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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.

2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Scoop: Beto plans Texas comeback in governor's race

Former U.S. Rep. Beto O'Rourke speaks during the Georgetown to Austin March for Democracy rally on July 31, 2021, in Austin, Texas. Photo: Brandon Bell/Getty Images

Former Rep. Beto O’Rourke is preparing to run for governor of Texas in 2022, with an announcement expected later this year, Texas political operatives tell Axios.

Why it matters: O'Rourke's entry would give Democrats a high-profile candidate with a national fundraising network to challenge Republican Gov. Greg Abbott — and give O’Rourke, a former three-term congressman from El Paso and 2020 presidential candidate and voting rights activist, a path to a political comeback.

Texas doctor says he performed an abortion in violation of state law

Pro-choice protesters march down Congress Avenue and back to the Texas state capitol in Austin, Tx in July 2021. Photo: Erich Schlegel/Getty Images

A Texas doctor disclosed in an op-ed in the Washington Post Saturday that he has performed an abortion in violation of the state's restrictive new abortion law, which effectively bans the procedure after six weeks.

Why it matters: Alan Braid's op-ed is a direct disclosure that will very likely result in legal action, thereby setting it up as a potential test case for how the abortion ban will be litigated, notes the New York Times.

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