The Next Major US Professional Sports League
THE JOE POMP SHOW: My conversation with PLL co-founder Paul Rabil is live!
We discuss the financial transition to professional lacrosse, his hall of fame career, building a multi-billion-dollar sports league, and more.
This was an epic conversation — enjoy, share, and subscribe!
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We’ve seen billions of dollars of institutional capital flow into sports this year.
Private equity firms are buying minority stakes in NBA teams, exchange-traded funds like $MVP are tracking the performance of publicly traded sports assets, and lower-tier European soccer clubs have become a breeding ground for experimental investors.
That’s all fun and exciting stuff, but here’s the interesting part.
A collection of some of the world’s best investors has teamed up with two brothers to attempt to build a multi-billion-dollar professional sports league from the ground up.
I’m talking about the Premier Lacrosse League (PLL), and this is their story.
Paul Rabil was one of the greatest college lacrosse players of all time.
A high school phenom at DeMatha Catholic in Maryland, Rabil went on to win two national championships at Johns Hopkins University in 2005 & 2007.
He tallied 112 goals & 67 assists in college, was a team captain, 3x first-team All-American, and eventually, the 1st overall selection of the 2008 Major League Lacrosse draft.
The only problem? His rookie wage was just $6,000.
“I went from playing on national television to living at home with my parents — working full time in investment sales to supplement a meager pro lacrosse salary. My teammates were also weekend warriors, holding full-time jobs as teachers, investors, firefighters and doctors. This was a new type of challenge — I was forced to workout in the morning before work and practice shooting when I got off. It’s not easy to maintain peak performance and balance a full-time job.”
So, knowing that he needed to make lacrosse his full-time job to maximize his athletic potential, Rabil started to look for avenues to build a personal brand & earn endorsement income.
Facebook was first, and Twitter & YouTube followed, but before people knew it, Rabil had signed sponsorship deals with a plethora of companies, including Red Bull, Under Armour, New Balance’s Warrior brand, Polk Audio, and more.
The result: Bloomberg labeled Rabil as lacrosse’s “first million-dollar-man” in 2013.
But being one of the world’s best lacrosse players is just part of Paul Rabil’s story.
Despite being in existence for nearly 20 years and watching the sport ride a wave of popularity, Major League Lacrosse (MLL) was still struggling to build a profitable & sustainable business.
For example, in 2018, about ten years after Rabil first entered the league, MLL players were still earning annual salaries of about $10,0000 on average, and Rabil, as the league’s best player, was still earning a yearly salary of roughly $65,000.
If lacrosse was the fastest growing sport in North America for much of the last decade, and attendance was increasing alongside interest, why weren’t MLL players paid more?
Well, Paul and Mike Rabil thought they could help.
The two brothers went to Major League Lacrosse with a few ideas to shake things up but were essentially told to kick rocks. Instead, they came back with a group of investors and an interesting offer — to buy the league.
Major League Lacrosse said no, and the Rabil brothers officially launched the Premier Lacrosse League (PLL) in 2018, a direct competitor to MLL.
The concept behind the Premier Lacrosse League was quite genius.
Paul & Mike Rabil went out and raised money from some of the world’s best investors, including billionaire Brooklyn Nets owner Joe Tsai, The Raine Group, The Chernin Group, and Creative Artists Agency (CAA).
That capital base enabled them to offer pro lacrosse players a few key differences:
PLL players earn an average salary of $35,000, compared to $10,000 in MLL
PLL players were given equity in the new league
PLL players & coaches were given health care coverage
Players started jumping from MLL to PLL, and the real work began.
Fast forward three years and the game of professional lacrosse looks completely different. The PLL removed wide-angled cameras, shortened the field of play, reduced the shot clock to speed up the pace of play, introduced yellow balls instead of white, and started interviewing players intra-game to add excitement.
The aesthetics and feel of the game are one thing, but we all know distribution is king.
So, after finding initial traction from a viewership perspective, the Premier Lacrosse League ended up signing a multi-year exclusive broadcasting deal with NBC.
The results have been fantastic — here’s some data from Axios.
PLL ticket revenue is up 42% from 2019
NBC Sports viewership is up 33% year-over-year
The PLL recorded nearly 300 million impressions, 16 million engagements, and 17.5 million video views across Twitter & Instagram last season.
Trust me; their social media content is second to none.
After watching the swift and inevitable transition occur, the PLL and MLL ended up merging this offseason to create one unified outdoor professional lacrosse league.
“The unification of PLL and MLL puts the game first by providing our athletes and fans a single destination for the best lacrosse in the world, across every medium, coming this Summer 2021 on NBC Sports. I can't think of anything better and more exciting for the sport," said Mike Rabil, co-founder & CEO of the PLL.
A single, unified league is a good thing, of course, but the Premier Lacrosse League still fascinates me for a variety of reasons.
First, they operate as a single-entity operation, so instead of looking like a traditional sports league with 30+ franchises that are all individually owned, the PLL looks much more like a Silicon Valley startup.
Secondly, unlike other upstart sports leagues like the XFL, AFL, and others, who are simply trying to be a complementary option to their larger counterpart, the PLL is ambitiously attempting to actually become that single dominant professional sports league.
As they’ve said publicly, Mike & Paul Rabil believe that the PLL can one day be as big as the UFC, which is currently valued at roughly $10 billion.
The PLL still has a long way to go — the leadership team knows this. If building a multi-billion-dollar company wasn’t already hard enough, building a multi-billion-dollar sports league is even more difficult.
But given this is such a fascinating company with an ambitious mission, I sat down and recorded a 45-minute conversation with lacrosse legend & PLL co-founder Paul Rabil last week.
Paul and I discussed how he became the first million-dollar-man in lacrosse, the details of his conversations with Major League Lacrosse, the challenges of building a multi-billion-dollar sports league, and more.
This was an epic conversation, and I think you’ll really enjoy it.
Have a great day, and we’ll talk tomorrow.
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THE JOE POMP SHOW: My conversation with PLL co-founder Paul Rabil is live!
Paul Rabil is an athlete, entrepreneur, creator, and investor.
After retiring earlier this year as one of the best professional lacrosse players in history, Rabil is now solely focused on building the Premier Lacrosse League (PLL) with his brother Mike.
In this conversation, we discuss:
- The financial transition to pro lacrosse
- His Hall of Fame career
- Building a billion-dollar sports league
- Traditional media vs. distributed media
This was a fantastic conversation, and I hope you enjoy it.
Listen, Subscribe, and Enjoy!
You can also watch the YouTube video below.