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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

Kendall Baker, author of Sports
Nov 20, 2020 - Sports

Coronavirus cancellations give the Group of 5 a chance to shine

Photo: Michael Hickey/Getty Images

The pandemic eliminated most Power 5 vs. Group of 5 games this season, costing the smaller Group of 5 schools millions of dollars in game contracts.

Yes, but: Conference-only play, postponed start dates and canceled games have given those schools a chance to climb up the polls and make a name for themselves nationally — an opportunity that a handful have seized.

Dan Primack, author of Pro Rata
2 hours ago - Economy & Business

New deals in the COVID economy

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

COVID-19 is the macro horror of our lifetimes, and has destroyed or severely damaged countless businesses. But, like with most horribles, it also has created some opportunities.

Driving the news: Merck this morning announced an agreement to buy OncoImmune, a Maryland-based biotech that showed promising late-stage clinical results for a therapy that treats severe and critical coronavirus cases.

3 hours ago - Technology

Biden's openings for tech progress

Photo illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios. Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images 

Item No. 1 on President-elect Joe Biden's day-one tech agenda, controlling the flood of misinformation online, offers no fast fixes — but other tech issues facing the new administration hold out opportunities for quick action and concrete progress.

What to watch: Closing the digital divide will be a high priority, as the pandemic has exposed how many Americans still lack reliable in-home internet connections and the devices needed to work and learn remotely.

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