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Take Away the NCAA Final Four from the Northeast . . . They Don’t Deserve It Anymore; Make Them Earn It Back

I’m STILL steamed about it

The babies up north still are sucking their thumbs because they didn’t get to attend the NCAA D1 Women’s Final Four within the ‘hallowed grounds’ of the Northeast.

As you know by now, I covered my first D1 Final Four with press credentials this past weekend in Cary, North Carolina. I HAD A GREAT TIME.

But that’s not enough for the spoiled brats. THEY are the ones who control the sport, right?

Here’s the tweet that set me off:

You know what’s REALLY embarrassing?

Running this sport FOREVER and WASTING the period of time when we were the fastest growing sport in America . . . and not converting enough of the players into fans WHO WATCH THE GAMES.

You know what else is embarrassing Katie? The TV ratings. Which has NOTHING to do with the location and everything the Northeast Protection Racket of this sport has failed to achieve while running this sport.

You know what’s embarrassing? A team ranked 13th in the IL/IWLCA poll getting a #4 seed and falling behind 9-0 in the first quarter of the quarterfinal. Maybe if they moved the game from Maryland’s junior high school seating capacity facility (1,400 for the quarterfinals???) to Homewood, it would have been only an 8-goal run to start the game!

But it’s only Cary that is embarrassing, because 4,000 more people weren’t in the stands.

Oh, wait a minute . . . 5, 4, 3, 2 ,1 . . .

Just waiting to hear “he’s just a cranky old white guy who never played the sport, what the hell does he know?’

You know what I DO know? How to read a chart.

Let’s look at the TV ratings

I asked the NCAA to provide the TV ratings for the last 10 years . . . you know, that period we called ‘when we were the fastest growing sport in America’ . . . run by the GREAT NORTHEAST . . . and they gladly went back into the records to produce this (thank you to the NCAA!).

You know what happened this year?

LESS people watched this year than last year . . .

You know what else is embarrassing? The FUCKING TOTAL VIEWERS, sorry for the language, but it’s time those of us outside the privileged Northeast Lax Mafia call you and your bullshit for what it is, BULLSHIT.

40,000 ???????

And you’re bitching about another 4,000 in the stands?

You have a LOT bigger problem to address, which is how did you produce this while running this sport forever? YOU are responsible for taking what was the fastest growing sport in the country and failing to convert that to eyeballs. YOU! And no one else.

Thankfully, the finals are better watched, and certainly there might have been hope for continued growth. The semifinals are on ESPNU, which does not have the same reach as either ESPN or ESPN2, but it certainly is available, as 36,000,000 people pay for it according to the Wiki for it. ESPN and ESPN2 are basically twice that at 72,000,000.

Here’s the chart for the Finals, since 2014 (according to the NCAA, the semifinals were not on the ESPN channels until 2019):

Note that the jump occurred because the last 3 finals were on ESPN, not ESPNU. But also notice we peaked two years ago . . . the Charlotte North effect?

Which is problematic, because you don’t get a Charlotte coming along every day. Izzy Scane broke the scoring records, but basically we had 100,000 less viewers in 2024 from 2022, which is about a 23% fall in the two years.

This is from last year and covers the NCAA D1 Softball TV ratings (SpotsMediaWatch.com is the site)

LINK

Over 1,000,000 viewers at times, and a larger audience for the ABC games.

Know why they are on ABC Northeast Lax Mafia? Because they learned how to market their sport . . . something you have not shown you can do. According to that article, their viewership jumped 23% for the regional semifinals, on the same channels lacrosse is on.

Oh, hold on a second, I hear some grumbling . . .

“What does he know, he lives in FLORIDA and they don’t know lacrosse . . . and he’s just an old, cranky white guy who never played the sport . . .”

Look back at the semifinal numbers. Add the two games together and you see 2024 was the lowest combined viewers of the last 4 years. Is that because it was held in Cary? LOL!

Or did northeast viewers decide to tune out because they held it in North Carolina and if I don’t get my Maypo (look it up if that’s too far back for you) I won’t watch! While sucking my thumb and throwing a tantrum with my blankie.

Here’s a little secret for you geniuses up north, and I can’t believe I have to teach you this simple fact. If you keep the sport to yourself, you can’t be surprised when the rest of us stop feeling wanted as fans.

And it’s NOT your sport anyhow, it’s the Haudenosaunee’s. And they’ve done a LOT MORE to spread this wonderful sport than you have.

They let the sport speak for themselves. They worship the sport as spiritual; you market it as another way to grab money at the club and pro level. They respect EVERY FAN; you see fans as an unnecessary convenience if they aren’t living in the Northeast.

