By Nate Puciato
Maryland native and former Johns Hopkins lacrosse icon Paul Rabil has begun the strenuous journey of growing the Premier Lacrosse League, which recently began play in early June.
As of now, the league consists of six non-city-based teams: the Archers, Atlas, Chaos, Chrome, Redwoods and Whipsnakes. The teams are set to tour across the United States until the league championship game in late September. They’ll play at Johns Hopkins’ Homewood Field June 22-23.
“The impetus behind creating the PLL was to create an environment for professional lacrosse players who are the best athletes in the world at our game,” Rabil said on Glenn Clark Radio June 19, “who excelled at the college level first, who we all grew to love and support, and didn’t have a destination after college.”
Some of the top professional lacrosse players who ply their trade in the PLL are players such as Kyle Harrison (Redwoods), who was part of Johns Hopkins’ 2005 national championship team, Trevor Baptiste (Atlas), who led all of college lacrosse in faceoff win percentage in 2015, and Rabil (Atlas).
“You have to have the best players in the world to be able to go to market and say, ‘Hey, this is the game, or the league, or the season that you need to tune into,'” Rabil said. “People want to see best in class, whether it’s Cirque du Soleil, the NFL, NBA, Major League Baseball, or in our case the PLL.”
While having top talent is important for any league to ensure long-term viability, Rabil and his brother, co-founder Mike Rabil, realized that establishing an audience was far more important in the short term in order to help develop a fan base. The PLL secured a television deal with NBC, which ensured its games would be broadcast nationally.
“Having a partner like NBC that offered us a linear inventory was critical,” Rabil said. “As big as our fan base is, and as digitally native as they are, to be on live television, is the Holy Grail in professional sports.”
Now, the PLL has its sights set on the future.
“Building a pro sports league is a 10-year venture,” Rabil said. “… What you’re playing and what you’re trading on in professional sports is attention first and then revenue second … [if] people have their eyes on their favorite athletes and their favorite teams and they are willing to invest in that.”
“As we look into years five, seven and so on, we do believe that we will go back into a city-based model, but that’s after we’re able to continue to gather more attention, more viewership and more attendance,” Rabil added.
One of the stops on this year’s tour will be at Rabil’s alma mater, Johns Hopkins. There will be three games at Homewood Field June 22-23: Chrome-Redwoods, Whipsnakes-Atlas and Archers-Chaos.
“We look forward to going back to one of the most historic sites in all of college lacrosse in Homewood Field,” Rabil said. “[Baltimore is] one of the two largest hotbeds in North America.”
Rabil also commented on the future of former Loyola Greyhound and Tewaaraton Award winner Pat Spencer, who was taken first overall in the PLL’s inaugural draft by the Archers but opted to play basketball as a graduate transfer at Northwestern instead.
During his time at Loyola, Spencer was a four-time All-American, became the all-time NCAA Division I leader with assists (231) and finished second all time in career points (380). The Davidsonville, Md., native was a true standout during his four years with the Greyhounds.
“I’ve had a lot of conversations and gotten to know Pat, especially since he finished his season,” Rabil said. “He wanted it to be clear and known for us that he’s done not done with lacrosse. He’s definitely going to run out this passion of basketball and see how that goes, but if it doesn’t meet where he has at least set some goals and expectations for himself he will be playing in the PLL.”
To hear more from Rabil, listen to the full interview here:
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Johns Hopkins Athletics