The Premier Lacrosse League is beginning its shift to geographically affiliated teams, according to multiple people familiar with the plans, a major step in the five-year-old league’s evolution.
At a board meeting in Los Angeles last month, PLL executives discussed assigning each of the league’s eight franchises a specific affiliation—a city, state or region—said the people, who were granted anonymity because the details are private. The plan, dubbed “Project Next,” would take effect after the 2023 season, with geographic affiliations likely assigned before the end of the year.
The PLL’s current tour-based model won’t cease immediately, the people said; the eight home markets will likely become stops on the PLL’s annual schedule next year. That said, individual teams will be able to begin growing a local following via youth camps, local sponsorships and other ticketed events. Longer term, it could pave the way for a more standard home-and-away schedule.
A representative for the PLL declined to comment.
Founded in 2018 by lacrosse star Paul Rabil and his brother, Mike Rabil, the PLL launched with six teams, and later expanded to eight. Along the way, it lured a number of high-profile investors, secured distribution via ESPN, and purchased Major League Lacrosse (MLL), the incumbent outdoor circuit.
Specifics of the “Project Next” transition are yet to be determined, the people said. The PLL has the next few months to decide which cities/regions are best for its first home markets. That will likely include an analysis of lacrosse’s popularity, the PLL’s local fanbase, merchandise and ticket sales, and available venues.
The league will also review its individual team names and brands, which could result in changes. For example, the PLL owns all the IP from the MLL as part of its 2020 acquisition. One MLL team, the Boston Cannons, became the PLL’s eighth franchise following that deal, and the brand, stripped of its city affiliation, has remained strong. The Cannons have more followers on Twitter (28,000) and Instagram (73,000) than any other PLL team.
Should Boston be chosen as a city, the Cannons would likely be that city’s team. The PLL could also choose to revive other MLL brands as part of its push into specific geographic areas.
Once the geographic affiliations are assigned, PLL teams will begin experimenting with local revenue opportunities, which could be boosted by changes to the league’s structure and schedule. As an example, board members last month discussed the possibility of the “home” team playing a double-header when the tour stops in its market next year, according to one of the people.
This is a different approach to new cities than the one taken by other single-entity leagues like the NWSL or MLS, which run location-agnostic expansion processes; however this process may better suit the PLL given its sport, its structure, and its stage of development. While those leagues have their core cities, including New York and Los Angeles, already locked up, the PLL is starting from scratch geographically. (Future expansion beyond the first eight could follow a different process.)
Also, the PLL is not looking to bring in new investors, or expansion fees, the way other leagues are. The league’s franchises already exists, as do the investors. The PLL cap table includes many of the names that you might expect to line up for franchise ownership, such as Joe Tsai, David Blitzer, Bob Kraft and Arctos Sports Partners.
Many of those investors also have board seats. The league’s nine-person board is comprised of Paul and Mike Rabil, CAA Sports co-head Mike Levine, Tsai, Arctos managing partner Doc O’Connor, The Chernin Group partner Mike Kearns, Raine partner Colin Neville, Barstool Sports CEO Erika Ayers and Hildene Capital Management founder Brett Jefferson.
The PLL owns all of its teams right now. It’s unclear if the long-term vision includes teams eventually transitioning to individual ownership groups (a move that would bring PLL in line with other single-entity leagues like MLS), or a continuation of the current model. Other possibilities could include an IPO (a la WWE), or a future sale.
More discussions about “Project Next” will likely be held during the PLL’s next board meetings in July.