For each of the Premier Lacrosse League’s first two seasons, Lyle Thompson could do nothing but watch as the sport’s preeminent league was taking shape. As the new league was budding, Thompson was locked into a multi-year deal with Major League Lacrosse’s Chesapeake Bayhawks, winning the MLL MVP award and a championship in 2019, but also watching as much of the sport’s top talent played elsewhere. “It’s been honestly tough,” Thompson says. “Not that I wasn’t treated well in the MLL. It was just that as a competitor, you want to play against the best.”
Thompson will get that opportunity this summer after MLL merged into the PLL in January, bringing Thompson and a number of other MLL holdovers into the mix. Couple their addition with a loaded rookie draft class and those within the PLL are eager to see how the on-field product continues to improve as the league enters its third season. “Our goal is not only to put on the best product in league history, but pro lacrosse history,” says Paul Rabil, one of the PLL’s co-founders and a teammate of Thompson’s on Cannons Lacrosse Club.
Rabil and Thompson headline the league’s latest expansion team, Cannons LC, which was rebranded from MLL’s Boston Cannons when the two leagues merged this January. (Rabil was traded to the club this offseason after spending his first two PLL years with Atlas LC.) The eighth team marks the second straight year of expansion for the PLL and set up an offseason that again consisted of three drafts: an entry draft for former MLL players and other pro players looking to join the league, including former Patriots wide receiver Chris Hogan; an expansion draft (to assign a roster of players to Cannons LC), and a college draft. For that reason, the 2021 PLL season might mark the most talented collection of men’s pro lacrosse players in the sport’s history.
The season itself gets underway on Friday at 7 p.m. ET with Redwoods LC facing Cannons LC at Gillette Stadium. And while the first of the season’s 44 games will take place at a familiar location, the tour-based league, which Rabil says is on track to have 90% of its players fully vaccinated by Friday, will also make stops in markets that haven’t traditionally been hotbeds for the pro game, such as Colorado Springs, Minneapolis and Salt Lake City. “I think it’s great to be able to look at the tour-based model and be able to go to Utah, [Colorado Springs], places that might not have access to professional lacrosse year around,” Thompson says. “To be able to go witness it and really help the game grow in those areas, I think it’s a really good thing.”
Last winter, the league planned on entering a number of emerging lacrosse markets before the coronavirus pandemic drastically altered the season’s course. Instead of traveling to cities like Denver, the PLL operated its second campaign in a bubble environment outside of Salt Lake City, holding a 14-game group-play season to determine seeding for a single-elimination tournament that eventually crowned a champion.
Rabil says that among the countless takeaways from last season was that despite the intense condensation of the PLL schedule, interest in the sport remained high throughout.
“The appetite from our fans is one that they want to consume professional lacrosse regularly and they like to watch it over the course of several days in a row,” Rabil says. “There isn’t viewership fatigue in other words.”
Rabil has said the merger will create even more interest in the league, which will see a record number of 21 professional lacrosse games broadcast on linear TV this summer across NBC and NBCSN. He’s also said this summer serves a “culmination of the last three years,” noting that the creation of a “single destination for professional lacrosse will lead to a big jump for us.”
Thompson, the 28-year-old attackman, sees the single destination in a similar light, feeling equally optimistic about how the lone professional outdoor men’s league will boost the sport’s future.
“I think it shows longevity,” he says. “You look at leagues like the NHL or even UFC where you have the best of the best. Whenever you have the best of the best and athletes that are doing this for a living and training for a living and putting everything they have in their life for the game, the product is going to be there. People are going to want to see that, and people are going to be in awe of what they’re seeing because these athletes are doing this for a living. And I think that’s what we’re starting to see in lacrosse.
“The athletes in the game now are fully committed to the game.”
And after an offseason full of major changes, Thompson is eager to finally make his PLL mark: “I’m just excited, excited to get a stick in my hand and play-up against an opponent.”
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