Lacrosse, predominantly a Western New York sport, has found its brand in the Premier Lacrosse League (PLL). For those that do not know, the PLL is a men’s professional lacrosse league in North America, composed of seven teams. The league was co-founded by arguably the most famous lacrosse player in the history of the game, Paul Rabil, and his brother Mike, who is an entrepreneur and investor. The league is backed by investment groups, some of which are the top investors in sports and media. The league saw substantive growth in viewership from the first year’s championship game in 2019 to the championship game in 2020 by an increase in viewership of 23%. The 2021 season was the first year the league had integrated the top players from Major League Lacrosse (MLL) as well. Needless to say, the league and the sport as a whole are growing.
Recently there have been talks between the league and the players to alter its structure. Some of the topics for alteration that were discussed were: coaches/general managers (GM’s) ability to make decisions on player contracts, a minimum salary for players, parameters for players negotiating their contracts, and free agency. These concerns are a big deal for player rights as they enter an up and coming league. Coaches in the PLL also serve as GMs and will be required to allocate 98% of the $735,000 annual pool each year to players. This number of $735,000 will become the acting salary cap for each team. Additionally, no player will make less than $25,000 annually (minimum salary). This includes incoming rookies who are drafted. All drafted players will enter 3 year $25,000/year contracts, except for the top four picks in the draft who will respectively make: $30,000, $28,500, $27,000, and $26,000.
The players can now negotiate contracts of up to four years. Prior to this, players signed contracts with the league which would be distributed to teams, that would then own that player’s rights. Additionally, the league has formalized compensation for players for their marketing/camps, clinics, and services through deals directly negotiated with the league. This will likely benefit players, since a majority of current player income is through marketing/camps, clinics and services. This reshaping gives players more flexibility moving forward on where they want to play, and could also draw more talent from the college ranks to the PLL with the incentive of having more guarantees than previous players were granted.
The biggest change for the league is free agency. This is something that athletes in other major sports leagues fought for years to acquire. With the upward trajectory of the sport, this is a major incentive for players to test out the league in the hopes that growth will allow them to move onto other teams, and get paid higher salaries that reflect their performance. There is a strong prospect of PLL popularity with the media rights expiring this offseason and a report that the PLL will move to ESPN networks next.
This is a very fascinating look into the seed stages of an up and coming sports league and the way its structure is being framed. In just a few seasons we are seeing major changes that can take years of negotiation to finalize. Something the league will want to be wary of is the fact that once these policies are set in place, it is not easy to go back and tear them down to reshape the structure. With that being said, it will be fascinating to see the trajectory of the PLL’s popularity in coming years.