Kyle Harrison sat down for breakfast on a Saturday morning with Paul Rabil at the 2017 National Lacrosse Convention with a promise of hearing an idea that had the potential to be big.
Harrison and Rabil had been friends since their days playing on the same lacrosse team at Johns Hopkins. The two had always been close, but they had not had the chance to work together on bigger projects because they were signed with competing sponsors.
Now, after being in separate parts of the country for five months, they were finally in the same spot, and Rabil’s idea could not wait any longer. He wanted to start a new professional league — one that was made by and for players to give them a shot at playing full time.
More than two years later, the Premier Lacrosse League is at the halfway point of its inaugural season, and it is exceeding expectations. The high quality of the games themselves and a focus on the player experience has blended to create a unique outlet for the sport that players and fans young and old can enjoy.
“We’re just trying to arm the professional lacrosse player to really take a run at this full time,” Harrison said on PLL Weekly July 9. “… The opportunity to create an environment where all players can have that is something that really excites me.”
When Rabil first approached Harrison about the idea, his mind was filled with things he wanted to prioritize in this new league, including health care, social media and education on subjects like nutrition. But all of that fell under the umbrella of molding a league that focused on the development of the player experience above everything.
Harrison is one of the more fortunate players whose sponsorships since graduating from college have allowed him to play lacrosse full time. Harrison understands his situation is rare, though, and his goal is to ensure every player in the league has the same opportunity.
“We want to enhance the player experience,” Harrison said. “… I’m in year 15 now and I’ve watched tons of guys retire before their prime athletically just to go get a real job or start their life or start their career.”
The focus on creating a player-friendly league has attracted some of the best players in the world to the PLL, and Harrison is consistently impressed with the quality of play that is shown on a weekly basis.
“I think what’s been so interesting is not only are they athletic … but what gets me every time is the skill level of these guys and what they’re able to do with a stick,” Harrison said. “Like the creativity that [Chaos attackman] Connor Fields has when he goes to the goal, he’s virtually unguardable because he can do whatever he wants with either hand.”
Harrison has been particularly impressed with the skill of goalies in the league.
“I’ve never seen anything like the goalie play in this league, in terms of consistency,” he said. “Obviously, we’ve seen massive games from goalies in the past, but I’ve just never seen it when every single goalie is leaving the game with 15, 20, 22 saves. It’s crazy.”
The PLL is bringing a wave of new ideas to the sport. It has put an emphasis on social media; its games are fast and almost always close; and it is building a place where players can grow as athletes and people.
That can lead to a slight division between the older and younger fans, but Harrison is confident great lacrosse play will be the bridge that will bring the two sides together.
“At its core, it starts with the lacrosse,” Harrison said. “These fans love this sport. We’re fortunate to have some of the best players in the world. I think there are certainly conflicting groups of supporters. But with that said, when you strip everything away, it comes down to the lacrosse and there’s no comparison to the level of lacrosse being played.”
For more from Harrison, listen to the full interview here.
Photo Credit: Courtesy of the PLL