Ryan Small, December 4 2018

Paul Rabil Takes on Major League Lacrosse

The Premier Lacrosse League (PLL) – I think I love it.  I’ll assume you already know about Paul Rabil’s new league, but is it for real? 

First of all, Paul Rabil can’t seem to lose in this sport.  It doesn’t take a genius to solve some of the problems that Major League Lacrosse (MLL) had, but he also made changes that are a testament to his knowledge of the sport and everyone involved. Promising higher salaries and health benefits was an obvious move that no player would say no to, but he also offered league equity and the ability for players to utilize PLL assets to grow their personal brand. This move allows players to dedicate their energy to the sport full-time, which will only serve to then benefit the sport in the long term. 

Another obvious problem that Rabil solved is that there’s no overlap between the PLL and the indoor National Lacrosse League (NLL). Why the MLL never did this is beyond me. Some of the best players would end up missing half the MLL season because of their obligation to the NLL. It wasn’t good for the players and certainly not the fans, who were watching a completely different MLL league once the NLL players wrapped up their indoor season. 

As I see it, the craziest part of it all is that Warrior Lacrosse seems to have built a brand that’s more powerful than its own. Warrior had a huge stake in the early development of the MLL and signed Rabil as the star of their roster of sponsored lacrosse players in 2011. They created a line of Rabil equipment and promoted him as the best player in the world. You have to give credit to their marketing department, because the title clearly stuck. Rabil’s following is so loyal that they’re going with him to the PLL, a league that directly conflicts with Warrior’s own league and interests… whoops! More than that, who will become their next golden boy with all the best players in the league following Rabil? 

As good as Warrior’s marketing department may be, you have to give Rabil all the credit in the world for the personal brand he’s built. He has the trust of players and fans alike. Warrior can’t easily get rid of him at this point. If they do, another company will sponsor him and cannibalize a share of the market that Warrior has worked so hard to capture. And what is the MLL going to do without their star player and the fan favorite who is responsible for growing the popularity of the sport? Paul Rabil’s brand has grown to become more influential in lacrosse than that of any person, company, or even league. 

Even with the promise of the league and the leverage that Rabil has, I think it will still be an uphill battle. Rabil says timing is everything- and I agree. But how can you tell if the time is now? I can’t say I have the answer to that question, and I’d assume that Rabil and his group of investors have done their due diligence since they’ve decided to make the investment. My main concern with the PLL is the tour-based model. The LXM tour tried it and failed miserably. Again though, the PLL has some key differences- the LXM players were there because they couldn’t make an MLL team (with the exception of ten or so athletes who simply wanted to try something different), while the PLL will feature the majority of lacrosse’s best players. The PLL also addresses an issue that the LXM had in venue choice. Rabil’s league plans to utilize soccer stadiums, which are smaller and won’t appear to have large empty sections. 

The PLL seems to have solved many of the problems that professional lacrosse has faced throughout its history. But at the end of the day, it may not be a lack of player pay and health benefits or faulty outreach and marketing. There may just not be enough people who care. 

I believe that’s what has been the issue all along. Trying to solve lacrosse’s problems by categorizing the sport in the realm of a Redbull or X-Game sport wouldn’t be fair- those are individual sports.  Though these may seem to have similar audiences and viewership to lacrosse, lacrosse is a team sport just like hockey or football. But if this is the fan base that the sport of lacrosse intends to tap into, I have a feeling there may just not be any more room in peoples’ brains for another major team sport, especially with this new tour-based model being unable to leverage city allegiances. 

With this said, I will say that I admire Rabil’s venture and I am seriously rooting for the PLL to work. Though I have my doubts, if there’s one person capable of making this league a success, it’s clearly Paul Rabil. Best of luck, PLL- I’ll be watching!

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Ryan Small

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