Annual lacrosse convention brings 5,000 to Baltimore

Posted: 7:21 pm Thu, January 14, 2010
By Liz Farmer
Daily Record Business Writer

It’s the fastest-growing sport in the country, and as thousands of key decision makers in the lacrosse world flock to Baltimore this weekend, companies new and old are hoping to make their mark.

Friday marks the start of the 12th annual U.S. Lacrosse National Convention, an event known around the industry as the place to woo potential clients.

“You’ve got all the top product manufacturers here … exhibiting their product — they’re here because the coaches are here,” said Bill Schoonmaker, COO of Baltimore-based U.S. Lacrosse. “It is an opportunity for them to put their best foot forward in a unique environment.”

About 5,000 coaches, officials and administrators from the youth level to the national level attend the convention each year. This year’s exposition hall at the Baltimore Convention Center is sold out with more than 125 exhibitors, and many companies are using the event as a way to catapult their brand or product into a quickly growing industry.

Athletic apparel maker Champion is getting in on the action this year as a first-time presenting sponsor. The North Carolina-based company is trying to advance its brand in the lacrosse world and plans to unveil its redesigned uniforms this weekend.

Claire Powell, director of Champion brand marketing, said being a sponsor gives her company face time with key people in the sport who can influence Champion’s exposure in lacrosse.

“We really believe in the sport’s potential,” Powell said. “We [want] Champion to support the growth of the sport, not just come in and slap our name on it. We want to get down to the grassroots and really build upon it.”

Both sides declined to disclose the terms of Champion’s five-year deal.

Schoonmaker said the exponential growth of lacrosse in recent years has been catching the eye of some of sports apparel industry’s heavy hitters. According to the National Federation of State High School Associations, participation in lacrosse has more than doubled this decade, with a total of 153,525 boys and girls playing on high school lacrosse teams in the 2008-09 school year.

But lacrosse is still a niche sport compared with the 1.1 million who play high school football and even the 226,285 who play golf, meaning there’s still room on the bottom floor.

“Now we’re getting companies like Nike who are beginning to be more active … and that’s a reasonably new phenomenon in the last couple of years,” Schoonmaker said.

And there’s still room for up-and-comers to make their mark: The Athletic Movement, a week-old company, is hoping to make a splash at the convention with its debut and product launch.

Founded by Eric Metzger, the Baltimore-area company has started marketing slow-motion video playback as a coaching tool. Metzger said he first used the concept for his baseball and lacrosse clinics and now wants to launch the product nationwide.

Athletic Movement sells and rents systems that record an athlete’s motion, such as a lacrosse shot, and allow players and coaches to instantly review the movement in slow motion. Players can also compare the shot to the same motion by highly skilled players, whose data is stored in the system. Coaches can also save player data and track improvement.

“We are looking to use this as a launching pad for our company because it’s in the sweet spot of the market we’re trying to get Athletic Movement exposed to,” Metzger said.

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