…. as college lacrosse marketing assets!!
A few months ago on a now deleted thread on the Big Purple Fans forum, a member observed that while Lyle Thompson and Tehoka Nanticoke each arrived at Albany as the #1 recruit in the country, the UAlbany Athletics Department seemed to be promoting Tehoka more heavily than they did Lyle at a similar point in his NCAA lacrosse career. That may or may not be accurate, but either way I thought it might be interesting to explore some possible reasons why it could be true.
Televised/Streamed Games While there are certainly high school highlights of Lyle available on YouTube and other outlets, how many lacrosse fans had the chance to watch a live broadcast of him before he set foot on the UAlbany campus?
Since Lyle’s freshman season in 2012, things have changed. Within the past several months through live streams, ESPNU, etc, I watched Tehoka play for the Iroqouis Nationals in the U19 World Championships (very late night viewing on the East Coast since the event took place in Coquitlam, British Columbia), the Geico Nationals where he played with his high school team – the IMG Academy, and the Under Armour All-America game. I’m sure there were some other games available to watch live that I wasn’t even aware of. Further, Tehoka’s pre-season participation in fall scrimmages where he played with both Albany and the Iroquois at the Carrier Dome were available live on the Lax Sports Network. All before he has played in a regular season NCAA game!! In contrast, Lyle played in important regular season games that were not televised or streamed. Even during his senior year, the Albany-Cornell game played in Texas was not available to watch online or otherwise.
Social Media The use of social media has become more prevalent since Lyle was a freshman. According to Statista, in the second quarter of 2012 – the time of Lyle’s freshman season, Twitter had 151 million monthly active users . Fast forward to the third quarter of 2017, when Tehoka arrived in Albany and there are 330 million Twitter users. Similarly, Statista reports that in January 2013, Instagram had 90 million active users. By September 2017, the number of Insta users exploded to 800 million users. Why is the growth of Social Media relevant to this discussion? Because lacrosse highlights, including plays by Tehoka in some of the events discussed above, are ideal content to like, share and re-Tweet. People who have never seen an NCAA lacrosse game watched and re-watched Tehoka’s jaw-dropping between the legs goal in a fall ball scrimmage against Hopkins on their phones and tablets delivered to them by Twitter, Instagram, or other Social Media.
Both players are regular Social Media users. Currently, Lyle has the lead in that game with 16.3K Twitter followers and 72K followers on his certified Instagram account, while Tehoka is building his brand with 2,461 and 15.9K followers respectively.
The Evidence Remember, the question we wanted to examine here was whether the UAlbany Athletics Department is promoting Tehoka more heavily than they did Lyle. To answer that, question I took a look at the Men’s Lacrosse articles archived on the UAlbany Athletics website. During Lyle’s Freshman year (2011-2012), twenty eight Men’s Lacrosse articles/releases were published to the site. The first in which Lyle is clearly identifiable, also featuring Miles and Ty, was a May 16, 2012 release about the trio’s appearance in the movie “Crooked Arrows”. The first article in which Lyle was named in the headline was a July 19, 2012 piece, citing his play in leading the Iroqouis to victory over the US in a U19 Lacrosse World Championships tournament game. Lyle’s appearances on the site both occurred after the Danes’ season concluded, and represented 7% of the Men’s Lacrosse content for that year.
Looking at this season, September 8, 2017 saw the first piece of MLAX content published and it featured Tehoka’s appearance on the cover of Inside Lacrosse as the #1 incoming recruit in college lacrosse. Although a regular season game is yet to be played in 2018, as of today (January 10, 2018) thirteen pieces of MLAX content have been published. Tehoka’s appearance represents 7.7% of total content so far. 53.8% of the published content focuses on UAlbany Lacrosse coaches,
players, and alumni participating in tryouts, or being named to rosters of Lacrosse World Championships teams of various countries.
At this point, the difference in rate, and number of appearances isn’t significant, but it’s safe to assume that Tehoka will grab a headline or two once the season starts and the needle will then move. What is significant is that during the 2011-2012 season, a total of two pieces of MLAX content were published by January 10th. This season has seen thirteen pieces – six and a half times the amount of MLAX content published by the same date six years ago. Therefore, if MLAX content is being developed for the UAlbany Athletics website at a greater rate, then we can expect more opportunities for Tehoka to be featured going forward.
