Between 2001 and 2018, Lacrosse was perceived by many as a bottom tier sport. For much of its early existence as a professional sport, there was only one league, the Major League Lacrosse (MLL), and the ticket sales and viewership were consistently decreasing year after year. Players were starting to voice their concerns and opinions regarding the current state of the sport as well as the direction it was heading in. The overall direction of the sport of Lacrosse was on its way to extinction, but two brothers had a different plan for the sport and refused to let the sport they love go out of business.
In 2018, Mark and Paul Rabil saw a major problem with the Lacrosse landscape. At the time, Paul Rabil was an established all-star within the MLL, but saw many concerns and declines throughout the years. With deep-pocketed investors backing him, Paul and his brother Mark approached the MLL with a buyout after a decline in attendance numbers, rigid wages, and player privacy concerns. The MLL declined the offer. Later that year, the Rabils launched the Premier Lacrosse League (PLL). They saw a space for growth and expansion and never turned back.
Only two weeks after the launch of the PLL, they named the capital of entertainment business, Los Angeles, as their headquarters. While this may sound like a minor business move, this allowed lacrosse to be in a space where athlete-driven media and content exploded on a daily basis. The new home base assured that lacrosse will continue to grow and expand to new markets and audiences and expose them to this fast-paced sport. Now in 2022, the Lacrosse landscape has changed forever with media exposure, athlete participation, and sponsor investments at an all-time high.
The inaugural season started in 2019, which included a 14-week tour-based schedule where every weekend is played in a new city. After a successful 2019 season, the PLL ran into a major problem. With the COVID-19 outbreak derailing all major sport leagues, the PLL was threatened as it was still a new league. Seeing that the PLL does a tour-based schedule, as a result of COVID-19, they were unable to travel from city to city so they were tasked with finding a single city that would hold all the games. Against all odds, the PLL showcased its ability to strategize and overcome adversity by being the first and only North American league to put together a return to play plan after the pandemic. On the other hand, the MLL was struggling like never before and had no choice but to revert back to Paul’s offer and merge with the PLL to make one big entity.
The 2020 season was an unusual one as they figured the best way to go about having a season was doing a bubble style season. This meant all teams would stay in one location and play the entirety of the season there. That place was Salt Lake City, Utah. With now only one big lacrosse league, the PLL was poised for a breakthrough.
When the 2021 season rolled around, everything returned to normalcy regarding the schedule and it was time to continue to expose the game of lacrosse to new audiences. Doing this tour-based schedule allowed lacrosse to continue to deepen its roots in certain states as well as open new markets. Continued throughout the 2022 season, the PLL had to come up with 14 different cities that will host games for the PLL. These cities are included but are not limited to Albany, Long Island, Charlotte, Frisco, Charlotte, and more. The PLL does a good job of targeting cities that have a long history of Lacrosse along with cities who are still fresh to the sport and do not have a lot of young participants. For example, New York is the most popular state for lacrosse with 26,136 high school players and 150 NCAA teams. As a result, the PLL has the state of New York to host two weekends this season. On the other hand, although Texas and North Carolina are not among the most popular states, the PLL is trying to showcase this niche sport there by hosting games in Charlotte and Frisco in order to grow the sport and increase its overall prevalence among fans.
In a continued effort to grow the game of Lacrosse, In March, the Premier Lacrosse League (PLL) announced a four year partnership with sports media conglomerate ESPN. This agreement will span the network’s broadcast, cable, and streaming platforms. PLL games will exclusively be streamed across ABC, ESPN, ESPN+, and ESPN2. Chairman of ESPN and sports content explained that “this new agreement will maximize exposure for the league and sport as a whole, with a number of events on linear television and all games being available direct to the consumer.”
In order to continue the growth of this league, the PLL needed to bring in big-name sponsors that would help take the league to the next level, and they did just that. From investing companies to clothing apparel, the PLL did it all. They now have sponsorships with DraftKings, Public.com, Champion, Gatorade, and TicketMaster, to name a few. Earning these sponsorships gave the league a professional feel as it shows the world that these big name companies believe in the growth of this sport.
They are willing to put their money where their mouth is and invest in the growth and expansion of the fastest game on two feet. Not only is this sport the fastest sport on two feet, but also one of the fastest growing sports in the industry - they were named Sports Business Journal’s Breakthrough Sport of the Year 2020. These companies are getting exposure to the lacrosse markets like never before and reach new consumers daily as a result of the sponsorship. Not only will these sponsorships appeal to people within the sports industry, but also to fans around the world. The companies and products they use on an daily basis are invested into lacrosse and believe in it.
Additionally, executives within the PLL realized the importance of social media and how important it is to have a strong social media presence. Through the Greenfly Connect tool, the league fully automates the workflow for the pictures and videos that the league's photographers take throughout the season and upload them daily. The PLL instantly connects that content with its 160 players via the Greenfly app. This makes it easy for the players to access these photos and videos and share it to fans as soon as they get into the locker room. In a matter of minutes, this content is expanded not only to the players’ brand, but also the PLL’s brand. As a result of this partnership with Greenfly, the league saw a 15% increase in social following for PLL athletes within the first two weeks of use. This tactic is mutually beneficial and PLL executives realized the power of social media and how important it is to have a presence in order to continue to innovate and reach new masses year after year.
Fast forward now to August 2022, the PLL is in its fourth season and is continuing to grow and expand as a whole. Prior to the merger, the PLL announced that it was adding an expansion team, the WaterDogs, after the success of the previous years. This made the total team count seven, an odd number for any league. After the merger with the MLL, the PLL decided to adopt a single team from the MLL, the Boston Cannons - now named Cannon LC. With Lacrosse in the best shape it has been in recent years in terms of viewership and overall participation, lacrosse fans can’t help but think what Mark and Paul have up their sleeves next. From partnerships to expansions, this league is full of potential and if you are a lacrosse fan, stick around to see where the brothers will take this sport even further.