January 15, 2016
MLL franchises in Los Angeles and San Francisco both folded after the 2008 season. (Kevin P. Tucker)
MLL franchises in Los Angeles and San Francisco both folded after the 2008 season. (Kevin P. Tucker)

When Will Pro Lacrosse Return to the West Coast?

by Mark Macyk | LaxMagazine.com | Twitter

Two centuries after Americans first dreamed of stretching their country from sea to shining sea, lacrosse is completing its own version of Manifest Destiny.

Washington, Oregon and California were among the 10 states with the greatest percentage growth of participants in youth and high school lacrosse from 2001 to 2014. Since 2009, no state has grown faster than Oregon.

So why have professional lacrosse's attempts to go west repeatedly failed? Los Angeles and San Francisco both folded their MLL teams after the 2008 season. Anaheim, Portland, San Jose and Seattle have seen NLL teams move way. The LXM Pro Tour was nationwide, but had its roots on the West Coast.

For one, simply getting players out west costs a lot of money. And for pro lacrosse to really take root, it helps to have players who live in the area, or at the very least can get there easily.

"Denver does a great job in this area," said G.W. Mix, the former GM of the MLL's Los Angeles Riptide and current coach at Corona Del Mar (Calif.) High School. "But Denver's only halfway to California. It's more difficult to get enough players to live in a team's market out here. It's really far from home and a very expensive place to live."

This story appears in the January edition of Lacrosse Magazine, featuring a look at all the West Coast has to offer. Join US Lacrosse to start your subscription today!

And in SoCal's case, there is a lot of competition for a fan's free time. Just this week did the NFL announce formal plans to relocate the St. Louis Rams to Los Angeles next year, with the possibility of another team joining them.

"Let's face it, the NFL struggles to keep franchises here," Mix said. "Southern California is a pretty unique place and there is plenty for sports fans to do on a summer afternoon or evening. Sports entertainment has to be pretty compelling to draw people out of the water, off the beach and onto the freeways."

But the MLL might just try again anyway. The next target for expansion is Texas, but MLL commissioner David Gross said he sees tremendous opportunities it Seattle, Portland, Salt Lake City and California.

Location in an individual market will be important. Mix said Orange County would have been a better spot for the Riptide. He tried to persuade management to move the team away from the city of Carson and toward the suburbs.

"Carson, on a summer afternoon, was not the right place for lacrosse fans," Mix said. "We needed to be playing in the evening in Orange County — equidistant from Los Angeles and San Diego."

Mix's theory was confirmed when the Riptide played their final game at Orange Coast College.

"It was a home run," he said. "We had by far the best crowd we've ever had. That being said, it was only one game."

One game seems to be the best bet to see a pro team play in California in the near future. It's working in the college ranks. The Pacific Coast Shootout started three years ago when 6,000 fans came to watch Denver play Notre Dame drawing. Last year Maryland and North Carolina drew nearly 7,000. Notre Dame and Maryland will play in the 2016 edition March 5.

"But I doubt we could get crowds like that every other week," Mix said. "A big part of the Shootout's draw is its rarity and the uniqueness of the experience."

For now at least, it seems hopes for pro lax on the West Coast are a case of California dreaming.

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