Building lacrosse’s fan base
From the Roanoke College Magazine, Issue Three, 2012. View the entire Roanoke Magazine online.
Native Americans were the first to toss a ball with a stick that resembled a large wooden spoon. That tribal game evolved over the centuries into lacrosse, now one of the fastest-growing team sports in the country.
One Roanoke College graduate is helping to shape the sport's professional future.
Tyler Puckett '05 markets a California-based lacrosse festival to potential sponsors. He is vice president of sales for LXM Pro Tour, which hosts all-day lacrosse camps, entertainment, and exhibition games showcasing professional lacrosse players, with the chance for attendees to meet pros face-to-face.
The tour was created in 2009 to build lacrosse's fan base. It takes the sport to areas of the country where its presence is low, such as the West Coast and the Midwest.
For Puckett, a lacrosse gig was a natural fit.
The Salem, Va., native played lacrosse for Salem High School and for a Roanoke College club team. While at Roanoke, he also was a referee and helped Men's Lacrosse Coach Bill Pilat '85 with lacrosse camps.
Puckett, 30, said he's passionate about lacrosse because a variety of players can join the game action, not only the fastest or largest.
"Everybody's running, everyone's involved," he said.
But it took Puckett, who majored in international relations, a while to pave his career path. He worked at a restaurant in Outer Banks, N.C., after graduating from Roanoke, and a year later, he moved back to Salem. Six months later, he stumbled upon a job opening with U.S. Lacrosse, the national governing body of men's, women's and youth lacrosse.
It wasn't long before Puckett became a youth development coordinator and later, a training coordinator for the Baltimore-based organization.
For several years, he traveled nationally and to the Caribbean to conduct lacrosse clinics for children in underdeveloped areas. He also coordinated clinics for coaches and umpires.
In late 2011, Puckett left U.S. Lacrosse for a sales job with a Baltimore construction company. But he couldn't leave lacrosse entirely. Last December, he joined the Pro Tour.
Puckett works for the tour in the evenings, after his day job. He spends hours on the telephone with tour sponsors. Events are held April through January.
Puckett developed communication and business acumen at Roanoke, where he held leadership positions with the Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity and Campus Activities Board.
"I'm a firm believer, if you can have a 20-minute conversation with anyone in the world, that you'll be successful at business," Puckett said. "Sports are a lot about who you know and understanding what the market is and conveying your opinion to someone."
Professional lacrosse isn't likely to become as large as the National Football League and Major League Baseball, said Max Ritz, co-founder of Pro Tour and a professional lacrosse player.
But lacrosse's numbers are rising, Ritz said. The number of people in the United States who played team lacrosse rose 10 percent in 2011, from 2010 to 2011 according to U.S. Lacrosse. That is the largest yearly increase since the organization began tracking players in 2001.
Also, the professional Major League Lacrosse added two franchise teams this year, for a total of eight.
Working with lacrosse is rewarding for Puckett, who played on club teams until he broke a few ribs last year. He's immersed in the behind-the-scenes challenges of teaching lacrosse and building fans.
Puckett can't imagine not working in the lacrosse industry. Though his Pro Tour gig is an opportune sales job, "the fact that it deals with lacrosse is a bonus," he said.
-Jenny Kincaid Boone '01