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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.

Go deeper

Dec 21, 2020 - Podcasts

Milwaukee Bucks owner: NBA teams will lose money this season

The NBA tips off tomorrow night, making it the first major U.S. sports league to play a second season amidst the pandemic. No bubble this time, but also not many in-person fans.

Axios Re:Cap talks with Milwaukee Bucks co-owner Marc Lasry on the business of basketball, how much he expects to lose this season and that massive new deal for two-time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Nathan Bomey, author of Closer
2 hours ago - Economy & Business

Tesla delays Cybertruck until 2023

Tesla debuts the Cybertruck in Hawthorne, Calif., on Nov. 21, 2019. Photo: Frederic J. Brown/AFP via Getty Images

Tesla is at risk of falling behind on one of the most critical products in the American auto industry: pickups.

Why it matters: Pickups are the most profitable segment in the business and account for the first, second and third best-selling vehicles in the country. Without a serious pickup strategy, Tesla could miss out on a huge source of future income.

Defense taking steps to mitigate civilian harm after botched airstrikes

Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin speaks during a news conference at the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia on Sept. 1, 2021. Photo: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin issued a directive Thursday to improve the U.S. military's approach to civilian harm mitigation and response, calling it a "strategic and a moral imperative."

Why it matters: The Pentagon has faced criticism for years for amassing civilian casualties in its missions, especially in the Middle East. New York Times investigations have found systemic failures in efforts to prevent civilian deaths, as well as a cover-up of a 2019 airstrike that killed dozens of women and children in Syria.

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