Let’s make this a CHALLENGE for the Northeast Lax Mafia to do some introspection and understand what must be done before we go the same way as volleyball.

Why do I bring this up? Because I’ve seen this story before.

I’m 66 in September. My two best sports were golf and volleyball. I started playing golf at age 7 and was a pretty good golfer, including being the only member of the Roggenburg family to ever break par in a round. I took up volleyball while a counselor at Kutsher’s Sports Academy in 1977, while I was helping to teach golf, and fell in love with playing it. Five years later, I was a darn good player and a big fan of watching it.

In the 1980’s, the US Men’s National Team became the dominant world power in the sport . . . 1982 World’s, 1984 Olympic Gold, 1986 World’s and 1988 Olympic Gold . . . a 93% winning percentage over those years.

During that run, I attended an EXHIBITION match between the US and Poland that drew nearly 9,000 fans to Madison Square Garden. The sport started a run of popularity with this period (btw-the Women’s team also saw great success too). So, what did the powers that be and their media partners do to capitalize on this? They forced BEACH VOLLEYBALL on the viewing public instead of the much better indoor version.

Why? If they were honest in their answer, it would be SEX APPEAL. Men in shorts and topless and women in bikinis. Compared to the indoor version of strategy and teamwork, the beach game sucked, so they focused on the players. Misty May and Keri Walsh became the face of the women’s game, while Randy Stoklos and Sinjin Smith were the hot men’s teams until others, including Karch Kiraly took turns dominating periods of play.

And it got BORING. Many weekends in a row of the same two teams meeting in the finals, and finally the sport lost its network slots. Karch Kiraly was an even more dominant force in volleyball than anyone in the lacrosse world has, then or now. Don’t believe me, look up what he accomplished.

And it didn’t make the sport widely popular. Sound familiar?

Team sport popularity isn’t by accident. It’s based on getting the audience invested in being a fan OF THE SPORT, then OF A TEAM and ONLY LAST about the players.

Tiger Woods played an individual sport. Mike Tyson, Muhammad Ali, Arnold Palmer, Serena Williams, etc., became worldwide phenomenons individually; but they had the benefit of not having to TEACH THE AUDIENCE what they were seeing with their own two eyes.

We don’t have that luxury. As a matter of fact, we have the polar opposite; unless you are a past player or long-time fan like me (the first game I saw in person was in 1977), you likely have NO F***ING CLUE what you are looking at.

When I was young, the Mets, Jets and Knicks all won world championships within about 18 months of each other. For many of us sports fanatics growing up on Long Island, it would be fair to say the order of interest and importance was Mets 1st, Knicks 2nd and Jets 3rd. Because that was the likelihood of WHAT WE KNEW ABOUT THE SPORT and understood it’s complexities.

So, why did Football win the long battle? Why is Soccer now playing in front of large live crowds now, while we languish? And no bragging about a 50,000 Final Four semifinal; that was a number of years ago already. 32,000 this past year in Philadelphia is nice but compared to Rutgers football outdrawing that for a home game against WAGNER.

Never mind the Hartford disasters . . .

Hold on, hearing another excuse brewing:

“But that was Covid and he’s just a FLORIDA guy, who is old, white, male and cranky, and he never played the sport anyhow, what the hell does he know?”

Football decided to do something that we have NEVER DONE; SMARTEN THE AUDIENCE to what they are watching.

Try to find me 100 Male lacrosse fans who can explain the 8-meter arc to me . . . how it came about and why, and how it is utilized today. Go ahead, try it. 47 years of following the sport and it still baffles me at times.

I would bet big money I could find 1,000,000 casual female football fans who could give me a better breakdown of Cover-2 in football.

Why?

ESPN and the NFL decided to put a lot of resources into smartening the audience. We don’t have the luxury of ESPN funding this, but there are very wealthy lacrosse fans and corporate marketers who could put up some money to help this and it wouldn’t be terribly expensive to set up a 24/7 channel that would help the effort. I had been interviewed a number of times on the old Lax Sports Network, but to be honest, it doesn’t even enter my mind to search for LacrosseTV these days, and I doubt I’m alone. Time for a new model and a DEDICATED approach to smartening the audience.

So, for this article, I tracked down LacrosseTV, and I found it broadcasting a GRADUATION SPEECH at a college I can’t identify, listening to a kid talking about playing soccer, while the bottom of the screen said I was watching the 2023 North American Invitational featuring Tel Aviv Gold Star vs Frog Po (the rest cut off) . . .

I think that might be a little embarrassing too, wouldn’t you Kathy?

Just look at all the possibilities for that channel:

We have existing lacrosse journalism, but it is very limited and fractured. And they tend to cover the same things. A consolidated, funded approach would allocate resources more widely.

