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PLL Investing in Grassroots Division to Grow Lax Participation, Team Fandom

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PLL Investing in Grassroots Division to Grow Lax Participation, Team Fandom

Premier Lacrosse League recently announced the formation of PLL Juniors. The community-based recreational program is designed to introduce more kids –and their families– to the sport by reducing barriers to entry.

PLL also revealed its acquisition of Summit Lacrosse Ventures (SLV). The profitable business, which is being rebranded as PLL Tournaments, owns and operates 15+ men’s and women’s tournaments, including the Lake Placid Summit Classic (one of the largest and longest standing lax competitions for participants of all ages).

PLL Juniors and PLL Tournaments, along with the PLL Youth Academy (the league’s legacy youth instruction program), will fall under a newly formed –and capitalized– division; PLL Play. PLL leadership hopes its expanded development efforts will spur participation growth in the sport, and ultimately fandom for its clubs in the local markets.

“We are in the attention economy and want to always drive a bigger audience and fanbase,” Michael Rabil (co-founder and CEO, Premier League Lacrosse) said. “What better way to do that than to introduce the target demo to the sport at a grassroots level and to make it low cost and approachable.”

PLL data supports that thesis. 58.6% of adult PLL fans surveyed played lacrosse as children. Of those that are parents, 93% have kids that played or will play the game too.


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PLL debuted in 2019 with just six teams and limited resources. So, adopting a capital efficient, tour-based model that enabled it to reach more fans in more markets made sense. 

“We were focused the last four years on national level, top-down broadcast partnerships and creating great social and digital media content,” Rabil said. 

Having all its behind-the-scenes talent in a single location each weekend made accomplishing that easier. 

But while the approach was effective, and helped to save on costs, the league came to realize that it was underserving fans in its best markets. Remember, the roadshow only stopped in town one weekend each summer. 

Proprietary research showed the bulk (60-65%) of early PLL adopters were bigger fans of the league than they were of any one team.

“That was the [indication] change was needed,” Rabil said. “It’s great that people love the league. But ultimately people root for teams and players, and the more passionate they are about the team, the more games they’re going to watch, engage with, [and] attend.”

Historically speaking, sports fans have embraced the franchise closes to home. So, last May, the league announced it was assigning clubs to the most rabid of markets (it retained the tour-based schedule).

And the early returns have been positive.

“We’ve already seen a deepening of fandom,” Rabil said. “Not only from the supporters’ groups and fan clubs we’ve been building on a local level, but in in-app engagement, and merchandise purchasing.”

Now, with the formation of PLL Play, the league will have a presence in its home markets 365 days a year. And its approach to youth sports, which runs counter to industry trends, should endear it to new and existing fans alike.

“There’s a lot of private equity coming into club and travel sports,” Rabil said. “Their thesis is often around investing in a high-margin business that parents are willing to pay for because it might help their kid pursue their athletic dreams."

Premier League Lacrosse is going in a different direction. 

“While it can be good for kids to play against the best competition, there's evidence that club and travel programs lower participation rates,” Rabil said. “We’re focusing on accessibility and quality instruction, and then on delivering amazing experiences.”

Its primary goal for PLL Play is to grow the number of kids picking up sticks. And just maybe another Paul Rabil, a star the league can build around, will emerge.

Both Rabil brothers grew up playing exclusively on town and rec teams.

PLL Play will have three legs.

PLL Academy, which has held camps, clinics, and training days instructed by PLL athletes and coaches at various times over the last four years, will continue staging those events.

“It’s a way for the kids, both on the men’s and women’s side, to learn from the best players and coaches in the world,” Rabil said. 

It also enables the players and coaches participating to earn some incremental income.

PLL’s Tournaments division will enable it to reduce entry costs and draw more young people into the fan funnel.

“We don’t have to generate a 20-30% profit margins on every event,” Rabil said. “Because we own the league and the teams, this can be a long-term fan development play where we introduce the game to new players and then they become fans in a bottom-up exercise.”

It will also put PLL in a position to solve for many of the frustrations with the existing youth tournament experience (which can depresses participation rates).

Parents “hate flying to the middle of nowhere, that there is nothing to do when the games aren’t going on, the hotels are bad, and it’s really expensive,” Rabil said. “So, improving their experience is something we want to invest in more.”

That means hosting events in convenient/desirable locations, adding more amenities on site, creating a holistic team and family experience, and providing education for families unfamiliar with the game.

Treating those paying for the product as customers, and not just a piggy bank, isn’t a novel concept (see: Disney World). It just historically hasn’t been a focal point for profit-focused tournament organizers. 

And PLL’s Tournament division will instantly become the largest component of the league’s youth business. The SLV acquisition boosted related revenues 240%.

For context, youth is now the league’s third largest revenue category trailing just sponsorships and media rights (it’s on par with ticketing).

PLL Juniors is designed to build affinity for the local team and develop fans in the home markets (and a few other cities).  

Local operating partners will manage “year-round leagues and instructional clinics tied to PLL teams,” Rabil said. 

But the hope is that the grassroots efforts will also serve to ‘warm’ the markets for future investment.

“At some point, probably in the next 10 years, there could be franchise owners,” Rabil said. “So, we’re doing a lot of the heavy lifting now by moving from a national to a hybrid national-local business.”

It’s the next step in the challenger league’s journey.

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