The world of sports advertising really started reaching out and branding back in the late 80s.
There were other notables in lifestyle wear previous to the explosion of advertising Nike brought us with “Air Jordan” and the “Bo Knows” campaign, like the Adidas bag or training suits, but somehow all of that was very naive in the grand scheme of things.
A recent trip to Oahu and the North Shore of Hawaii got me thinking about where a good chunk of this mentality started: SURFING.
Because my last name is O’Neill, I’ve basically had my own T-shirt company since my parents brought me back an O’Neill Surf T-shirt with the correct spelling from their first trip to Oahu in 1982. I even went to the original store in Santa Cruz, California on a summer road trip in 1985 to buy some more. I had caught the logo bug.
Sometime last week I landed in Oahu, got to the hotel and walked out on to the strip to get rid of the flight and have a nice evening stroll. I walked into a Billabong surf shop and hadn’t been standing there more than a few minutes when an employee approached me and asked if I “played”? I wondered for a second what the hell he was talking about. Then I realized he was referring to my T-Shirt, a Colin Achenbach issued HOMEGROWN Lacrosse T-Shirt from Apple Valley, Minnasoter.
Of course I said “not really” as I’m long retired. He explained he was from Baltimore– an ex- Salisbury guy– and had moved to Honolulu about six months prior. Now he was involved in youth programs and playing local club ball. Really nice kid.
Fast forward to this modern age of information and expression in the crossing cultures of cool and sports. Lacrosse is keeping stride with all sorts of logos and companies on display at every event and high school. Lacrosse, like surfing, is cool for young adult males and teens. None cooler than Warrior, who really took it all to another level back around 2001 when they marketed the company aggressively against the backdrop of the very conservative lacrosse icons Brine and STX. Warrior changed the rules from conservative to surf attitude in an instant and things have never been the same.
Branding is big business and it is big in lacrosse, no doubt. The bigger piece is still the logos of your current team or organization you support. College lax in the USA or local associations for box in Canada represent as they should. Show local support. This is one thing about all lacrosse players; they are dying to support the lax cause with lax garb or even tattoos.
In my own life it got to a point where it was borderline ridiculous. I would reach for a T-shirt or hat or sweat pants or a hoodie and EVERYTHING had a lacrosse logo on it, specifically a Minnesota Swarm logo. Over the years you collect more and more “stuff”. One winter morning I got dressed to go to practice and then looked in the mirror. Horrified, I realized I had on a Swarm Hat, jacket and T-shirt which led to one of those moments where you have to laugh at yourself. I switched up a few items and headed out the door with an idea.
At practice I noticed all the Swarm logos plus many more. This being sometime in 2006 or 2007, I announced to the team that fines would start being levied on anyone wearing another N.L.L. logo on their shorts or t-shirts. It didn’t end there. Canadian summer stuff was out too. None of it–Minnesota or bust. Furthermore, anyone caught wearing three or more Swarm items at one time were to be heavily scrutinized for their poor fashion sense. That would be the fun one to watch for. The players nicknamed it “dork.com”.
The Swarm guys over my years were a fun bunch who all supported things through logos. Most of the T.O. guys were smart enough to not wear any Maple Leaf junk so Jon Sullivan and Nick Inch stuck to Blue Jays hats. Ryan Cousins was busy pimping his Kewl sponsorship for a few years so some of us lucky ones got free attire from him, since he couldn’t wear all of it himself. Nick Patterson was always guilty of rockin’ the latest trendy hoodie from Mavrik or Warrior and a master of having three different logos on at once. Ryan Benesch is a fashion plate for NHL hats, loving whatever was new and fresh. And Joe Cinosky was the timeline for cool as he always looked the part. It is all part of the culture of our sport at every level.
The solid part of lacrosse is that it isn’t so big that anyone can take themselves too seriously yet. If they do, they are surely the brunt of a team joke and subjected to their own team form of conduct. The sport has another level to climb and so do its sponsors before the kind of money is available to create larger than life figureheads.
Interesting fact I did notice in Hawaii. I saw lots of sporty looking young men and teens wearing mid high black socks with all kinds of shoes. The first time I saw this look was back in 2002 when Jeff Spano did it playing for the Philadelphia Wings. Surely he picked up this look at Drexel in the years before. My point is that lacrosse–and a lacrosse “look”–has infiltrated mainline cool, a sign that we are being noticed in the big picture of style trends.
Since I’m not a Swarm guy anymore I’ve cut back on my logo clothing or traded in lacrosse for other genres. I do still have a fair share of stuff and won’t part with any of my favorite Swarm shorts and a few hats. Recently I was going through an old bag and found dated Philadelphia Wings, Shamrocks and even some Six Nations things I’ve stowed away. I pulled out my old Wing Boathouse pants, one of my past go to’s that I’ll recycle this winter. You see, I can wear whatever I want these days and I won’t be fined.O'Neill is a three-time Mann Cup winner and former general manager of the Philadelphia Wings (2001-2004) and Minnesota Swarm (2004-2010), where he was twice named NLL GM of the Year (2007, 2008).
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