The Premier Lacrosse League announced new partnerships with Progressive Insurance and CBD brand Mendi ahead of the upcoming PLL Championship Series, a two-week quarantined and spectator-free tournament scheduled to start on July 25 at Zions Bank Stadium in Salt Lake City.
The two companies join a slew of 2020 additions to the league’s sponsor list, headlined by Ticketmaster, which became the PLL’s presenting sponsor and official ticketing partner in February. Genius Sports, now the league’s official data and integrity partner for sports betting, also joined this summer, as did Bose and snack-foods company Utz.
Corporate partners have always been key to the young league’s revenue model, but they became paramount when the PLL restructured its second season because of the pandemic.
The PLL was expecting a 200% increase in ticket sales due to its tie-up with Ticketmaster, which was also expected to increase revenues by streamlining the process and bringing it in-house. When the pandemic sunk those plans and decreased on-site and game-related revenue projections across the board, the PLL leveraged its digital/social presence and broadcast opportunities to finalize profitable new partnerships and retain existing sponsors.
“New dollars are fantastic, and we’re always excited about those, but committed dollars that don’t get peeled back—a lot is revealed in hard times about a company,” PLL co-founder and CEO Mike Rabil told Sportico. “Any [new] official sponsor we’re bringing on is a paid partnership, so we’re going above and beyond to over-deliver and return a multiple of their invested capital with us.”
Rabil said their partnership with Utz, which included a digital campaign featuring a number of the league’s stars, grew the brand’s social following by more than 35%.
The league also launched a branded content campaign with Bose that showed PLL athletes training during quarantine with the company’s products. The PLL’s Mendi partnership will similarly include “numerous inventive digital activations incorporating league stars and current Mendi ambassadors,” the league said in a press release.
The PLL has named four players as brand ambassadors to Mendi. They include Atlas’s Trevor Baptiste, who has more than 58,400 followers on Instagram, and Redwoods’ attackman Jules Heninburg, who has 20,000 on the platform. Social media promotion is a key component of the league’s strategy.
“We have that one-to-one relationship with our athletes that makes those integrations very successful for a brand and authentic, which is what they’re looking for,” Rabil added. “Those branded content campaigns also did really well for us and our athletes are excited about getting that type of exposure, about getting compensated for those types of campaigns from a cash perspective but also about getting great products.”
The league has also created value by landing tournament broadcast slots during airtime previously allocated for Olympic coverage on NBC, the PLL’s existing media partner. The ability to deliver that broadcast exposure to new partners is a huge plus for a smaller league like the PLL in a still relatively quiet live sports landscape.
Considering the Championship Series will start before the NBA, MLB and NHL get underway, it can offer brands exposure during windows when there will likely be less competition for viewers.
Progressive will receive heavy media presence during PLL broadcasts. All 20 games will be available live, with 14 on broadcast television—NBC will air four games, and 10 will be on NBCSN. The remainder will air via streaming platforms like NBC Sports Gold. All televised games will also stream live on NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app.
“There’s pent up demand for live broadcasts, and we think [it’s] something that will hopefully be beneficial for our broadcasts and viewership numbers,” Rabil said.
Better numbers are good for sponsors and partners, too. Progressive will also be featured prominently on field during the tournament through LED signage and custom goal net wrap branding—a first-of-its-kind advertising asset for lacrosse. The insurance company will also become the official jersey patch sponsor of Redwoods LC, joining superfood supplement Sun Chlorella—the Waterdogs’ patch sponsor—as new 2020 jersey partners this year. Capital One will return as Atlas LC’s sponsor. All team jerseys will feature Ticketmaster on the back, another new addition.
That exposure is what partners are paying for in the end. While adding sponsors has helped, the normally tour-based league has also found that the restructured season has helped cut costs in other ways.
“We’re not traveling to as many events so our expenses are decreased on a travel perspective,” Rabil said. “We’ve been intentional about where we spend, so while revenue projections might not be what we originally forecasted them to be without being able to sell tickets, cost-controlling has been a big place for us to find savings.”
The two-part Championship Series will feature a group play format that will determine seeding for the following week’s single-elimination tournament. The winner of the tournament will be the 2020 PLL Champion.