As someone who has been a fan of American football for as long as I can remember ― and who loves hockey ― it makes perfect sense that I’d also enjoy lacrosse.
It shares some familiar traits with both sports and has its own unique style.
That being the case, I’m looking forward to the debut of the Premier Lacrosse League, which opens its inaugural season on June 1. Seventeen games will be televised on NBCSN and two are set for NBC.
While lacrosse has struggled to find its niche in the crowded field of professional sports, the PLL (founded by lacrosse legend Paul Rabil and his brother, Mike) is charting its own bold course – one that gives it a real chance to break through.
“Ever since I fell in love with the game I dreamed of being a professional athlete on the sport’s biggest stage,” Paul Rabil said in a statement. “We’re building a professional sports league that lacrosse deserves. The best players in the world will be showcased like never before, thanks to a unique touring model, a robust media-rights partnership, and player content strategy.
“Additionally, our players will be owners in the PLL, contributing to the build, competition, and ultimate success of the league.”
If you follow the game at all, you know that the primary pro leagues in North America are Major League Lacrosse, an outdoor (field) league, and the National Lacrosse League, an indoor (box) circuit.
Although MLL has been around since 2001, I’m concerned for its long-term survival. This season it has contracted from nine teams to six in a “restructuring” move, and players receive extremely modest incomes (although a 51 percent increase in team salary cap is now in effect).
Part of the downsizing included the folding of the Charlotte Hounds, which was the MLL team I followed most closely since it played only 100 miles from my home.
The NLL, on the other hand, is more of a success story; founded in 1987 as the Major Indoor Lacrosse League and now featuring 13 teams, it’s fast, fun, and does pretty well at the box office. Heading to the outskirts of Atlanta to see the Georgia Swarm play remains on my “to-do” list.
But like their outdoor counterparts, players in the indoor league need other jobs to supplement the money provided by the NLL.
Enter the PLL, which has already signed more than 150 of the sport’s best players in a bid to move to the head of the class.
It offers players substantially more money than they can make in the other leagues, a healthcare plan, and equity in the organization.
“This is a revolutionary model, which will place the PLL at the forefront of the next evolution in professional team sports,” PLL director of player relations Kyle Harrison said in a statement. “What Mike and Paul have established with this league is going to have a tremendous impact on players’ ability to be rewarded for the sport they love, as well as the overall continued development of the game and professional sports as a whole.”
Here’s what’s unique to me, though: the six teams in the league don’t represent cities. They’re simply given nicknames, stocked with top-notch players, and spend the season making stops in various markets and showcasing their games there.
So instead of fans pulling for the “home team,” they pick a side that features their favorite players – or maybe they choose a team because they like their name or logo.
The PLL teams for 2019 are the Archers, Atlas, Chaos, Chrome, Redwoods, and Whipsnakes.
Paul Rabil has played in both the MLL and NLL and will be an “owner-player” in the PLL, suiting up for the Atlas.
Anyone concerned about a conflict of interest should note that Josh Sims, an All-American at Princeton who helped the Tigers claim a pair of NCAA titles, will serve as the PLL Head of Lacrosse.
He’ll oversee competition, management of coaches and players, and spearhead implementation of league rules.
The season runs for 14 weeks and makes stops in 12 different cities.
The idea of touring is to create an “event” atmosphere for every match week, and I think that’s a terrific idea.
The PLL stops in Atlanta in June, so if I want to make the two hour drive to Georgia State Stadium I can see all six teams in action at one site over two days of action.
Or, I can pick and choose the games I want to watch.
The whole concept of the PLL is innovative, and it has most certainly grabbed my attention.
Hopefully, it’ll be the start of something big in the sport of lacrosse.
“Lacrosse is going through an exciting and transformative time,” Sims said in a statement. “The PLL charted an aggressive path from humble beginnings and is already growing and enriching the lacrosse community in ways almost no one believed possible. I believe we will look back at this time as a major milestone in all of sports, and as the Head of Lacrosse, I couldn’t be more excited to bring a world class product to a global audience.”
For more information about the league, go to premierlacrosseleague.com.