PLL Ready to Launch: Can Lacrosse Handle Competing Leagues?

Sam Opuni, News Editor

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Lacrosse already has one professional league, Major League Lacrosse (MLL), which operates nine teams in nine different cities: Dallas, Annapolis, Denver, New York, Charlotte, Atlanta, Boca Raton, Boston, and Obetz (Ohio). According to its website, the MLL “Major League Lacrosse began play in 2001 to capitalize on the growing demand for world-class field lacrosse driven by dramatic growth in the U.S. lacrosse market.” The league started out with four teams and expanded to nine.

However, there is a new league in town that looks to challenge MLL: the Premier Lacrosse League (PLL) This new league, according to the PLL press release announcing the launch, was founded by Paul Rabil, a player who The New York Times called lacrosse’s Lebron James. Rabil, a Gaithersburg, Maryland native, and his partners founded the league in September, 2018 with the mission of treating professional lacrosse players like other professional athletes. In a November 2018 interview with The Players’ Tribune, Rabil stated that the league’s players “will be receiving higher wages, health insurance and equity in the league.”

The PLL will operate in a tournament style and host weekends in different cities. According to Matt Dasilva of USLacrosse Magazine, “The PLL will debut as a six-team touring league June 1, 2019 […] Each PLL weekend will feature all six teams at the same site for three games in two days. Most of the games will be played in Major League Soccer venues.” The aim of using a touring method rather than a traditional regular season schedule as most professional leagues do is to garner excitement by offering fans an opportunity to see the best lacrosse players in the world play at the same venue over one weekend.

In the initial press release on the PPL website, they announced that 140 players had signed with the league. According to Dasilva, this group includes “6 former college All-Americans, 25 current or former members of the U.S. national team, 10 Tewaaraton Award winners and nine professional lacrosse MVPs.”

According to NBC Sports, “the PLL season will include 10 regular-season weekends, one all-star weekend and two playoff weekends, concluding with the championship weekend on September 21st.” NBC Sports also reports that the league is backed by “an investment group comprised of The Raine Group, Creative Artists Agency (CAA), The Chernin Group, and Blum Capital.”

In a huge win for PLL, Rabil secured a contract with NBC to broadcast PLL games. Regarding this deal, Rabil notes that the agreement calls for the network to broadcast “all of our games…live on the NBC family of networks, providing unprecedented access to the highest level of lacrosse competition.” The league will also partner with the Women’s Professional Lacrosse League, which began in June, 2018. According to a Laxstars press release, the two leagues will work to combine their resources in the promotion of professional lacrosse.

Paint Branch Varsity Boys Lacrosse Coach Greg Jolles offers a positive vision of the future “I think the PLL is a great step to help the growth of the game. Instead of it being city-based teams, it will be more tour-based so fans will have an opportunity to see a couple games each week instead of just one.
Coach Jolles goes on to say that the league’s salary structure should help, “The players in the MLL were working other jobs during the week. Now with the PLL, players can focus on just playing lacrosse, have great benefits, and help grow the game. I’m interested and excited to see how the first season goes.”
This new league, which will certainly battle with MLL for superiority and fans, means that the future looks bright for the sport of lacrosse. According to Darren Rovell of CNBC, lacrosse is one of America’s fastest growing sports and the addition of a competitor league will create more competition and a better product for lacrosse as a whole.

Paint Branch’s Mr. DeGroff is a stadium announcer for the Chesapeake Bayhawks in the MLL and has intimate knowledge of MLL. To him, PLL has definitely been a wake-up call for Major League Lacrosse. “MLL has started to react. They’re altered season start and end times and altered their wage structure to be more competitive,” he says.

Mr. DeGroff also notes that one major difference between the two leagues is the focus on individuals versus teams. “The primary focus of the PPL is on the players, whereas the primary focus of the MLL is on the team,” he notes.

Thinking about how people will follow the league when there is no “home” team makes Mr. DeGroff wonder, “Are you going to pay attention to what you’re going to do after the teams leave town?” Additionally, he wonders how the league is going to build a loyal fan base if they don’t have staying power.