How the PLL Developed Its First Expansion Team, Waterdogs Lacrosse Club

Author:
Publish date:
ppl-waterdogs

Listen to Premier Lacrosse League co-founder Paul Rabil discuss any aspect of his upstart league, now heading into its second season, and one word seemingly pops up in a variety of different contexts. Rabil and the team around him are "intentional." They are deliberate, studied and conscious. That doesn’t mean that mistakes haven’t been made in trying to craft what they hope will be the preeminent professional lacrosse league in North America, a league which Rabil says “has embraced social media as our official medium better than the other legacy leagues.” It just means that there is a plan to execute, one that is deliberate and purposeful.

Naming the league’s latest club falls in line with that thinking—no detail too minute to discuss, whether that is related to the club's identity or its crest’s design. As the PLL prepares for its second season, its first-ever expansion club, and seventh team overall, will be known as Waterdogs Lacrosse Club. Its slogan, “Every Game is a Revenge Game” is linked to both its crest and also its stature as the seventh team.

“For us, there’s the power of the dog,” Rabil tells Sports Illustrated.

The development of a name, design and identity was an involved, but intentional process.

Initially, the tour-structured league didn’t plan on expanding until its third season, when it sketched out growing to eight clubs. But the PLL saw additional revenue opportunities, potential schedule and fan experience improvements and a talent pool that was deep enough to warrant immediate growth. It decided to alter its script. It’s planful, but flexible after all—much like its original names.

The rollout was staggered. Rabil first hinted at possible expansion on Sept. 21, following the PLL’s first championship game. In mid-October, he announced appeared on Barstool Sports’s Pardon My Take podcast and announced that a seventh club would be added in 2020. On that same episode, he opened up the naming process by taking suggestions from the show’s hosts, Big Cat and PFT Commenter, before diving even deeper into the steps needed to unveil a new club name and logo.

Scan the nicknames and primary logos of the four legacy North American sports leagues and you’ll see a lot in common. You’ll observe multiple Panthers and multiple Cardinals, two Giants and two Jets. Tigers, Lions, Grizzlies, Eagles—a zoo’s worth of animals, among other historical homages, miscellaneous objects and even a handful of singular nouns.  

But Rabil points out that among America’s legacy leagues, not one team has a primary logo of a dog. (The Browns have it as a secondary logo.)

“We thought that was pretty interesting given how proliferating dogs are in society,” he says.

He cites a Facebook study noting that dog-related posts see engagement increases of more than 200% as a way to potentially draw in more fans—a further example of the league’s emphasis on social media, and in turn, younger demographics.

Plus, as Rabil says, people both inside and outside of the league have a “love for dogs.”

An iteration of a dog-named team was first thrown out during Rabil’s podcast appearance. But in the weeks to come, following audience polling, research related to the success of the original six names, countless discussions with people inside the league and working in conjunction with it, and of course, seeking out the thoughts of its core fans, four finalists emerged from an even larger batch of options.

Rabil initially wanted to name the team Grit or Stones (Bolt was the fourth finalist) and use a dog as part of the team’s logo. But as he received more outside feedback, he became aware of the support behind Waterdogs.

Google the animal and you’ll see that it’s actually two words, but the league coalesced it into one. “That for me was the moment where I was like, ‘Oh this is actually interesting,’” he says.

That’s not the only difference between the actual breed and the club-name, however. Initially, Rabil knew only of the breed’s more playful and light-hearted nature, but in working with Fortnight Collective, a brand marketing agency, he learned that Navy SEALS were sometimes nicknamed Water Dogs, in honor of their stealthy underwater maneuvers.

Portuguese Water Dogs are also thought to be a close relative to the Standard Poodle, which is very much not the dog pictured in the logo.

The crest—which Rabil describes as "like a communal badge"—features a bulldog. “Bulldogs are scrappy, they are fighters. They don’t back down from a confrontation,” he notes. And the logo has a number of design details that are meant to convey that feeling of aggressiveness.

The club’s identity is instrumental and Waterdogs' revenge-focused slogan goes hand-in-hand with it logo's elements.

“What’s unique about this team is that it’s comprised of not protected players,” he says, noting that the team will largely be composed from an upcoming expansion draft. “It’s that every game in 2020 is going to be a revenge game for one or more of those guys and that’s pretty powerful.”

Waterdogs_Twitter_1

The Waterdogs’ crest is the only one in the league to feature an actual lacrosse stick—a design element that Rabil first encouraged the league’s design team to avoid. He’s learned from the PLL’s core fans that it’s okay to have a stick in the logo.

The colors of the team’s logo are also drastically different from the other clubs. In the design process, Rabil flew to Portland to meet with adidas’s design and uniform team, and it was there that the league’s official outfitter explained why a team with a purple color scheme would make a lot of sense. Fortnight worked alongside the outfitter and league to help bring the name to life.

Like with the original clubs, Rabil is hoping to invoke a feeling of membership that fans can rally behind.

He notes that many are largely drawn to their favorite players or personalities. But he’s optimistic that some of the league’s existing core will gravitate toward the new club, and that the intriguing name and design will draw in more eyeballs. The slogan of the team could also resonate with fans, both new and established.

The league plans on continuing to improve its fan experience and it has a number of business development opportunities it’s exploring, including looking into e-sports. Plus, it’s continuing to try and innovate on the media side from broadcast, to social to digital—a hallmark of the PLL’s first season.

Rabil said he knows that the name and logo might see some resistance, but “that’s exciting,” he says. “A core tenant for us as a league, and a company, is to be more transparent than any other league in the world.”

He wants fans to understand the DNA of the league and the DNA of its respective teams. The PLL has a plan in place. And it now has a new dog ready to attack.