Where is our Ron Jaworski on Sunday morning teaching the intricacies of offense so that 1,000,000 can talk intelligently about Cover-2?

Where is the Mel Kiper/Todd McShay (Ty Xanders is probably the best comparison) talking ALL YEAR ROUND about who is going to be drafted? Our comparison would be covering the recruiting world of high school players.

The NHL Network uses a nightly show with cut-ins across the nation, mimic that with high schools AROUND THE COUNTRY, not just the Northeast. Enough of them broadcast and many more would step up and do more if asked.

Look at all our available coaches, Men’s Game, Women’s Game, Sixes and Box, who can take people through the strategies and skill development.

This is going to take many years to do, but what is the alternative? Do we need to lose broadcast slots before reality kicks in?

Now, take a look at the Men’s TV Ratings, which also have disturbing trends.

ALL the Semifinals were on ESPN2, ALL of them. 72,000,000 available households AT LEAST, in the past ESPN and ESPN2 were in far more households than today, since cord cutting hadn’t come into play yet.

The TV viewership for the 2015 semifinals was basically the SAME as this year’s!

While we were THE FASTEST GROWING SPORT in America. I saw a tweet this morning talking about how the finals the last three years were the most-watched ever! This is like extolling the construction of the tallest building in Wichita, Kansas when it opened. This is still way behind WOMEN’S SOFTBALL. Just do a small amount of math:

223,000 viewers for Maryland-Virginia . . . TWO Blue Bloods in good standing with the Northeast Lax Mafia . . . on a platform with 72,000,000 payees. That’s 0.03% of the available viewership! With about 32,000 in attendance in Philadelphia. 255,000 total eyeballs.

But let’s blame Cary for that while we’re at it too . . . if just 4,000 more people were in the stands, we’d be watched all over the nation!

By the way, 2023 to 2024 Finals? That’s a 21% DROP in viewing.

Wait, hearing another bellyache coming . . .

“But that’s on a Saturday on Memorial Day Weekend . . . and he’s a Florida-based, white, male, cranky old man who never played the sport, so who does he think he is criticizing us?”

We’ve managed to put ourselves in a box, thanks to the Northeast Lax Mafia who have run the sport forever. We wasted the great momentum that should have come with all the players who made the leap to our sport.

I harp back to the simple concept above:

Here’s a little secret for you geniuses up north, and I can’t believe I have to teach you this simple fact. If you keep the sport to yourself, you can’t be surprised when the rest of us stop feeling wanted as fans.

You have had control forever, there is no one else to point the finger at.

Here’s a simple proposal for you.

  • Stop Whining about WHERE a game is played
  • Start Thinking about REACHING THE CASUAL SPORTS FAN INSTEAD OF CATERING TO ONE SLICE OF THE SPORTS WORLD, the hardcore, long-term lacrosse fan. I’m one of them, and you are pissing ME off. What does that say about your efforts to GROW THE GAME?
  • Take the long view on spending resources on SMARTENING THE AUDIENCE; the sport will grow organically from it. It will likely take a sustained effort for 20 years, just like football did it. But if the end result is TV ratings like softball, it will be well worth it.
  • Take the Final Fours around the country, even if it costs some money to do so. No more in the Northeast for the next 4 years in the cycle. The rest of the country has had to pay to attend for DECADES, and you complained about two years in North Carolina. Stop being selfish and show you truly ARE a fan by spending some of YOUR MONEY to attend, like all of us have done over the years.
  • Denver should be the first choice. Nearly 20,000 showed up for a July 4th MLL game, imagine a Final Four in a state with a rapid growth in loving the game. Give Bill Tierney a big budget and a full year on our dime to be the ambassador for the event. And if they set an attendance record, you will hopefully understand that your policies have been the impediment to growth.
  • Next should be Texas, likely Dallas. Jerry Jones’ grandkid played. Take advantage of the connection.
  • USF is building a wonderful facility in Tampa and they are starting their D1 Women next year. Take a look at the alumni numbers for the top lacrosse programs in this state; they’re huge.
  • Indianapolis, Seattle, San Diego are all places you NEED TO GO TO. It isn’t about the attendance numbers versus Phily or Baltimore or Boston; it’s about BUILDING A LONG-TERM RELATIONSHIP with the casual sports fan.

If you don’t understand that you are the PROBLEM more than the SOLUTION, we’ll be the new Beach Volleyball, basically forgotten and mostly ignored, and since the participation numbers are now reversing, you’ll be in charge of a sinking ship. For one of the best sports to watch ever invented.

What a legacy to leave . . . God, if only 4,000 more people had showed up in a beautiful area of North Carolina . . . all would be well with the lacrosse world!

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