute Closest Parking.

Title-Winning Goal Celebration

2 Responses to Lacrosse For Fun And Profit

  1. June D. says:

    Excellent! Thanks for making me smile & love the “wicked long time” – those words take me home again.

  2. Docschlac says:

    That’s what happens when the Orange aren’t in the final game. see you back in Attleborough!!

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