Sep 27, 2022 - Sports

Premier Lacrosse League continues growth with startup-like approach

Illustration of a lacrosse stick holding a light bulb

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

On its surface, the Premier Lacrosse League is a four-year-old sports league. At its core, it's a scrappy startup that still acts like it's Year 1.

Why it matters: This approach has helped the PLL punch above its weight and quickly develop a reputation as one of America's most innovative sports leagues.

Catch up quick: The PLL was unafraid to try new things from the jump, launching with a tour-based model instead of the traditional city-based model that most leagues use.

  • That spirit of innovation has continued, with fresh ideas routinely being applied to TV broadcasts, postseason formats and everything in between.
  • "We really haven't done one season yet that's looked like the others," says PLL c0-founder and president Paul Rabil of the league's willingness to experiment and fail along the way.

By the numbers: The PLL's track record of innovation was part of the reason ESPN signed a four-year contract with the league in 2021 — a deal that's already paying dividends.

  • The average broadcast for the recently-concluded 2022 season drew 157,000 viewers (up 26% from 2021), according to the league.
  • A June game on ABC between the Cannons and Archers drew 452,000, making it the most-viewed game in outdoor pro lacrosse history.

Looking ahead: For the PLL's next grand experiment, the top four teams from 2022 will compete in an offseason competition this February called the Championship Series.

  • The idea was inspired by the success of their 2020 pandemic tournament, says Rabil. "We looked at our bubble as 'wow, this was really successful,' and wanted to add it to our offering post-pandemic."
  • The Championship Series will take place at a single site and games will be played in the more internationally accessible World Lacrosse Sixes format — part of a push to get lacrosse into the Olympics.

The big picture: The PLL's fast-paced culture has kept things exciting and helped put the league on the map. But eventually, all startups must end — either they fail or they become mature businesses.

  • A mature PLL won't be able to rely on scrappiness and good ideas. The media and fans, once charmed by innovation, will care more about looming threats like attendance concerns.
  • That's the big test for the PLL moving forward: Can it succeed where so many other startup leagues have failed and grow beyond the "we're here to shake things up" energy that inevitably fades away?

Editor's note: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that the Sept. 18 championship game was the most-viewed game in outdoor pro lacrosse history. It was the June Cannons-Archers game. The story has been updated.

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