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Lacrosse’s Popularity Brings on New Opportunities for Athletic Brands

Four years ago the University of Denver made history as the first team not based on the East Coast to reach the NCAA men’s lacrosse finals, a notable achievement in a sport overwhelmingly dominated by players and teams from mid-Atlantic and New England private schools and Ivy League universities.

Created as a Native American pre-battle ritual hundreds of years ago, lacrosse originally bore the name “stickball” for its use of a pocket-bearing stick-and-ball combination. Today, the game’s intense athleticism, speed and agility are winning over fans and players who appreciate the hard-hitting excitement that mimics elements of widely played sports like football and hockey.

Data shows that lacrosse has grown faster than soccer, swimming and cross country in the last decade. The sport gained its first professional league, Major League Lacrosse (MLL), in 2001 and just last month added a second in the Premier Lacrosse League (PLL), which inked a multi-year partnership to outfit all 160 players across its six touring teams in Adidas apparel and footwear, including cleats. The PLL’s inaugural game is set for June 1 and NBC networks will broadcast and stream 16 games.

Adidas will commemorate the PLL’s freshman season with a pair of league-focused pop-ups inside its New York City and Los Angeles flagships aside from other brand activations punctuating the summer-long frame.

Dan Near, Sr., who directs the lacrosse business at Adidas, hinted at “game-changing concepts” the brand has up its sleeve for the PLL.

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“We’re always looking to create, innovate and challenge the status quo,” Near said in a statement announcing the PLL partnership. “A league built for the players, with a platform to gain exposure and grow the game in an unprecedented way, will change the sport.”

PLL chief executive officer Mike Rabil leveraged his investment background and brother Paul Rabil’s star turn at lacrosse hotbed Johns Hopkins University and top-tier play within the MLL to bring this new league to life. The CEO described the Adidas deal as a “powerful commitment to lacrosse” that could fuel the sport’s escalating popularity.

“A first-of-its-kind partnership with Adidas, the world’s leading apparel brand, will cultivate future generations of players and also provide the latest, most innovative products to PLL athletes,” the CEO continued, hailing the deal as a “seismic event in the history of lacrosse.”

Adidas isn’t the only brand benefiting from the game’s expansion.

Baltimore-based Under Armour believes its headquarters in the lacrosse breeding ground of Maryland gives it an edge over competitors that don’t have some of the sport’s greatest programs in their backyard. It’s been committed to lacrosse since the company launched in 1996, Under Armour said, noting that the sport’s athletes were some of the first to embrace the upstart challenger to Nike and Adidas.

One of Under Armour’s fastest-growing categories, lacrosse products have grown over time from a small assortment of basic training gear and uniforms to include purpose-built cleats like the Highlight and Banshee and a comprehensive line of equipment and accessories—sticks, helmets and protective accoutrements among them. Collegiate athletes on eight of the 17 men’s teams in the NCAA lacrosse tournament and three out of the four women’s team competing in the Final Four over Memorial Day weekend were outfitted head to toe in Under Armour, the brand said, citing exposure through social media and television as factors fueling the sport’s growth.

Lacrosse athletes are looking for innovative products to support their performance, like Under Armour’s RUSH apparel crafted from mineral-infused fabric with Celliant technology that returns energy back to the body for enhanced endurance and strength. The brand’s Spotlight cleat leverages a comfort-driven fully knit upper with supportive thermoplastic polyurethane yarns.

Athletic retailers like Dick’s Sporting Goods also benefit from lacrosse’s arrival in mainstream sports. Looking at a number of multi-sport retailers’ e-commerce sites, retail analytics firm Edited noted that Dick’s carries the largest lacrosse assortment, 87 percent of which falls under footwear. Shoes and cleats are the lacrosse products most stocked by sporting goods stores, Edited added, with footwear composing 60 percent of the sport-specific assortment across all retailers included in its review.

“This can likely be attributed to the idea that apparel worn to play lacrosse likely will have multiple end uses and may not be called out as lacrosse-specific clothing in product names or descriptions,” Edited men’s wear analyst Krista Corrigan said.