When I first saw the Bloomberg article detailing Paul Rabil’s plans to go rogue and lead the charge for a new outdoor professional lacrosse league, I let out an audible “yikes.”
That “yikes” wasn’t only filled with surprise, but also with a pessimistic realization that the sport of lacrosse may never reach the heights that it has the potential to hit if the people running the show don’t get their shit together.
Rabil – arguably the best lacrosse player ever – is leading a movement to veer off from Major League Lacrosse, the best outdoor league since its inception in 2001. Despite a similar attempt to break out of the MLL mold in 2009 with Kyle Harrison’s LXM Tour, a traveling tour of lacrosse games that lasted only five years, the MLL has reigned supreme.
Now, with Rabil’s influence, there could be an influx of players that drop out of the MLL in favor of this new six-team league, called the Premier Lacrosse League, or PLL.
Although the idea of two separate leagues irks and worries me immensely, there are some positives that came out of the Bloomberg report. Here are my three most important takeaways.
1.) No more overlap
The overlap between the MLL and the best indoor lacrosse league, the National Lacrosse League, has been a problem for a while now and has only gotten worse with the MLL moving its season earlier and earlier into April. I wrote about how this was affecting the career of my favorite player, the dynamic Lyle Thompson, last summer.
Most players need to play in both leagues because the MLL couldn’t afford to pay their players livable salaries – and many of them worked office jobs in the finance and business industries.
The PLL is going to run from June through September with a schedule that doesn’t conflict with the NLL or NCAA. This is huge for the players, but especially the fans who want to see their favorite players for more than half the season.
2.) Full-time jobs
What the PLL is trying to accomplish is awesome for the sport. The players would be full-time employees of the teams with health benefits. Having the financial support coming from a legitimized group of sports and media investors like the Raine Group is huge, and could be the tipping point when some of the MLL’s elite have to make that decision whether to make the jump or not.
The players would also get an equity stake in the league, which in my humble opinion from watching a lot of Kevin on Shark Tank, is probably a bit over the top. Maybe it’s just a persuasion tool to pry away the MLL’s top players and will go away once the PLL gets a tad more legit.
3.) Can’t believe it got this far
The fact that these improvements could not have been made to an already established league in the MLL is beyond me. It just goes to show that the players were fed up with not only how the MLL was being run, but also the lack of coverage they were getting.
With the NLL just signing a new deal with Bleacher Report’s ramped up streaming services, Rabil and others probably saw this as an opportunity to get away from the disaster that was Lax Sports Net.
The most interesting thing from all of this to me is the timing of this report. The MLL had just made tremendous strides in improving the structure of the league, with new commissioner Sandy Brown helping pass a bump in player salaries, an added player on game day rosters and an extra game to the season.
Also, the formerly subscription-based streaming service of LSN had also just become completely free of charge, agreeing to a partnership with ESPN+ to air all MLL games in the process. The fact that it all had to come to this extreme course of action really saddens me.
I used to think that the MLL was on a trajectory similar to the MLS, which has also had its foundations tested from the NASL and USL, respectively. Now, perhaps more optimistically, lacrosse might be able to become the next NBA post-ABA merger if these players’ concerns are finally taken seriously.
If not, I’m afraid lacrosse will squander a huge opportunity to ascend in the sports world during the demise of youth football participation.