Nov 6, 2020 - Sports

The Premier Lacrosse League thrived despite the coronavirus pandemic

Courtesy: Premier Lacrosse League
Courtesy: Premier Lacrosse League

While most sports leagues experienced steep ratings and revenue declines this year, the two-year-old Premier Lacrosse League saw increases in both categories.

Why it matters: The PLL, which replaced its tour-based season with a bubble tournament in Utah, presents a fascinating case study for how upstart leagues can adapt on the fly.

  • Yes, but: It's difficult to draw conclusions about what worked and why. After all, the sports calendar and viewership habits changed dramatically amid the pandemic, making year-to-year comparisons impossible — and limiting what can be replicated in the future.

By the numbers: The PLL's seven teams descended on Herriman, Utah for a 16-day Championship Series in late July. Over 1,000 COVID-19 tests were administered on-site, and zero came back positive.

  • Ratings were up 27% year-over-year, and there was a 37% increase in the highly-coveted 18–49 age range, per the league. Games were broadcast on NBC and NBCSN and streamed on NBC Sports Gold.
  • NBC Sports Gold subscribers were up 133% despite just six games streaming exclusively on the platform, down from 20 last season.
  • Sponsorship revenue was up 59%, and overall league revenue also increased despite not selling tickets, concessions or on-site merchandise.

Between the lines: The increase in sponsorship revenue, in particular, reflects the benefits of playing more games in tighter windows.

  • "What we saw was that non-endemics (i.e. sponsors that aren't directly linked to lacrosse) like to be able to generate more impressions over a shorter period of time," PLL co-founder (and player) Paul Rabil tells me.
  • "CPG companies and major brands under the Unilever and P&G umbrellas are constantly rolling out new products that they want to put weeks of promotion behind, and our Championship Series offered that."

Looking ahead: Given the uncertainty surrounding the pandemic, Rabil says the PLL is preparing for two separate realities in 2021.

  • "We're spending the bulk of our time right now planning for a tour-based model like you saw out of us in 2019," he said.
  • "But we know we have the ability — thanks to our operations team and our learnings from 2020 — to quickly pivot and launch a bubble or multi-bubble season if necessary."
  • "We also think there's a hybrid model where we do fewer weekends on tour, but extend the experience in each city with more games."

The bottom line: How do you take learnings from a successful bubble tournament and apply them in the future when things are (hopefully) back to normal? That's the challenge the PLL now faces.

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