Last summer, despite being in its second season, the Premier Lacrosse League became one of the first American professional sports leagues to successfully operate a bubble amid the coronavirus pandemic. For more than three weeks, the PLL held its Championship Series outside of Salt Lake City, Utah, putting on what Paul Rabil, one of the league’s co-founders and an Atlas Lacrosse Club star, called the “strongest pound-for-pound punch” lacrosse had ever seen.
There are countless lessons Rabil says the league can apply heading into its third season, but nevertheless, Rabil says the PLL is planning on returning to a tour-based model this summer.
“That was a great learning experience for us,” Rabil says. “And getting that feedback from our fans and our players about the overall success has led us to where we’re announcing a return to a tour-based format.”
The 2021 PLL season will begin June 4 with the championship game currently scheduled to take place September 19. Over three and a half months, the PLL will have games on 11 weekends, including three postseason weekends and an All-Star weekend. The announcement of the specific game sites and locations are expected to be released in the coming months.
News of the league’s schedule comes just weeks after one of the most significant announcements in the sport’s recent history. In mid-December, the PLL announced it was merging with Major League Lacrosse, in an effort to create one collective American male professional outdoor lacrosse league.
In recent years, the leagues had operated under different models, with the PLL using a tour-based model while the MLL, which held its inaugural season in 2001, had its clubs based in specific markets. Rabil says the merger is a “culmination of the last three years,” adding that the creation of a “single destination for professional lacrosse will lead to a big jump for us” and create even more interest in the sport.
As part of the merger, earlier this week the PLL officially rebranded the MLL’s Boston Cannons as Cannons Lacrosse Club, marking the eighth team in the league and the second consecutive year of expansion.
Similar to last year, the PLL will hold an entry draft, expansion draft and college draft later this spring. An internal group will also oversee the broader transition, including front office, team and player orientations, and plans to develop youth lacrosse programs in historical MLL locations.
Still, Rabil recognizes news of the league’s merger and 2021 schedule comes amid an uptick in COVID-19 cases nationally.
“It’s factor number one for us,” Rabil says of safely dealing with the pandemic. “We’re monitoring it daily and we’re working with our COVID-19 medical committee that helped us build our successful 2020 championship series bubble format.”
He makes clear the league has no intention of letting its participants “jump the line” for the vaccine. Rabil adds that its expected schedule also allows for the league to reschedule weekends if needed and adapt to various COVID-19-related complications.
“We basically have a five-month buffer and we’re monitoring the controllables [sic] that we have,” he says.
“We’re moving in a direction where we’ve got a lot of momentum at our back. We’re excited to expand on that both logistically as a business, but also psychologically with our players and our fans.”