There’s a new and important deal for USA Lacrosse, the U.S. governing body for lacrosse. They’ve signed a two-year deal with CAA Sports Licensing, which will see that company “assist USA Lacrosse in licensing the commercial use of its brand in connection with the design, manufacture, production, sale, distribution, marketing, promotion, and advertising of branded products and services.” USA Lacrosse CEO Marc Riccio described CAA Sports Licensing (part of the overall Creative Arts Agency company, which also manages many sports figures) as “a well-known titan in the sports industry” in a release. He spoke to AA via e-mail on why this deal was a big one for his organization, plus much more on the state of U.S. lacrosse in 2023.
“This partnership is an important opportunity for USA Lacrosse to capitalize on the strength of our brand,” Riccio said. “Our merchandise and apparel business has doubled over the last two years, and we are excited to see what CAA can do with it from here. This deal will allow us to speak with new audiences and open new revenue streams. As a membership organization with more than 400,000 members around the country, we are consistently looking for ways to innovate, diversify our business, and provide additional membership value. The opportunities with this licensing agreement perfectly align with that effort.”
Riccio said CAA’s connections and experience will help USA Lacrosse expand their merchandising and apparel business into new avenues.
“CAA is one of the most respected names in this space and we’re honored to work with them. We are confident their relationships throughout the industry will open doors that we would not otherwise find. They’re also recognized as an agency that does not take on every account that comes their way, and we’re interested in partnering with organizations that are thoughtful about the brand and who they align with as well. CAA has shown they are committed to our relationship. They will be aggressive, innovative, and strategic in exploring new offerings.”
This year is USA Lacrosse’s 25th anniversary. Riccio said while the governing body is relatively young compared to the overall sport and its U.S. history, it’s made important strides in that time.
“Lacrosse is the oldest team sport in North America, gifted to us from Native Americans. With that said, our organization is comparably young and growth across the U.S. has been fast and organic. Throughout this growth spurt, the mission of USA Lacrosse has been consistent: fuel the growth, enrich the experience and field the best national teams. Over the 25 years of the organization’s history, we’ve evolved programs and launched new initiatives, but ultimately everything has been done to help achieve those three mission objectives.”
Riccio’s role as CEO of USA Lacrosse is relatively new. He was tabbed for that job in August 2021, and is only the second CEO in that body’s history, following Steve Stenersen (who led USA Lacrosse from its 1998 founding until stepping down in 2021). Riccio said his time there so far has gone well.
“The first year and a half has been great. We had four international competitions—winning two gold medals and two silver medals, navigated return to play and return to office from COVID, implemented a major growth initiative called National Celebrate Lacrosse Week, became a Recognized Sport Organization in the United States Olympic and Paralympic family, and much more. We have a fantastic board and a dedicated staff committed to our mission. The trajectory for the sport and our organization are incredibly positive.”
Riccio’s previous work includes 17 years in business operations and development with the NFL’s New York Jets, then seven years focusing on growth, strategy, and organizational change for sports brands. Most recently before taking the USA Lacrosse role, he was the chief commercial officer for IP and media consultancy firm KlarisIP. He said he tries to incorporate lessons he’s learned from each of his jobs into what he’s doing now, but past comments from former Jets’ coach Bill Parcells particularly stick with him.
“I’ve been fortunate to observe and learn from all my previous experiences. The most important lesson came from watching Hall of Fame coach Bill Parcells when I was at the New York Jets. I learned the value of eliminating distractions and keeping your team focused. Distractions come in all shapes and sizes. Individually and commutatively, they prevent you from being effective. Sounds simple, but you’d be surprised how quickly organizations become consumed by distractions.”
On the broadcasting side, there’s a lot of lacrosse on ESPN in particular these days, with the NLL, the PLL, and Athletes Unlimited all having deals there. And that’s before the tonnage of college lacrosse and world lacrosse events they show. Riccio said ESPN has been a great partner for the sport.
“ESPN’s support of lacrosse has been incredibly valuable. The partnerships drive awareness for the sport and consolidate our audience with one media platform. ESPN has deals with all three professional leagues—Athletes Unlimited, the NLL and PLL—in addition to World Lacrosse. The expanded coverage of the college game through its robust ESPN+ package coupled with linear broadcasts, primarily on the ACC Network and ESPNU, has made the game so much more accessible to new audiences.”
