The Premier Lacrosse League - bringing innovation to American sport

Freddy Linn

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Jul 14, 2005
8,557
Where it rains. No, seriously.
Thought I would break the Premier Lacrosse League into a separate thread, and at the same time focus on one particularly interesting aspect of the league.

For background, the PLL is a six-team touring league of professional lacrosse players in its first year, competing concurrently with an established field lacrosse league in the MLL. The league has a broadcast/streaming deal with NBC Sports and a fantastic, passionate approach to social media. Katie Baker profiled the effort in The Ringer this week in a pretty great piece.

The action is incredible to watch as the players are supremely motivated to put a great product on the field.

Regarding innovation, some on-field innovations include putting microphones on players, on-field in-game "interviews", and changes to established field rules to make the game even faster. But a very interesting playoff format was introduced this week that is worthy of conversation. The three stated goals are to:
  • Make regular season performance matter
  • Give every team something to play for.
  • Mitigate “tanking”
The PLL is using a version of the Page playoff system to crown a champion and determine who gets the top pick in the draft. Here is how it works:

Game 1: #1 plays #2. Winner gets a bye week and advances to championship game (not listed, but technically Game 6)
Game 2: #3 plays #4. Winner plays the loser of #1 vs. #2 in following week in Game 4. Winner of that game plays winner of Game 1 in championship (Game 6).

Championship.PNG

There is also a bracket for the right to pick first in the draft:

Game 3: #5 plays #6.
Game 5: Loser of Game 2 plays the loser of Game 3. The winner plays the winner of Game 3 for the right to the #1 draft pick.

1st pick.PNG


I think the format is outstanding and achieves the stated goals. Understanding that it is easier to implement in small-scale leagues, hopefully some aspects of this type format could be adopted by other professional leagues that are plagued by tanking.

In any event, the PLL is a great product with a bright future. I play and coach in a non-hotbed area on the West Coast and the launch of the league has created a real buzz that didn't exist with the MLL. I hope folks check it out.
 

InstaFace

MDLzera
SoSH Member
Sep 27, 2016
9,911
Amused to see that Chris Hogan - current Panthers and former Patriots wide receiver and of course Penn State Lacrosse alum - is a PLL investor.
 

smokin joe wood

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Jul 19, 2005
745
Indianapolis, IN
Amused to see that Chris Hogan - current Panthers and former Patriots wide receiver and of course Penn State Lacrosse alum - is a PLL investor.
More importantly the Chernin Group, The Raine Group and Joe Tsai are all investors. So the league should stay afloat for at least a few years.

This league is a really good test case for what happens when the players/league and television work hand-in-hand to create the product.
The in-game interviews, rule changes and timing of the game (under 2 hours) have all been collaborative and the on-field result has been really entertaining. The ratings haven't been great but I think if you sat and watched a game you would likely gain a much better appreciation for the sport and possibly become a fan. They just need to survive long enough to get the audience.
 

InstaFace

MDLzera
SoSH Member
Sep 27, 2016
9,911
More importantly the Chernin Group, The Raine Group and Joe Tsai are all investors. So the league should stay afloat for at least a few years.

This league is a really good test case for what happens when the players/league and television work hand-in-hand to create the product.
The in-game interviews, rule changes and timing of the game (under 2 hours) have all been collaborative and the on-field result has been really entertaining. The ratings haven't been great but I think if you sat and watched a game you would likely gain a much better appreciation for the sport and possibly become a fan. They just need to survive long enough to get the audience.
The investment is good, but the last few decades are also littered with the corpses of startup lacrosse pro leagues (and, it must be said, startup pro leagues for the big 5 sports too). The NLL has gotten up to 12 teams with a roughly 9k / game attendance average, which has been remarkably stable over the last 15+ years. MLL, for all its branding, has been incredibly volatile.

I'm not sure how much the excitement of the game or readiness for TV makes a big difference - people still need to decide to care enough about watching lacrosse that they'll set aside time and/or money for it. Is there an example of TV making a pro league popular when butts in seats were not previously evidence of it?

Paul Rabil is a well-regarded, well-connected guy, but then again Charlie Ebersol was a well-connected, well-regarded guy when he started the AAF, and it turned out he can't manage worth shit, doesn't understand fundraising, was scared by the WWE / XFL into rushing into the market rather than taking the time to do things properly, and as a result a ton of people bet their careers on him and ended up suddenly jobless. The cult-of-personality style of founding this stuff ought to be scary to anyone

And then you've got the nature of the clubs - it's a traveling-circus model where you have 6 fixed "club teams" who play when the league visits a city for a weekend. There is no team for your city - the teams are city-less rovers. They're not even owned independently, with different owners competing for talent, they're owned by the league. That goes against everything people have come to expect from a team sport. Now, I realize what the article left unsaid is that's the model for individual sports with a tournament format - the PGA, or the Tennis tours, hell even darts or whatever, are themselves a traveling circus that comes to town one week / weekend per year, so they draws better in that regard - higher attendance per event, fewer events overall. Nobody's ever done that before for a team sport, to my knowledge, unless you count World Team Tennis (which I don't). The individuals playing the individual sports are independent contractors - by comparison, it must be damn expensive to the PLL to have all 6 teams' worth of employee-players plus support staff going around from city to city every week, never really having "home games" where they all live.
 

Freddy Linn

Member
SoSH Member
Jul 14, 2005
8,557
Where it rains. No, seriously.
And then you've got the nature of the clubs - it's a traveling-circus model where you have 6 fixed "club teams" who play when the league visits a city for a weekend. There is no team for your city - the teams are city-less rovers. They're not even owned independently, with different owners competing for talent, they're owned by the league. That goes against everything people have come to expect from a team sport. Now, I realize what the article left unsaid is that's the model for individual sports with a tournament format - the PGA, or the Tennis tours, hell even darts or whatever, are themselves a traveling circus that comes to town one week / weekend per year, so they draws better in that regard - higher attendance per event, fewer events overall. Nobody's ever done that before for a team sport, to my knowledge, unless you count World Team Tennis (which I don't). The individuals playing the individual sports are independent contractors - by comparison, it must be damn expensive to the PLL to have all 6 teams' worth of employee-players plus support staff going around from city to city every week, never really having "home games" where they all live.
Ultimately they are very, very likely to end up in a city-based model with individual owners (assuming the league succeeds/survives). I like the idea of a tour-based model (using certain affinities to create the core of the teams was a cool way to go) at the onset, and visiting 20-25 metropolitan areas over the first few years is probably a decent way to gauge where those teams would have traction and invested ownership. Starting with the tour-based concept gives them some optionality. I really hope it works out.

The style of play given the tweaks in the rules blows the MLL out of the water.