On Oct. 22, 2018, brothers Paul and Michael Rabil announced the start of a brand new lacrosse league; the Premier Lacrosse League, of which they were the founders.
On that day they officially launched the PLL to the public along with a logo and TV partnership with NBC, something professional-lacrosse has never had.
Shortly thereafter, the league welcomed 140 of the best lacrosse players in the world who would be taking part in the PLL’s inaugural season. This included 86 college all-Americans, 10 Tewaaraton winners, the equivalent of the Heisman trophy for college lacrosse players, and 25 U.S. National team players.
The Rabils then continued unveiling their new league by announcing the six teams that would be competing for 10 regular season weeks along with an all-star weekend and playoffs. The teams were the Archers, Atlas, Chaos, Chrome, Redwoods and Whipsnakes.
The team’s rosters were assembled based on several factors including skill level and collegiate experience and training in order to help with team chemistry. For example, more than half of the Whipsnakes roster included University of Maryland alumni.
Unlike a conventional pro sports league, the PLLs’ teams are not anchored to a specific cities; instead, they follow a touring model. The league travels to a new city every week, where all six teams compete against each other. This enables fans an opportunity to watch all their favorite players in the span of one weekend.
The opening weekend of the PLL took place on June 1 and 2 in Boston at Gillette Stadium where the Patriots spend their fall Sundays. The opening weekend had its highs and lows. The on-the-field product was like no other, with two dramatic overtime games.
Lacrosse fans at home were experiencing a presentation of the game that they had never gotten before. NBC created a production that resembled an NFL-style broadcast, with sideline interviews, knowledgeable commentators and a sky cam. In addition, some players had mics in their helmets so they could be interviewed directly after a goal or a caused turnover, some place no professional sport has ever gone.
The negatives came with the opening weekend attendance. Fans spoke on social media sites about the number of people who were at the game along with what viewers saw on TV. While it appeared that there were very few fans in attendance, it was also worth knowing that this was the largest venue they played, which may have given fans a false representation of the atmosphere.
While every week the on-the-field product was spectacular as was the TV presentation, the media team was on another level. When the games were taking place, the media team was pushing content out at suprising rate, whether it meant slow-motion highlights or mic’d up player clips.
During the week when the teams were traveling or practicing, the media team still continued to churn out content whether it be on their Instagram, Twitter or YouTube. The content included things like game highlights, best plays of the week, and weekly vlogs.
As a fan of the Whipsnakes, I was able to attend two regular season weekends in Baltimore and Washington D.C. Both weekends started at the premier zone which was a small festival-style experience prior to the start of the games, outside of the stadiums. The premier zone included a DJ, a fastest shot competitions, multiple lacrosse vendors and a chance to meet players.
Once inside, the atmosphere was electric, even more so at the Baltimore location as it took place at Homewood Field which is planted right inside a lacrosse hotbed. Homewood was the first sellout crowd that the PLL registered this season. Later the PLL traveled to Albany University where they also sold out the venue with notables like Connor Fields (Chaos LC) returning to his alma mater.
During the middle of the season there was an all-star weekend in Los Angeles. This included an all-star game along with other competitions like fastest shot, accuracy and freestyle, all similar to the NHLs competition.
The playoffs included an interesting format that has never been seen in any of the major sports within the United States. The PLL said they wanted all six teams to be able to compete for something. Thus, there was the bracket for the championship which consisted of the top four teams and then there was a first draft pick bracket which included the bottom two teams.
I attended the first round of the playoffs in Columbus, Ohio, along with championship weekend in Philadelphia. The championship weekend included two games which each decided the outcomes of each bracket. The championship game was broadcasted on the main NBC network.
The first game was a blowout, ending in a score of 25-7 with the Archers winning the rights to the first overall draft pick for next year’s draft. Between the first game and the start of the championship game, players were signing autographs and hurling equipment and sticks into the stands for screaming fans.
Players from the Whipsnakes and Redwoods entered the field to the tune of Dreams and Nightmares by local Philadelphia rapper Meek Mill which only seemed fit with the game being played in Philadelphia.
The Whipsnakes controlled most of the game until the Redwoods slowly crept back late in the third-quarter and the fourth quarter, eventually taking the lead 11-10 with under 30 seconds remaining. Jim Stagnitta, the Whipsnakes’ head coach, called a timeout to try and force the game into overtime. The league MVP, Matt Rambo, darted toward the middle of the field after receiving a pass from Drew Snider and buried the tying goal to send the game into overtime.
Overtime didn’t take long as the first possession started with Ty Warner passing the ball to Rambo where he took Matt Landis behind the goal before driving up field and netting the winning goal. A storybook finish as Philadelphia native, Rambo willed his team to a championship with three goals and three assists. That performance resulted in Rambo claiming the championship MVP in his home city.
The PLL championship welcomed an attendance of 12,556, the highest ever single attended event in league history. Viewership on NBC peaked at 313,000, making it the third most viewed outdoor professional lacrosse game in history of network television.
Professional lacrosse has found a home in the Premier Lacrosse League. With a professional broadcast in NBC, world class talent, and a highly skilled media team, look no further: Lacrosse is the sport of the future.