Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios
The Premier Lacrosse League will hold a 16-day quarantined tournament without fans this summer, replacing its previously scheduled second season, which was originally set to begin this month.
The state of play: The NBA, MLB and NHL have all explored a similar "bubble" model, but those leagues have two things working against them that the PLL does not: legacy and scale.
- Legacy: For an upstart like the PLL, this is purely innovative. But for leagues with decades of history and tradition, it's potentially sacrilegious. Can you imagine if LeBron wins his fourth "championship" in a makeshift playoff at Walt Disney World, moving him within one of Kobe and two of Jordan? Fans would lose their minds, and suddenly you're adding asterisks everywhere.
- Scale: The NBA, MLB and NHL all have at least 30 teams and hundreds of players, coaches and other personnel. The PLL has seven teams and the all-in number for the quarantine tournament is less than 300 people.
- When: July 25-Aug. 9
- Format: 14-game group play, followed by single-elimination tournament.
- TV: NBC will carry all 20 contests live on NBC, NBCSN or NBC Sports Gold in time slots previously held for the Summer Olympics.
What they're saying: Paul Rabil, who co-founded the league and is one of its star players, tells me the PLL has consulted with the CDC and other organizations and is confident testing will be fully available by July.
"We established a COVID-19 committee to advise, build protocol and ensure that we would have all tests — as well as other hygienic needs like face masks, gloves and thermometers — needed for the on-site experience. So that went into our decision to choose these dates."— Paul Rabil, PLL co-founder
The impact: Playing games without fans means the PLL will lose big on ticket sales, and shortening the season from four months to 16 days — and missing out on touring the country — will hurt visibility in some markets.
- Yes, but: The money the PLL will save on travel and venue rentals makes up for some of that lost revenue.
- Plus, the concentrated distribution (20 games in 16 days) and consistency fans get from day-to-day will simulate that of a March Madness or a World Cup, which could attract a new subset of fans.
What's next: The tournament's location will be announced in the coming two weeks. Rabil shared some hints on where it might be:
- "Ideal locations are campuses that are fully secluded in states that have eased lockdowns. So you can look at colleges, training academies, plus modern practice facilities that NFL and MLS ownership groups have opened up."
- "The key is being able to lodge and feed and have practice facilities available. We have the capacity to build a state-of-the-art broadcast from the ground up, so a traditional stadium setup is less of a concern."
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