The Premier Lacrosse League is growing again—but this time it’s taking a new approach. The single-entity league, which has already added two expansion teams in its three-year lifespan, is tacking additional games onto its calendar through the introduction of an annual eight-day offseason tournament.
The Championship Series, as it’s called, will take place each winter, with a twist: It will be played in a six-on-six format, with a 30-second shot clock and eight-minute running quarters on a smaller field. World Lacrosse is currently pushing the new style of the sport, “Lacrosse Sixes,” for inclusion in the 2028 Olympic Games in Los Angeles. (Traditional lacrosse features 10 players to a side on a 110-yard field.)
ESPN, the PLL’s new broadcast partner, will distribute all tournament games through its platforms starting with the 2023 iteration, which will take place in February.
“This adds inventory to our season, additional games and marketing assets, no doubt,” PLL co-founder and president Paul Rabil said in an email. “We think about growing the league outside of the box, and in this case, with the launch of a new property on the other side of the calendar year—just after the Super Bowl. Our intention is to drive new and more eyeballs to the PLL, teams and players, create additional revenue opportunities, and build greater momentum heading into the subsequent season.”
The momentum Rabil hopes this tournament will create goes beyond his own league. World Lacrosse introduced the six-on-six version of the sport last year in an effort to appeal to the International Olympic Committee. (The IOC granted full recognition to the international federation for lacrosse a few months later, a key step toward inclusion in the 2028 Summer Games).
An annual showcase of sixes play in the lead-up to the Los Angeles Games could give the bite-sized version of the sport the popularity it needs to find Olympic traction. An Olympic stage is something other sports, including cricket, baseball and pentathlon are seeking in 2028, which will be the first U.S.-based Games since 2002 and the first summer Games since 1996.
In line with an Olympic mindset, the PLL is also looking at international opportunities the tournament could unlock. While the league is still exploring potential host cities for 2023, Rabil said the single-site format could make international locations viable as early as 2024.
A single-site tournament, the Championship Series debuted in 2020 as a COVID-19 bubble season substitute for the league’s typical touring model. With the revamped version of the tournament restarting next year, the PLL has an opportunity to both toy with the Sixes style and spend an extended period of time in one city, eliminating a number of logistical hurdles that typically dictate its schedule.
The series will only feature the top four teams from the preceding PLL regular season, each with 12-man rosters instead of the 19 who dress for a typical game. In addition to unlocking additional revenue opportunities for the league, the tournament also provides more playing time and compensation for the 48 players. Rabil said participants will receive an “entirely new compensation package,” with additional wages as well as placement bonuses.
Conflicts between the indoor lacrosse schedule—National Lacrosse League seasons typically run from December through late spring—and the Championship Series could open some roster spots on the qualifying teams, Rabil said, which may be of particular interest to former Major League Lacrosse players who have yet to land on a PLL roster permanently. It’s a roundabout way, perhaps, of growing the league’s talent pool in preparation for another actual expansion team.
When the PLL merged with its predecessor, the MLL, ahead of the 2021 season, all of the latter league’s teams folded except for one. (The MLL’s Boston-based franchise is now the PLL’s Cannons Lacrosse Club). But growth has always been the PLL’s ultimate goal.
The league is backed by an expansive investor group that includes Joe Tsai (who also owns the WNBA’s New York Liberty, the National Lacrosse League’s San Diego Seals and a coming Las Vegas NLL expansion team); The Raine Group; Brett Jefferson Holdings; Arctos Sports Partners; the Kraft Group, led by Patriots owner Robert Kraft; Chernin Group; Creative Artists Agency (CAA); Blum Capital; Bolt Ventures and Harris Blitzer Sports & Entertainment.