Mike Preston: The Premier Lacrosse League is an old-school game played at a faster pace. I’m addicted.


Despite Major League Lacrosse’s countless attempts to rebrand itself during its 20-year run that ended in 2020, the sport has never appealed to the sport’s traditionalists.

The excitement died down after the NCAA Division I championships in late May, and pro lacrosse sparked as much interest as a former Baltimore football fan watching the New York Jets upset the Colts again in of Super Bowl III.

But this current version of professional lacrosse, the Premier Lacrosse League, is different. It’s exciting, fast-paced, and well-designed.

I’m addicted.

This is the fourth year for the PLL, which was founded and led by former United States Johns Hopkins midfielder Paul Rabil and his brother Mike.

After watching a few games on TV and then traveling to Homewood Field at Johns Hopkins University last weekend, it was faster than on TV.

Comparatively, the games have upped the tempo of college lacrosse. The college game is still good, sure, but the age of specialization has slowed it down.

Offenses need to be deliberate, so offensive middlemen come onto the court and defenses also like to get their guys in and out. It’s boring, even with the constant rule changes and the 80-second timer.

In the PLL, there is a 52 second timer. The PLL midfield has been shortened by 10 yards and the 2-point arc is only 15 yards from goal.

Goalies don’t walk to make saves. It’s about moving your hands because the shots are coming so hard and so fast. Due to the short pitch, a turnover can immediately become a goal, which is why an average of 23.4 goals are scored per game.

Maybe lacrosse has finally become the fastest game on two feet again.

“It’s an up-and-down game,” said Paul Rabil. “I want our game to be as visually compelling as basketball. We want to create a rhythm backed by data, but also let our rules breathe and stand the test of time.

“There are different versions of how this game is played, and they’re all very different from the original version. I love the evolution of the game and its athletes. We want to roll out the red carpet at the college game and the big ones. players so they can create and show off what a full-time lacrosse player will look like.

This is part of the reason why Rabil broke up with MLL. He was one of the only lacrosse players at the time to make a living from the sport, and he campaigned for higher salaries, stocks and benefits to allow athletes to play full time.

He thought his old league was outdated, even though he participated with several players in various groups who communicated regularly with the league commissioner.

Rabil wanted MLL to be more on par with Major League Soccer and the Ultimate Fighting Championships, which were founded about a decade before MLL. He wanted more resources, like more full-time employees in each organization, and for MLL to become more self-aware and use modern social media platforms to promote itself and its players. Rabil earned $12,500 in player salary but had a million followers on various platforms which led to numerous sponsors.

“You see what they [MLS and UFC] were doing in a new sporting environment, where they were creating more opportunities to break through, and we just weren’t doing that,” said Rabil, who played 11 seasons in the MLL. “In fact, we were moving in the opposite direction.

“But after long nights and early mornings, we spent the first two and a half years here, and I think we have an incredible team of executives and colleagues across the company. One thing I learned about professional sports is that you have to pound the pavement every day.

The PLL does a lot of things right. Earlier this year, he signed a four-year deal with ESPN to broadcast his games, including the playoffs, on ESPN, ESPN+, ABC and ESPN2 from June through September. According to multiple reports, the broadcast deal was in the eight-figure range. The league had been carried by NBC since its first season in 2019.

The PLL will have 12 games on ESPN+, three games on ABC, three games on ESPN and six on ESPN2. According to Rabil, the first game on ABC last week peaked at 650,000 viewers and one on ESPN had 220,000, which broke the previous record of 60,000 on cable for professional lacrosse.

In addition to more game-day coverage, the PLL receives more advertising highlighting individual players like the network does with the UFC.

“We had a great experience with NBC and its management team,” Rabil said. “But when you look at the inventory and the performance rating, they [ESPN] are the best, they are the world leaders in the sport for a reason. You also have to look at what kind of promotions they have for us like social platforms, and they offered really good licensing fees.

ESPN will serve as another good launching point. The PLL started with six teams but now has eight with 26 players on each roster.

Each team has 10 regular season competitions and there is one All-Star Game with three playoff weekends. Unlike most sports leagues, the PLL Tour plays games in 12 different market areas based on that city’s success history in sports, professional lacrosse, American lacrosse attendance data, data private and public youth and viewing data.

According to Rabil, the PLL used NCAA Final Four models for men’s and women’s lacrosse and other individual sports like tennis, auto racing and professional wrestling to determine which cities to visit.

But in a few years they might want to rethink that and put teams in cities to further develop an identity. Despite its differences with the MLL, Rabil included it when it merged the Boston franchise with the PLL last year. In February, the PLL launched a Hall of Fame for professional lacrosse players.

Most of the league’s post-season accolades are named after former players or coaches, such as the Paul Cantabene Faceoff Award or the Dick Edell Coach of the Year Award.

“The MLL has been around for 20 years, we can’t pretend they don’t exist,” Rabil said. “These historical figures have added a lot of growth to our sport. So later on when we rebrand, we may have to rely on more traditionalists to connect us to other cities. I think about those challenges every Our goal in two or three years is to become one of the top five sports leagues in North America.

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