LOS ANGELES (AP) — The Premier Lacrosse League and Major League Lacrosse are merging and will formally exist as the Premier Lacrosse League.
It's another step forward for PLL co-founder Paul Rabil, who had been seeking to unify and figures the disruption caused by COVID-19 was good in hindsight.
“When we got back to the table for conversations this offseason, it just felt more likely that a merger could get done," Rabil said Wednesday. "I think overall for lacrosse, unifying this could be akin to basketball and football, historically,”
As part of the merger, the PLL announced it will immediately expand to include the Boston Cannons, previously of MLL, as the league’s eighth team, under the new name Cannons Lacrosse Club. The team's roster will be selected through an expansion draft in 2021.
The PLL will retain the rights to all the former MLL teams for future expansion considerations, but MLL players are now eligible to enter the PLL without being bound to existing long-term deals with MLL.
“That has always been the most important thing for me, that we get the best product on the field,” said Rabil, once the MLL's biggest star before breaking away to form the new league. “I think it's critical. When people watch pro sports, they want to know they're watching the best in the world. To be able to definitively say that ... is a really positive outcome of this.”
Rabil, who co-founded the PLL with his brother, Mike, in 2018, called the merger “a massive step forward for professional lacrosse.”
“Merging the two organizations and removing some of the challenges that athletes, sponsors and fans faced will undoubtedly advance the game forward,” Paul Rabil said. “This one’s particularly nostalgic for me and a number of PLL players, given that we began our careers and played in championship games with MLL prior to the PLL’s launch."
The two leagues have created a management team that will oversee the transition, including: front office, team and player orientation; the 2021 season schedule, which will include former MLL team markets; and a long-term plan to develop youth lacrosse players in communities where MLL has been located.
“This merger only benefits the future of the game, for it combines the history of professional lacrosse with an innovative approach that has already accelerated the game’s growth," MLL commissioner Sandy Brown said.
The PLL’s second season never got started. The tour-based league had to shift into overdrive to come up with a viable plan after the COVID-19 pandemic brought professional sports to a halt in March.
The Rabils mulled about a dozen different scenarios, and after talks with broadcast partner NBC, league commissioners and health officials, the PLL became the first professional league to opt for a tournament in a bubble-like atmosphere to decide a champion.
The PLL's 16-day tournament in August at Utah’s Zions Bank Stadium was played with no fans and aired on NBC platforms at times that had been reserved for the canceled 2020 Summer Olympics. Players and staff were tested for COVID-19 and sequestered under quarantine during down time.
In response, Major League Lacrosse opted to conduct a tournament of its own. also without fans, at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis, Maryland, to crown its 20th champion. Its games were broadcast on ESPN networks.
Paul Rabil said viewership was up 22% for the summer tournament over the PLL's inaugural 2019 season and viewership for the critical 18-year-old to 49-year-old demographic was up 37%.
The PLL created a different version of lacrosse in an effort to make the game more exciting and appealing, especially to younger fans. Among the changes were a field shortened by 10 yards to create more chances for transition and scoring, and shortened playing time and shot-clock duration.
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