Riccio said it was particularly appreciated to see the coverage ESPN brought to the USA Lacrosse-hosted World Lacrosse Women’s Championship last year.
“When USA Lacrosse hosted the World Lacrosse Women’s Championship last summer, ESPN networks carried more than 100 games from the event on its platforms, including six games on linear television. Prior to that, only one international women’s game had been carried on linear in the United States.”
It of course helps that ESPN has more platforms than it used to, including conference networks like the ACC Network and over-the-top streaming service ESPN+. That gives them more ability to show more sports, including lacrosse. But Riccio said it also matters that there’s a passionate lacrosse audience that will seek out this content.
“The lacrosse audience has shown it is hungry for this content and consumes the sport on multiple platforms, sometimes at the same time. It’s important to deliver this content to the fans.”
Another notable thing ESPN did was airing and streaming Fate of a Sport, a behind-the-scenes documentary on the PLL. (Director Michael Doneger spoke to AA on that last fall.) Riccio said that kind of non-game storytelling content can be an important way to both appeal to existing fans and find new fans.
“Fate of a Sport was a very well-done documentary that provided a raw and honest look at a business you rarely see. The behind-the-scenes building process was fantastic for lacrosse fans, and the storytelling was so compelling the appeal goes far beyond people just interested in lacrosse. For the sport to continue its growth trajectory, we need to reach new audiences, and Fate of a Sport was a great vehicle to achieve that goal.”
One big goal for USA Lacrosse is getting the sport into the 2028 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles. Riccio said that would provide the sport a huge Stateside boost.
“The Olympics are the pinnacle of international sport competition. Inclusion in the Olympics serves two primary purposes. The first is domestic growth. Access to the largest platform in the sporting world will have a significant impact on visibility and credibility in the U.S.”
But he added that it’s also important for promoting the sport internationally, and for providing funding to let top players continue in lacrosse.
“The second purpose is international growth. Olympic inclusion provides access to government funding opportunities for many countries’ lacrosse organizations. Without the Olympics, much of that funding is inaccessible. This funding is critical for countries to develop sustainable player development programs and increase the level of competitiveness in the sport.”
Riccio said he’s thrilled about where lacrosse could be going.
“I’m very optimistic about the future of lacrosse. Simply put, this game changes people’s lives for the better every day. Just ask a lacrosse player, parent, coach, or official how this game affected them, and I guarantee you will get a smile and an effusive answer that includes friendships, confidence, leadership, physical and mental well-being, educational opportunities, networking, or even job opportunities. That love of the game has driven the sport’s growth organically for decades. Now, we’re combining passion with a strong business focus to fuel the growth.”
He recognizes there are challenges ahead, though, especially with turning that recent growth into something sustainable in the long-term.
“There remains so much untapped potential for the sport. Athletes Unlimited and the PLL are in their infancy. The state high school associations in Tennessee and Wisconsin both recently voted to approve lacrosse as a fully-sanctioned state championship sport. However, approximately half of the states don’t yet sanction high school lacrosse. Lacrosse has been the fastest-growing team sport in terms of percentage at the NCAA level for decades with so much more opportunity ahead. Our fastest growing states include Ohio, California, and Texas—we are clearly a national sport.”
As for USA Lacrosse specifically, Riccio said they have key specific roles to play at the grassroots level and the international level, and collaborative roles to play elsewhere.
“USA Lacrosse will remain focused on growing the base of the pyramid at the youth level by providing the resources to introduce new players to the sport and ensure a quality playing experience to keep them playing. At the top of the pyramid, we are committed to providing a premium platform for the nation’s elite athletes to thrive through our national team program. In between, we will continue to collaborate with lacrosse organizations at all levels to best position the sport for success.”
He said their ability and desire to work with everyone sets them up to be a force for the good of lacrosse overall.
“As the governing body for the sport—across all disciplines of play for boys and girls, men and women—we are uniquely positioned to be a unifier. We’ve made considerable outreach in this area and the response has been fantastic. The lacrosse community recognizes we are stronger and more impactful working together. At USA Lacrosse we are committed to the belief rising tides raise all boats.”