By Abigail Hope

The Rise of the Premier Lacrosse League (PLL)

This past Friday, Saturday, and Sunday was opening weekend for the Premier Lacrosse League. The regular season PLL is composed of eight weeks running from June 4-August 18. Last weekend Cannons Lacrosse Club, who the founder and CEO of the PLL, Paul Rabil, plays midfield for, along with University of Tampa’s own, Andrew Kew beat Redwoods 12-11. Chaos beat Whipsnakes 13-7, Atlas downed Archers 18-6. #1 Draft pick Michael Sowers out of Duke University plays for the Waterdogs and they were defeated by the Cannons in the Cannons’ second game, 13-7. Chrome beat Redwoods 14-11.

The five games were played in Gillette Stadium and broadcasted on NBC Sports Network. At halftime, the college lacrosse Tewaaraton winners were announced. Just as I called it in last week’s column, well-deserving Charlotte North, from the National Championship team, Boston College, earned the women’s honor accompanied by Maryland’s Jared Bernhardt on the men’s side.

In my opinion, lacrosse is an unrivaled sport because it is the fastest game on two feet. With the agility and aggression of football, combine the endurance of soccer, plus the speed of basketball. It can change on a dime, just like ice hockey. Hits can be merciless and the little rubber ball can soar at speeds nearly 120mph. The origins of lacrosse go back earlier than any other sport on the continent. Jai Thompson spoke about his son, Lyle Thompson, former Tewarton winner who plays for the Cannons, and likely the greatest lacrosse player in the world, and stated that “each one of my boys, at birth, they were all given a stick, that would be their individual medicine. It gave them strength, it gave them belief in our game. The lacrosse game is entertainment for Our Creator. That’s why it is so important for us to play the way we play it. To play the game, you have to train for it, you have to be able to do it mentally, physically.” He goes on, “when athletes are set free like a thoroughbred horse, you just let them run, you don’t try to pull back on the reigns, you just let them run and see what happens.”

Lyle is from the Onondaga Reservation: a Native American reservation in Onondaga County, New York, United States. It is the territory of the Onondaga Nation, that lies just south of the place I grew up, Syracuse.

Before this year, two professional lacrosse leagues existed; the Major League Lacrosse (MLL) and the Premier Lacrosse League (PLL). The MLL began in 2001 and operated under a traditional American sports model where teams represented specific cities. The PLL was created in 2018 and operates under a tour-based model. Late last year, the decision was made to merge the two forces, and the unification has been monumental for the growth of the sport. Both of the founders of the PLL, Mike & Paul Rabil, as well as the commissioner of the MLL, Sandy Brown, were in agreement that the consolidation would be positively constructive for the sport by creating one destination for the best talent in lacrosse.

Unlike a nightmare merger story, and some of you may remember this debacle, that said so long to the red, white, and blue ball. In 1976, the National Basketball Association (NBA) merged with the American Basketball Association (ABA) and took on only four of the ABA’s well-performing franchises: Denver Nuggets, Indiana Pacers, New York (now Brooklyn) Nets, and the San Antonio Spurs. Successful franchises like the Kentucky Colonels and the Utah Stars along with the Virginia Squires were left out in the cold and folded. This amalgamation came with many failed attempts, litigation known as the Oscar Robertson suit, legislative proposals, and cripplingly harsh merger terms, but the recent lacrosse merger did not.

The PLL is composed of eight teams, Archers, Atlas, Cannons, Chaos, Chrome, Redwoods, Waterdogs, and Whipsnakes. Notice anything? There is no city-to-team attachment, which allows for people to celebrate and enjoy the sport of lacrosse on a weekend the league visits their city.

With a tour-based model, the PLL avoids the colossal costs of facility financing, which in modern days, “needs to have it all.” The days of the “giant donut” stadiums and .50 cent hotdogs have been replaced with luxury, added amenities, club levels, lounges, and vendors that all burden a franchise with the need to satisfy the benefit principle. The benefit principle says that those who benefit from a project should be the ones taxed on it. The problem therein lies in convincing non-sport fans to support a tax increase for a stadium they will never enter. Not a real good selling point to the voters, correct?

Next week, the PLL will travel to Atlanta, GA, and then up the east coast to Baltimore, MD, all the way across the map to San Jose for Week 6. The quarterfinals, semifinals, and championship are scheduled to be played in Salt Lake City, Philly, and D.C., respectively which presents the opportunity for anyone in the country to buy tickets and catch a game.

Viewership is skyrocketing, ticket sales in Week 1 of the 2021 season were more than any location in the entire 2019 season, and Patriots Owner Robert Kraft is one of the newly joined investors backing PLL. Lacrosse is the sport of the future and its rapid growth backs that up. Plus, you can now bet on lacrosse on DraftKings and Pick ‘Em. Lacrosse has taken huge strides forward and people should consume it. Stream it. Tune in. To NBC Sports Network or Peacock streaming services June 11-13.

I’ll be back next Monday with another edition of Hope Highlights.  Until then, play smarter not harder.