On the morning of May 6, Premier Lacrosse League co-founder and Atlas Lacrosse Club star Paul Rabil appeared on NBC’s TODAY Show and announced the league’s decision to hold the PLL Championship Series, a two-week fully fan-less tournament starting in late July, instead of its previously scheduled second season.
At the time of Rabil’s appearance, the location of the event was still undetermined. Options in Florida and the tri-state area were among the league’s front-runners. But after the announcement, representatives from Utah’s Zions Bank Stadium reached out to the PLL expressing interest in hosting the tournament. And despite the site entering the league’s purview within the past couple of weeks, the league announced Thursday that its tournament will take place outside Salt Lake City.
“We have all the accommodations we would hope for in a three-week event,” Rabil told Sports Illustrated. “It really checked every box.”
Each of the league’s seven teams will participate in the event, which consists of a 14-game group play format to determine seeding for the following week’s single-elimination tournament. A league champion will then be crowned.
From a broadcast perspective, the tournament will run between July 25 through Aug. 9, filling the 2020 Olympic window. It will air on NBC, NBCSN and NBC Sports Gold in addition to being streamed online.
“The concentration of professional lacrosse on television will be unlike anything anyone has ever seen,” Rabil previously told Sports Illustrated.
Zions Bank Stadium, home of the United States Soccer League’s Real Monarchs, will host all of its games. PLL players and support staff will be housed at a nearby hotel and on-site at the newly constructed Real Salt Lake Training Academy. The league estimates that fewer than 300 people will be quarantined in its campus environment. All seven teams will train at the facilities’ fields and the campus has plenty of locker rooms and meeting rooms.
“Our coaches will have everything they need,” Rabil says. “Basically an open campus to build out their bespoke needs as a team heading into each game.”
Throughout the process, the PLL has stressed that the heath and safety of the event’s participants as its top priority as it proceeds. The league formed an internal COVID-19 medical committee to help inform their decisions and is additionally provided access to the White House’s sports committee and task force that corresponds directly with the Centers for Disease Control and World Health Organization.
Rabil says that the PLL’s decision to select Zions Bank Stadium as its venue was “led by our medical committee,” adding that the league needed the environment to be as stringent as it could be.
The league plans on releasing its full protocols publicly ahead of the tournament, but Rabil reiterated to Sports Illustrated that it will consist of multiple rounds of testing, including a testing and home-incubation period prior to each participant’s arrival, in addition to further on-site testing upon arrival in Utah and throughout the league’s three-week on-site period. (Players will take part in a one-week mini-camp prior to the official start of the tournament.)
Before the coronavirus pandemic reshaped countless industries and businesses across the United States, the PLL was planning on playing in Salt Lake City this summer, a budding hotbed largely due to the University of Utah’s success.
“The state of Utah is an emerging market,” Rabil says. “I think it continues to underscore a larger mission of our league, and for the sport, which is to show expansion into new markets and embracing emerging markets.”
Experience working with the Utah Sports Commission played into making their latest decision and further conversations with the Zions Bank team, Utah governor Gary Herbert and Real Salt Lake owner Dell Loy Hansen further clarified the league’s decision to choose the facility.
As it prepares for the event, the PLL’s creativity will also be on display from a broadcast perspective. It is rethinking components of its telecast by examining different camera angles; considering different audio options; devising possible virtual experiences for fans; and developing a way to integrate sports betting, another addition to the PLL’s second season, into telecasts. Rabil adds that the site has “all of the modern tech, fiber technology” needed to innovate on the TV side, more deeply than the league did last year.
“Zion Bank Stadium itself is going to make for a world-class broadcast,” he says.
The league’s co-founder said in May that the Championship Series marks the, “strongest pound-for-pound punch professional lacrosse has ever seen.”
“You’re going to get the best product in our sport during this time,” he added. “I’m fully confident in that.”