The Premier Lacrosse League is returning to a tour-based multi-city format this summer for its third season after a successful bubble tournament in Salt Lake City replaced last year’s scheduled campaign.
The PLL will host game weekends in 11 cities across the country throughout the 2021 season, stopping at a mix of familiar and new venues. Opening Weekend on June 4 will take place at the Patriots’ Gillette Stadium outside of Boston, as it did during the league’s inaugural season in 2019. Boston is also the former home of Major League Lacrosse’s Boston Cannons, which will debut as the PLL’s eighth team this season under the name Cannons Lacrosse Club following the PLL-MLL merger last December.
This season’s schedule was designed to include games in former MLL markets, hoping to tap into the older league’s fan bases. Stops in Atlanta, Baltimore, Long Island, Minneapolis, San Jose, Colorado Springs, Albany, Salt Lake City and Philadelphia will take place along the way before the 2021 campaign wraps up with the PLL Championship in September with a return to D.C. United’s Audi Field in Washington, D.C.
“MLL is a league that had been around for 20 years, they have had teams arrive and depart in a lot of different markets,” PLL co-founder and Cannons LC midfielder Paul Rabil said in a phone interview. “There was a lot of natural overlap, even in 2019 and 2020, but we’re especially excited given the merger for the PLL to tap into MLL’s existing fan base and to now move forward with unity around pro lacrosse.”
Rabil said planning this season was as intricate as last year’s single-site COVID-safe tournament, with a few differences: Rather than monitoring the availability of point-of-care testing, the focus this spring is on tracking vaccinations. The rate of vaccinations and their increasing availability points toward a more promising summer in terms of attendance—though the league is anticipating greater capacities allowed in the second half of the season.
News of the PLL’s early-season stop in Georgia comes after Major League Baseball pulled its 2021 All-Star Game out of Atlanta and announced plans to move this year’s draft from the state because of recently-passed changes to voter registration laws. While the young lacrosse league will still host a weekend at Fifth Third Bank Stadium at Kennesaw State University, it plans to donate a percentage of ticket sales to When We All Vote, a non-profit founded by Michelle Obama to increase voter participation across the country.
“What we’re doing in Atlanta is- instead of leaving the market, we think there’s an opportunity to stay and not only play the game for its purity and for lacrosse and sports fans in Georgia, but also use that as an opportunity,” Rabil said. “To educate ourselves, help educate others and continue the conversations around civic rights, in this case, and around change for social good.”
The PLL will not mandate players, coaches or staff take vaccines to participate. The league’s ongoing COVID-19 medical committee is developing health and safety procedures for all players and staff, and will work on getting participants access to vaccines in their home markets prior to the season. The committee has also put protocols in place for unvaccinated participants that include PCR testing, isolation, contact tracing and mask wearing.
Rabil said the league expects more than 90% of its participants to be vaccinated before Week 1.
The league will handle protocol for PLL personnel, but fans will abide by state, local and venue restrictions and requirements in each market the league plays in. In addition to using title sponsor and ticketing partner Ticketmaster’s virtual COVID protocol, the league has also crafted a set of standardized weekend-to-weekend health and safety measures for issues such as seating pods, social distancing, venue cleaning, mobile ticketing, hand sanitation stations and mask requirements.
Most of the league’s early venues are averaging between 20-35% capacity right now, Rabil said—all of which they expect to sell out, though attendance caps will vary greatly by venue. For example, pre-COVID capacity at Baltimore’s Homewood Field is 8,500 compared to Gillette Stadium’s 65,000. The approach this year has been to align PLL tour stops with large youth lacrosse tournaments and festivals across the country, working in partnership with local organizations to maximize attendance and access for the league’s grassroots audience. The PLL has leaned on its network partner NBC and Ticketmaster to target more general sports fan.
The entire 11-week 2021 slate will be broadcast on the NBC networks, with all games available to stream on Peacock and more than half available on the main NBC network and NBCSN, which the network is slated to shutter by the end of the year.
The PLL’s three-year NBC deal will end following the league’s 2021 season, and talks about the next media rights deal are expected to start soon after. Rabil emphasized a focus on balancing streaming with linear airtime and an exploration of NBC’s other properties like USA for season’s to come.