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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.

Updated 51 mins ago - World

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Photo: Gil Cohen-Magen/AFP via Getty Images

Israel has a new prime minister for the first time since 2009 after a power-sharing government led by Naftali Bennett survived a confidence vote on Sunday. Bennett was sworn in as prime minister.

Why it matters: Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel's longest-serving prime minister and the man around whom Israeli politics have revolved for a decade, will now become opposition leader. Bennett, a right-wing former Netanyahu protege, will lead the most ideologically diverse government in Israeli history.

Updated 1 hour ago - Politics & Policy

Afghanistan, cyber defense on the agenda for Biden in Brussels

Joe Biden arrives at Melsbroek Military Airport in Brussels on June 13. Photo: Yves Herman/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

President Biden touched down in Brussels on Sunday evening ahead of two days of talks with NATO and European Union leaders as part of his first foreign trip as president.

Driving the news: Biden was greeted on the tarmac by Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo and a slate of other officials, including Douglas Jones and Mark Libby, the U.S. Permanent Representatives to NATO and the EU respectively.

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