The Fields Factor A common element to the conversation is of course Connor Fields, who himself was ranked as the #15 incoming freshman in 2014-2015. Connor’s first NCAA season in 2015 saw him paired with the then senior Lyle. The duo would combine for 209 points (Lyle 52g, 69a; Connor 66g, 22a), with
Connor’s 66 goals setting an NCAA Rookie Record. The pair sat together on road trips, with Lyle sharing his lessons learned about the college game with Connor. Now a senior, Connor is on the eve of concluding an historic NCAA lacrosse career of his own. A Tewaaraton runner-up last year, and most certainly a favorite this year, Fields could take a run at Lyle’s NCAA single season and career total points records in 2018 . The potential to do so, naturally will be tied to his pairing with Tehoka. The defensive attention that Tehoka and Connor will each draw as scorers will create opportunities for them to feed each other, as well as Justin Reh playing attack off ball, and Sean Eccles as a spot up shooter. Goals and assists!!! Perhaps more than a passing of a torch from one Albany offensive phenom to the next, we should view these transitions like sprinters passing a baton in a relay – there’s no pause when keeping the offense racing.
The Time is Now There is increased attention on Albany this year, ranked #2 in Inside Lacrosse’s pre-season poll. Expectations are high for the Danes, given the offensive prowess discussed above, a prolific face-off specialist in TD Ierlan, experienced Goalie in JD Colarusso, and more. Given this combination of talent, there is a feeling that this is the season for the program to take the next step… or steps and make it to Memorial Day weekend.
In recent past seasons, the Danes played their early season games on John Fallon Field, the school’s lacrosse only field, before moving into the larger football facility, Casey Stadium, for some late season games, and any hosted post-season play. This year all home games will be played in Casey Stadium. With chair back seats, video replay, concessions, cash bars, and other amenities, the move itself raises expectations. With Connor and Tehoka on the field, the video replay operator is sure to be kept busy.
— UAlbany Lacrosse (@UAlbanyMLax) January 9, 2018
Conclusions Ultimately, much of the increased attention on the UAlbany Lacrosse program is the result of Lyle Thompson. The Danes certainly had some strong teams in the past, including those featuring Merrick Thomson, but Lyle drew an international spotlight to the team that hasn’t faded. When Lyle arrived at Albany, he seemed a reluctant star. Over the course of his career, he not only became more comfortable with his role, but became one of the greatest lacrosse players of all time, and one of the greatest ambassadors the game has ever seen. People became intrigued by the style and composure he plays with, and through his play felt closer to the Iroquois origins of the game. This attention allowed subsequent classes of high school recruits to see the fast and free style of lacrosse played by the Great Danes – a style that has great appeal to offensive players. Importantly, Lyle’s close relationship with Head Coach Scott Marr solidified Albany as a welcoming destination for Native American/First Nations players, such as Tehoka. Thus, success begets success.
Certainly, some of the pre-season attention can also be attributed to the desire of fans to relive the excitement they experienced courtesy of the Ty, Miles, and Lyle seasons; and the Lyle and Connor season. In the video embedded above, even UAlbany Head Coach Scott Marr tells ESPN analyst Paul Carcaterra that this season fans can expect to “Relive the past.”
Lacrosse fans are likely to see both similarities and differences between the two players. One might observe that where Lyle was initially reluctant, Tehoka seems comfortable stepping into the spotlight. From a physical standpoint, Lyle’s bio from his senior season at Albany lists him at 6′ 180 lbs, while Tehoka enters the season at 6’1″ 235 pounds. In a scenario where Lyle might have slid off a defender with finesse, we might see a bull dodge from Tehoka. Lyle is the flow and Tehoka is the crash. Each possesses otherworldly stick work, equal skill as passers and shooters, incredible game IQ, and even the braid each wears representative of their culture.
So what’s the verdict? UAlbany Athletics hasn’t really promoted Tehoka more than they did Lyle as a freshman… yet! However, I suspect that as the season goes on it will happen. On the other hand, lacrosse media outlets do seem to be promoting Tehoka more heavily – see Paul Carcaterra’s comments in the video embedded above about Tehoka being the most anticipated freshman that he remembers as an example. As the game continues to grow more lacrosse content is being produced, and more people are consuming it. To be clear, that growing audience doesn’t want to see some good off ball defense. They want Tehoka Nanticoke.
One last thought…. the roster is yet to be released, but keep in mind that there’s a good chance that Lyle and Tehoka could play together for the Iroquois Nationals in the 2018 FIL Men’s Lacrosse World Championship scheduled for July 12-21 in Netanya, Israel. Mark your calendars now, and get ready to be entertained!!!