Tuesday, October 30

"The Lacrosse World Turned Upside Down"

 The Lacrosse World Turned Upside Down

We have seen snippets and clues for the last couple of months, including a vague announcement about the formation of PREMIER LACROSSE LEAGUE, the upstart field lacrosse league spearheaded by PAUL RABIL, on the eve of last months NLL draft.  .

We have also seen some interesting announcements coming out of  the MLL recently.  Most notably rumblings that the league will be  rebranding itself with a new logo etc.  See Twitter 10/18.

On October 23rd however, RABIL officially blew the minds of pro lacrosse enthusiasts by announcing that the PLL would start play as early as summer of 2019.  With that announcement came the unveiling of the roster of players that would join RABIL and his secured TV contract with NBC Sports.

It has yet to be determined how this roster of players will be divided.  The league will be a “touring” league without traditional franchises rooted in any particular cities.  This format, already attempted in the pro lacrosse realm by the LXM tour between 2010-2014, never really gained traction.

The roster of over 100 players joining RABIL consist mostly of the top players in the world, delivering a massive blow to MAJOR LEAGUE LACROSSE, a league that JAKE STEINFELD  has built over the last 18 years.

What does this mean for the MLL?

First of all this is a major kick in the groin for the league.  To see a mass exodus of talent like this is a major set back to say the least, despite the league retaining three of the four best players in the world currently (IMO) in LYLE THOMPSON, ROB PANNELL and ZACH CURRIER. The remaining most recognizable players from the MLL however have signed on to the PLL.

All isn’t lost for the MLL, as they've signed on with ESPN on their OTT platform for the upcoming season.  That to go along with almost 20 years of history and well established franchises like BOSTON, NEW YORK, CHESAPEAKE and DENVER.

The MLL has some great sponsors in WARRIOR and COCA COLA behind them.
OBTW, What does WARRIOR think about its primary endorsement guy breaking away from the league they have been propping up for 18 years?
I digress.

One cannot can’t deny that the MLL and pro field lacrosse have reached a turning point. There have been rumblings, especially last season, regarding player discontent with venues and overall lack of professionalism.  Just go back and look at RYAN FLANNIGAN's Twitter feed to see examples of why players have jumped ship. Various reasons that include the security breach that took place last year.

In many ways it is a sad day in the MLL's storied history comprised such great sporting moments. The league as we know it will never be the same. It is a shame that the MLL couldn’t build on its history and take pro field lacrosse to the next level. 

Granted all of the history isn’t great ... The small crowds, the lack of TV contracts, franchise instability and contractual issues are all part of that history.

It's a shame to see the a potential demise of the league that pioneered pro field lacrosse and given some of the all time greats (GAIT(S), POWELL(S), GRANT Jr.'s, etc) the platform to showcase their abilities on a pro level.

In my view, the MLL has not had great leadership from the commissioner level.  Longtime commish DAVID GROSS is gone.  Many insiders will tell you his leadership or lack there of,  is the reason the MLL has found itself in it's current position.

GROSS is gone and SANDY BROWN is at the helm now.  He has come in and it appears he has gotten the message loud and clear.  One of his first things he did was secure the ESPN deal as well as take down the paywall at LAXSPORTSNET.

BROWN  announced a 51% increase in team salary caps and added two more games.  It appears some franchises like BOSTON, DENVER, CHESAPEAKE and NEW YORK are maturing as franchises and already seemed to be on solid footing.

Alas, it appears to be too little too late, as the damage has been done and the top players don’t feel appreciated. They are taking a leap of faith by starting their own league with a model that hasn’t worked in the past.


I was pretty skeptical when I saw the initial announcement that RABIL was forming the PLL, but when I saw the roster of talent he assembled and the TV contract his group landed, I took notice.  The venture appears to have significant funding with some major players.  This legitimizes the PLL even more.  I am not an expert by any means in what goes on on Wall St or the investment banking world,  but RABIL has amassed quite a roster on the field and in the board room. 

The league is offering players full time salaries and full time benefits.  It is reported that PLL players will have an “equity” stake.  Who gets what and how much equity has yet to be been reported.

It would be foolish to think that the compensation PLL compensation is sufficient, otherwise as over 100 players wouldn’t have jumped ship so quickly.

Other than the player pool and NBC deal not much else has been made public.

After taking a couple of days to digest this, it occurs to me that that what RABIL has done is quite the feat.  Say what you want about him as a player, or a personality, but to have the vision and act on it is something to be admired.

What does the Future Hold?

Well that’s the biggest question isn’t it?  I like how the PLL has released information in segments.  First, there was the initial announcement, followed by a player pool and an NBC announcement.  The next shoe to drop to be will be the team rosters and the cities that the PLL will be touring.

Will they be going into MLL cities?  What venues are they going to?  RABIL has mentioned MAJOR LEAGUE SOCCER venues, such as RED BULL ARENA, which is no surprise, RABIL already having forged a relationship with the energy drink maker.

Rosters ... No matter how they divide the talent there will be six competitive teams, all with top talent, however  it remains to be seen who the appointed coaches, GMs and support staff will be selected.

I am going to go out on a limb and guess that they will go into a few MLL markets where there is an already established base, such as DENVER, BOSTON, NY and the MID ATLANTIC

You can bet that they will include the west coast markets. Southern California,  whether it be SAN DIEGO and/or LOS ANGELES.  SAN FRANCISCO / SAN JOSE is another market to consider.  What about SALT LAX CITY, PORTLAND or SEATTLE? ... All seem logical places to explore.  What about former MLL markets CHICAGO and PHILLY?  I would be surprised to see PLL go into markets where pro lax hasn’t done that well such as CHARLOTTE or MIAMI.

End Game:

In business terms, RABIL is a classic disruptor.  Say what you want, he has shaken things up with innovation and changed how we view pro lax going forward.  I say that is a good thing. 

With this move pro lax has grown from 9 to 15 teams. Player salaries have risen, and pro lax will be shown on linear TV.  The status quo wasn’t cutting it and he made the needed adjustment.  Well done, PAUL RABIL.

Lets be honest, the long term touring model in my estimation won’t work.  There will be some markets that will work, others won’t cut it.  I think we'll see the PLL use this model for a couple of seasons as a test market scenario. What will come out on the other end is some sort of merger with the MLL, with the best players playing full time in the best markets and the best product.  That's the end game, IMO.  Who has control and ownership is unclear, and quite frankly most fans, including myself don’t care. We just want a quality pro lax product that is sustainable long term with the potential to grow.

If the PLL can deliver solid TV ratings and find 8-10 legit new local markets for pro lax in the next 2-4 years this will be seen as a launching point for the game.  Is pro lax ready to take the next step forward?  If it does, new leadership, a new approach and a new direction is needed.  The PLL may give us that.

MLL franchises like the BOSTON CANNONS, NEW YORK LIZARDS, DENVER OUTLAWS and CHESAPEAKE BAYHAWKS can survive because they have established themselves as relevant in their cities.  I think and would hope they would continue to be a part of the landscape.

What do you think?  Share your thoughts.  Thanks for the time!

@bernasconirich on Twitter




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