After the introduction of sixes lacrosse coincided with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, there was a void waiting to be filled in England Lacrosse, which saw an opportunity for a cohesive pathway for lacrosse development in its organization.
Decision-makers came up with The Fly – a tournament featuring sixes competition and the top athletes in the country competing against each other – having recently wrapped up its third iteration in 2023.
“The idea behind the tournament was that this format matched our playground to podium strategy,” said Helen Amos, England Lacrosse competitions coordinator. “The implementation of sixes at a national level connected a lot of initiatives that are important to continue the growth of the game.”
“It also made sense to be able to offer athletes a top playing opportunity short of the international level but above club competition,” added Caroline Royle, marketing manager at England Lacrosse.
The league started as a performance tournament in its early stages to secure buy-in from athletes and the broader lacrosse community. The league differentiated itself by adopting a fresh brand, with new colors and marketing that stood apart from traditional lacrosse in England.
“We wanted the branding to reflect the freshness and excitement of the format and resonate with a non-traditional audience while also still appealing to the traditional lacrosse market in England,” said Royle.
The top players had to buy-in to the format and its potential, but they did after enjoying the speed and excitement of sixes in 2021.
In 2022, the tournament was showcased on a streaming platform, with an intentional investment in the product to put on a polished and captivating viewing experience.
“The numbers have been good so far and we’ve shown considerable growth each year,” said Amos. “Our aspirations are to become a professional league, and we know we are a small country and governing body, which makes everything about this journey exciting.”
On the athletes’ side, the strides in popularity have come from making the tournament feel like an integral part of professional aspirations.
“The vision and aspiration we have for the sport has shown players how sixes can fit in their careers,” said Royle. “There is a clear pipeline to international squads, there is a clear benefit to playing this format, and now we’re starting to see them get it.”
The goal of playing in multisport competitions such as The World Games is key, as England sent athletes to compete in sixes for Great Britain at the 2022 edition in the United States.
Sixes is also the discipline lacrosse is hoping will be played in the Olympics, potentially in 2028, and the promise of these events makes competing in domestic sixes tournaments an important step of athletes’ international careers.
“The Olympic dream for sixes would open a lot of doors,” said Amos. “It doesn’t get much better than that.”
The Fly also has a similar impact on coaches and officials, providing them with development opportunities and a journey that wouldn’t be possible at a high level of competition otherwise. The tournament serves as a hands-on for continuous learning and growth and allows coaches even more time to connect with players.
As level of competition continued to rise, the tournament took an even bigger leap this past year, where the event took place across three weekends in May and June and focused on delivering a strong spectator experience.
“We’ve tried to create a full-day experience that is more than just a lacrosse game,” said Royle. “It’s early but the fan feedback has mostly been ‘It’s brilliant and entertaining.’”
“We also learned lessons from our streaming between year two and year three,” said Amos. “The sport is so fast, but we want it to be accessible for all fans to understand the game, and being able to retain production partners and improve the product is going to pay off for our audience.”
The next step for The Fly is to continue to grow in years four and five of the tournament, and to ensure the product is sustainable. England Lacrosse is focused on the quality of production for digital and in-person spectators, and exploring how more teams and a bigger venue can keep the tournament’s trajectory on the right track.
“We have key decisions to make, but we’ve had support from the executive level since day one, and that investment and planning has shone through,” said Amos.
“I think the best feedback we got was from a family who came out this year and said their daughter had the best day ever,” continued Amos. “We want someone to who aspires to be the players on the pitch and meet their idols, and that’s the heartwarming part of lacrosse that will build the audience that we want.”