SBJ/May 7-13, 2012/Marketing and Sponsorship

Lacrosse world helps get sport on big screen

The script for the first lacrosse-oriented motion picture had been on and off Mitchell Peck’s desk for more than 15 years.

There were times when the Hollywood producer shopped it around, unsuccessfully seeking the funding from major studios that told him there wasn’t enough mainstream interest in a lacrosse movie. Other times, when Peck was working on other projects, the idea of a lacrosse movie simply went dormant.

“Crooked Arrows” took years to get financing.
Finally, after turning to a private financing model, Peck and co-producer J. Todd Harris are ready to unveil “Crooked Arrows,” the first major movie whose story revolves around lacrosse. The film premieres Wednesday in Syracuse, N.Y., with a wider release in theaters June 1.

“I took it to the studios and they wouldn’t bite,” said Peck, who recently produced “Priest,” a vampire flick with Sony Pictures. “It was too much of a niche sport, or at least that was their perspective for years. The big studios, they like to make safe bets. Even three or four years ago, I thought this might not happen. But as the sport has grown, there’s been an increasing starvation from the lacrosse community for mainstream pop-cultural representation.”

Peck and Harris embarked on a mission about four years ago to fund the movie themselves. They reached out to people who either played the sport or worked in the industry. In 2009, they connected with Jeff McCormick, the founder of a Boston-based venture capital firm, Saturn Partners. It was the break the film needed.

McCormick, a former Syracuse All-American lacrosse star, had the money, the connections and the passion for lacrosse to get the $15 million project funded. Filming commenced last summer.

Not only did McCormick invest substantially with his own money, he also worked through a network of people he knew who played lacrosse for additional contributions.

“I signed on as a personal investor and then I began to rally people that I knew to get involved,” McCormick said. “It became this network of people from the lacrosse world who got behind it and saw it through as a major motion picture that tells the story that so many of us are familiar with.”

The movie takes place in upstate New York, where a ragtag, underdog lacrosse team from a predominantly Native American school takes on the well-to-do youths with the fancy equipment from the private school. Lacrosse evolved out of a game that was created by Native Americans.

The story made so much sense to McCormick because he grew up playing with and against Native Americans in upstate New York. McCormick was inspired to have the story told in a way that honored the Native Americans he knew. He wanted to show that lacrosse “is the only game that has roots in a culture and a religion. This sport has a soul.”

There also was a corporate element to the film’s funding. As co-producers Peck and Harris worked the lacrosse stakeholders to raise money, they ran into Reebok executive Chad Wittman at the National Lacrosse League All-Star Game three years ago. That’s when the film’s producers initiated talks about a role for the brand, which is in its fifth year as one of the NLL’s most prominent sponsors and its sixth year as a lacrosse equipment and apparel company.

“At the time, we saw them as an upstart brand in lacrosse, one that would be interested in having their company associated with this kind of film,” Peck said.

Reebok agreed to make contributions to the movie in the form of an unspecified cash investment and equipment that’s used in action scenes, giving the brand product placement that should strengthen the tie between Reebok and the sport.

Reebok Lacrosse, a division that has its own balance sheet separate from other sports within the company, made the contribution out of its own budget. Steve Robaire, who has since taken over for Wittman as Reebok’s lacrosse manager, said the lacrosse division has enjoyed double-digit percentage growth in its six years.

“The marketplace is getting cluttered with more and more brands coming in that see the growth of lacrosse and want to take advantage of it,” Robaire said. “We’ve been here for six years and we’re solidifying the position we have through the exposure in the movie.”

Robaire said Reebok is working with Dick’s Sporting Goods on a promotional plan, as well as other online retailers to market lacrosse equipment and gear with the “Crooked Arrows” brand. Reebok also is hosting the movie’s premiere in Boston on May 14.

Other extensions for Reebok could come in the form of a series of lacrosse camps that are branded “Crooked Arrows.”

Another corporate promotional partner, Moe’s Southwest Grill, is planning in-store promotions for the movie. Other licensees are putting the movie’s title on equipment and apparel.

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