Mr. Neiss had just discovered his business model: sports tourism.
Now, when Jewish-American athletes write to Mr. Neiss and say they played lacrosse in college, and may want to try out, he tries to deepen their interest and involvement beyond the field. He asks if they’ve considered signing up for Israel Lacrosse’s winter break trip (the annual trips draw 40 to 60 high schoolers who pay about $4,000 to tour Israel, play with and against Israeli youngsters, and represent Israel in an exhibition game).
Or, he’ll say: “You’re a college sophomore? How about doing a one-month summer internship and playing in our league?” (Internships cost about $3,000 and have lured more than 1,000 players to Israel in six years.)
Sometimes he suggests they spend a gap year with Israel Lacrosse after college graduation.
The pitch worked on Seth Mahler, a former Whittier College midfielder who moved to Israel in 2013. “I had no college debt, no girlfriend, so I was pretty free,” he said.
Mr. Mahler went from school to school, inviting 50 to 500 children a day to try lacrosse. Now he runs, recruits and plays in the Israel Premier Lacrosse League.
Over the past four years, Israel Lacrosse’s budget has grown to $4.86 million this year from $465,000 in 2014. Currently 45 percent of its revenue comes from donors, 45 percent comes from sports tourism and fees, and 10 percent from youth player dues, local sponsors and small grants in Israel. Recently, Israel Lacrosse also qualified for government funding.
Shortfalls in the annual budgets are offset by contributions from “dedicated and passionate donors,” said Mr. Lasday, who is now the association’s chief operating officer.
The 2018 world championships were awarded to Israel last year after the city of Manchester, England, pulled out for financial reasons.