The Hot New Business of… Lacrosse?

You probably think this post title is a joke, but it isn't, according to this recent article in Fortune Small Business.

Shortly after taking over the struggling National Lacrosse League three years ago, Jim Jennings drove to Philadelphia to watch what would be only the second live lacrosse game of his life. He took a seat in the First Union Center, home of the Sixers and Flyers, and scanned the crowd. He'll never forget what he saw: men who looked fresh from a barstool; families wearing Philadelphia Eagles jerseys and cheering wildly for the hometown Wings; little boys with long hair. "They didn't look like the preppy types that have traditionally played and watched lacrosse," says Jennings.

The commissioner quickly ordered a survey. The results confirmed his hunch—80% of the fans said the Wings were their first bite of lacrosse. The preppies in the Main Line suburbs, preferring the collegiate outdoor game, turned up their noses at the indoor pros. But raucous Philly sports fans, with their passion for hard checks and high scoring, loved them. "When I go to games, I'm the only guy in a suit in the whole arena," says the boyish 42-year-old commish, a former college wrestler.

He devised a paradoxical plan—move the NLL, which debuted in 1987, out of the sport's Northeastern hotbeds. Teams in lacrosse-mad areas like Baltimore and Washington, D.C., and on Long Island, N.Y., struggled because fans there grew up on outdoor lacrosse. So Jennings looked west, moving the New Jersey Storm to Anaheim, the Albany Attack to San Jose, the Columbus Landsharks to Phoenix, and the Washington Power to Denver. (The Baltimore Thunder moved to Pittsburgh in 1999, and the Long Island team, the New York Saints, folded last year.)

So far, the plan seems to be successful. Lacrosse has been around for a long time, so why now? It just took someone who knew how to market it. Entrepreneurs are always looking for the next big thing, but remember that sometimes that old idea that never was, or never reached it's potential, can be successful too. Sometimes changing the way something is packaged and presented can make all the difference.

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