By Jack Carter
In a sport that has become seen as one for the elite, upper-class, the Premier Lacrosse League has reversed the narrative and created an innovative, progressive platform for players to compete on. Before the PLL, college was the highest level most lacrosse players got to. The existing professional league at this time, the Major League Lacrosse, had low pay, poor benefits for their players, and no real presence in the media.
But in 2018, one player decided to take matters into his own hands and create an active, sustainable league that treated its players right and gave fans something to get excited about. His name: Paul Rabil. Little did anyone know that Rabil’s formation of the Premier Lacrosse League would forever change the sport of lacrosse.
After being founded in 2001, the Major Lacrosse League failed to gain significant attention from the media or fans. Just five years in, four teams were forced to shut down due to financial issues, bringing the league from ten teams to a mere six in what should have been the fastest-growing period of the league. In hopes of avoiding shutting down, many teams dropped their city affiliation and traveled around the country to play teams. However, their efforts only went so far. After the opening and folding of various teams, the league remains at just six teams after almost two decades of competition.
The struggles of the MLL are certainly not to be attributed to a lack of interest; lacrosse is seen as one of the fastest-growing sports in the country. Rather, the league simply failed to attract the attention of and interact with their fans. At their lowest, MLL games had fewer than 2,000 fans in attendance. No team could remain financially stable when their income level is that low and, consequently, players were paid abysmally low salaries — an average of just $8,000 dollars a year. This meant that players in the league could not afford to play lacrosse as a full-time job, with the exception of top players endorsed by brand deals to supplement their income. In short, the MLL was destined to fail.
Fed up with the constant problems of the MLL, Paul Rabil, one of the most prolific lacrosse players of all time, set out with his brother Mike to form a new league of lacrosse. Keen on building a league that would support their players, fans, and community and grow the game, the later-coined Premier Lacrosse League put an emphasis on player support and connection, starting with raises in player’s wages. In the league’s inaugural season, the average salary of a PLL athlete was $35,000, four times the salary of an MLL player .
To generate an audience, the PLL later signed a contract with NBC Sports to broadcast their games, making the association the first professional lacrosse league to televise on a nationally-syndicated network. According to the PLL website, “The PLL Championship Game brought in a Total Audience Delivery (TAD) of 340,000 viewers on NBC, outperforming the 2019 Championship Game (276,000 viewers) by an impressive 23%.” Average viewership across the season averaged 153,000, which was a 33% increase over the 2019 inaugural season.
Recently, the PLL has gained an equally noticeable presence on social media platforms. Their social media accounts (currently having 229K followers on Instagram and 67.7K on Twitter) are growing fast and updated almost daily, even in the offseason, with content from journalists and players alike. Centered on inclusivity and political activism, PLL accounts have acknowledged several moral issues within the sport: features on Native American heritage of lacrosse, black players and their struggles in both the lacrosse world and the global community, the political statement behind kneeling for the national anthem and more have and will continue to give fans a more in-depth view of the league and its players.
All of these new improvements have helped the Premier Lacrosse League establish itself as one of America’s fastest growing professional sports leagues, and lacrosse fans everywhere are excited to see the PLL elevate lacrosse as a whole to the next level. Formed out of frustration as an inept league with no fanbase, funding, or future, the Premier Lacrosse League found a way to thrive and help the world of lacrosse grow into a more, united, equal, and inclusive community.