While many consider lacrosse to be North America’s oldest sport, it has lagged far behind baseball, football and other traditional sports in terms of hobby attention. That is not because lacrosse cards are recent additions to the hobby lineup; in fact, the first lacrosse trading card was issued in 1878 as part of a 12-card multi-sport set issued in Europe by a biscuit company called Huntley & Palmers.
In fact, the sporadic and disjointed release history for lacrosse cards over the past 140-plus years, and limited regional media coverage have contributed to the sport’s under-the-radar status. However, a new league, expanded media interest and current trading card releases are drawing more eyes to the sport (and cards) than ever before.
In truth there were only four dedicated and quasi-mainstream lacrosse issues in the 20th century. The C59, C60 and C61 Imperial Tobacco sets of 1909-1912 are something of a lacrosse equivalent to baseball’s famed T206 issue, albeit the sets are much smaller. It was then another 81 years before STX, a lacrosse equipment company, partnered with Nastasi to release a 75-card set featuring players of the Major Indoor Lacrosse League (MILL) in 1993.
Another 17 years elapsed before Upper Deck issued their 100-card Major League Lacrosse (MLL) set in 2010. Parkside issued MLL sets again in 2019 and 2020.
However, it was Topps’ 2021 Premier Lacrosse League First Edition set that really started to draw eyes to the genre and set lacrosse cards on a path of steady growth within the hobby.
Lacrosse was first played by Native American people of North America (the U.S. and Canada). They referred to it by many different names depending upon their own cultures, but it was generally called “The Medicine Game” and believed to be a gift from the Creator to drive away illness and generate positive energy. As such, many early Native American sets like 1933 Goudey Indian Gum, 1949 Bowman WIld West and 1953 Bowman Frontier Days include a card featuring lacrosse.
Lacrosse also made appearances in many multi-sport sets that were issued in the U.S. and Europe; occasionally actual players were portrayed, but more often it was simply a generic representation of the sport. To obtain trading cards of favorite players, fans from the 1990s to the 2020s mostly had to rely on small league or team issued sets that were often distributed as giveaways to fans attending games.
Things began to change in 2007-2010 when Donruss included Syracuse sensation Mike Powell in sets such as Elite and Americana. These were the first lacrosse cards that included pack-issued autographs and parallels, making them highly desirable not only for the player they portrayed but also as landmark issues in the genre.
In fact, the 2008 Donruss Americana Sports Legends Signature Connections #SCC10 features sticker autos of Mike Powell and Cleveland Browns legend Jim Brown, who also excelled in lacrosse during his collegiate days at Syracuse. This is the closest thing to an authorized lacrosse card for Jim Brown who was inducted into the National Lacrosse Hall of Fame in 1984.
However, to find the starting point to the real rise in interest in lacrosse cards one has to go back just a handful of years to 2019 and the inaugural season of the Premier Lacrosse League (PLL). The PLL was founded by former Johns Hopkins lacrosse star Paul Rabil and his brother Michael.
With a desire to grow the game and provide the world’s greatest players with a new league built on a solid foundation, the PLL hosted its first games that summer. Two years later they partnered with Topps to release the 2021 Topps PLL Championship Series set. This 97-card base issue was sold in an on-demand format and was supplemented by /25, /10, /5 and 1/1 parallels, along with autographs, parallel autographs and three insert sets.
The Championship Series set was a hit with lacrosse fans, and was followed the next season by another on-demand release (Topps PLL First Edition) and a flagship PLL issue in 2022. For those interested in women’s lacrosse, Topps partnered with Athletes Unlimited to release an on-demand box set of AU lacrosse players in 2021 and then a four-sport AU set that included lacrosse in the summer of 2023.
While a small number of experienced collectors bought into the early Topps releases, the overall lacrosse market largely consisted of lacrosse fans who were otherwise new to the hobby. Third-party grading was slow to move into the lacrosse realm, but the growth has been steady if not meteoric.
As a professional sport, media coverage has been minimal. However, the dedicated efforts of not only the Rabils and PLL, but also the National Lacrosse League (professional indoor lacrosse), Athletes Unlimited and a number of national and international governing bodies have worked diligently to grow the sport and ensure that it is seen by increasing numbers of fans.
Consider the following important marks that have occurred within the past few years:
- 2020 – Betting on lacrosse first became available in 2020, and soon Barstool Sportsbook, bet365, BetMGM, BetRivers, Caesars Sportsbook, CoolBet Canada, DraftKings, FanDuel and FOX Bet offered online lacrosse betting on either the PLL or NLL.
- July 2021 – Nike collaborated with Native American lacrosse player Lyle Thompson to honor his native heritage with a shoe line in their N7 Collection.
- Spring 2023 – ESPN aired more than 265 men’s and 450 women’s college lacrosse games across their ESPNU, ACC Network (ACCN), ESPN3, ESPN+ and ACCNX platforms for the season.
- October 2023 – The International Olympic Committee announced that lacrosse will be added to the schedule for the 2028 Summer Olympic Games in Los Angeles.
- In a recent study carried out by the NCAA, men’s and women’s lacrosse were officially labeled the fastest growing sport in America for more than a decade and has been the focus of substantial investment at all levels.
Each of these elements will contribute greatly not only to the growth of individuals playing lacrosse, but also to the number of people watching and developing an interest in the game. Merchandising those interests will of course follow and contribute to the already increased interest in lacrosse cards.