Grow the game. This has been the unofficial motto of professional lacrosse for several years now.
In 2018, Hopkins lacrosse alum Paul Rabil and his brother Mike Rabil co-founded the Premier Lacrosse League (PLL) in order to do this motto justice.
Initially there was an attempt to merge with Major League Lacrosse (MLL), but with that deal falling through, the PLL became its own entity in trying to attract more lacrosse talent and fans. Luckily for the PLL, almost all of the MLL contracts are one-year deals, so the PLL basically stole most of the talent.
This league is different from the rest that make up the sports world. Most leagues have teams that are based in a single city. For example, even the MLL still uses this model with teams like the Boston Cannons and New York Lizards. But the PLL is using a tour-based model.
Rather than teams playing at their respective home arenas, the PLL hosts its games throughout 12 different cities. In doing so, the idea is to bring more fans to the game.
In addition, this model makes it so that nobody has ownership over a single team. Instead, a group of investors essentially owns the whole league. This tight control has actually been a benefit during this pandemic.
The PLL was able to start back up without any hitches. Canceling the tour, the PLL moved all the teams out to play their games in Utah. Ownership and players were quickly able to agree on a shortened season, which stands in stark contrast to Major League Baseball (MLB).
Despite the pandemic, the PLL was able to achieve its major goal of increasing viewership. In fact, the summer league reached as many views as some National Hockey League (NHL) games from this past summer, a major feat for a sport that does not have the same clout as hockey.
Of course, the numbers are still well short of any other major league sport, but these gains seem to be very promising for a league just two years old. For the first time that I’m aware of, professional lacrosse was on cable television.
And in a move to bring in more viewership, the PLL brought in all types of celebrities to join the commentators during games this past summer. They had rapper Method Man, New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees and New England Patriots head coach and Hopkins lacrosse fanatic Bill Belichick.
Although lacrosse is the oldest American sport, the PLL is aspiring to achieve an ambitious goal: put lacrosse into the mainstream of the sports world. As fun as lacrosse is to watch, there is a reason why the motto is “grow the game.” Lacrosse seldom gets the love that other sports like baseball or football do.
Of the big sports leagues, the National Basketball Association and the National Football League are probably at the top. The MLB and the NHL have had a strong last couple of years, but viewership for those leagues have seemed to be trending downward.
Lacrosse still has a long path ahead before it garners the same attention as the other major sports. But the rise of the PLL may put lacrosse on the fast track. My hope is that this past summer’s success with the PLL is only the beginning for the growth of lacrosse. If you’re not already a fan, here’s what you’re missing out on.