This article originally appeared in Sports Business Journal (Subscription Required)
The Long Island, New York community has always maintained a deep passion for sports; whether it is for their beloved teams, iconic events or renowned youth sport programs. This has included the string of Stanley Cups delivered by the Islanders to their home at the Nassau Coliseum, memorable U.S. Open golf championships and iconic moments from the third leg of horse racing’s Triple Crown, The Belmont Stakes.
In addition, Long Island has long been considered the country’s premier and most passionate hotbed of youth, scholastic and professional lacrosse for over 100 years.
The sport was invented by American Indians and has been embedded in the soul of Long Island since the first decade of the 20th century. The first scholastic lacrosse program on Long Island started in 1933 in Manhasset and the Island has separated itself because of its popularity in public school programs. Lacrosse has spanned several generations on Long Island, which includes the fine traditions like that of the Tierney family – first and second generation Hall of Famers Bill and Seth Tierney along with 2020 NLL draft pick Ryan Tierney, extending into the third generation.
We have seen formalized youth box lacrosse training programs evolve and help introduce the sport to a new wave of children and parents. There is significance to this in how, and why, the game will continue to grow as rapidly as any sport in this country.
This brings me to the importance and value of why professional sports teams should establish strategic pipelines to youth and scholastic athletes within their region, state and communities. In our case, exposing the great game of box lacrosse and making it accessible to all kids will only expand on the foundation of the New York Riptide.
No matter if a sports organization resides in a large market or smaller one, the importance and benefits of engaging youth athletes can transcend all areas of business. Growing the game of lacrosse through youth initiatives remains our moral compass and the roots of the club. It ultimately drives all community-based decisions and is a commitment organizations should make to continue building every day.
The cornerstone of our pipeline is the newly established Training Academy, for children as young as five years of age with the core purpose of showing the youth the power of sports and the life lessons it can teach and reinforce. For me, it emphasizes camaraderie, community, negotiation skills, time management and even dealing with adversity. Up-close exposure to players as teachers and mentors helps not only the young participant, but also the player as his investment into the community is further cemented. It’s essentially a “win-win” for everyone.
The day we draft a Long Island-native, who was introduced to our sport through the Training Academy, will be the crowning moment for this organization. I would like nothing more than to watch a player advance to one of our Junior Riptide teams, then on to collegiate level of play before having them join the professional ranks as a member of our team.
I admire other organizations that have developed solid pipelines like the New York Red Bulls, who have done a tremendous job in their respective markets. I would largely say that affordability and accessibility are the two keys for this to come to fruition organically. With the stronghold on lacrosse in our area, we realize how fortunate we are to be in this DMA. However, it’s essential for our players to be out in the community to engage with children and families outside of the arena.
We have also learned that true partnerships flourish when the sports organization holds the same values as the marketing partner with their collective approach to building a pipeline at a young age. Quality partners understand the importance of engaging families early on so that they can grow and find trust with a team. My philosophy has always been centered on the common goal of building partnerships rather than collecting sponsorships. As partners we are all dedicated to being a part of the fabric of the community, with a fan base loyal and proud of where they reside.
It’s critical for leagues and teams to promote diversity for children and families regardless of race, gender or their socioeconomic status. In order for positive change to occur, organizations need to take action that will directly impact their pipelines and general presence in the community. Our club will be implementing the When You Assist You Score program that connects business partners with not-for-profit organizations, providing varying experiences available in their communities, free of charge. In addition, blocks of tickets for their programs, in-person or virtual box lacrosse clinics, mentoring from our players, or a number of other creative activities centered around community building and giving back. It represents another way to build the pipeline.
There is no question that a professional sports team can elevate a community. Establishing a solid pipeline brings closer the incomparable task to build a devoted fan base that can start at an early age, develop for years to come and ultimately span generations.
My wish is for a family to have the experience to attend a game, have fun and want to be part of the fabric of their team and sport…both on and off the field. If you build the pipeline, they will come.
Rich Lisk is the Executive Vice President of GF Sports, overseeing the New York Riptide, a team in the National Lacrosse League who call the Nassau Coliseum on Long Island their home. Lisk is 30-year sports industry veteran.