This summer, there will be professional sports.
After months of uncertainty as to how sports would look on the professional level as the world begins to learn how to live with COVID-19, the Premier Lacrosse League became the first professional sports league to announce their plan.
Starting on July 25, the startup league will play an abridged version of their 2020 season. 20 games in 16 days to decide the 2020 PLL champion. Not only is this tournament a big deal for players and fans of the league, but it’s an opportunity that the sport of lacrosse has never seen.
Beginning with the broadcasting window: the PLL has worked it out with their broadcasting partner NBC to be able to televise some of the tournament during the window that was previously held for the 2020 Summer Olympics, which were postponed until 2021.
The 2016 games in Rio De Janiero had over three and half billion viewers. While it’s fairly safe to assume that not all three billion viewers will be tuning into the PLL Championship Series, with no other live sports scheduled at this time, there are a number of factors that suggest there will be a significant viewing audience choosing to watch the sport for the first time.
First, the tournament will be broadcast in 13 countries outside of the United States. Canadian fans, who were only able to watch select games on SportsNet last season, will now be able to sign up with NBC Sports Gold and watch every PLL game. This also opens the league up to exposure from countries such as Japan which has a burgeoning young lacrosse scene. The NBA attributes much of its growth over the last 30 years to exposure in Asian markets. The PLL will now be taking up prime air time in some of those countries this summer.
Stateside, the league is the first to announce their return to play plan. That’s not to say that baseball, and maybe even basketball and hockey, won’t find ways to return to play. But as it stands, basketball and hockey are still in the early planning stages and bad blood between players and owners looms like a thundering cloud over baseball, threatening to derail the 2020 season for economic reasons as opposed to public health.
What this provides, is the possibility of lacrosse being the only sport on the field during their tournament. This would almost certainly drive the sports hungry masses towards the PLL and their Championship Series. Add this in to the fact that the PLL Championship Series will be broadcast internationally, the possibility exists for a huge number of fans getting to know the sport for the first time.
Finally, there is the fact the league recently announced gambling integration to their games. This will undoubtedly draw fans that tired of wagering their money on marble racing and cornhole. This could not have been a better timed announcement for the league as they attempt to make another move to capitalize on this opportunity.
All of these factors combine to make one overarching fact clear: lacrosse has an opportunity to grow this summer and be exposed to a large national and international audiences like never before. There’s no question the PLL product will stand the test of first time viewers.
It may be far from a sure thing that all of the dominoes fall in perfect order, but so far the league seems to have taken every possible step to innovate during this time. Existing fans of the sport will get their wish in the form of pro lacrosse this summer, but now it is time for those same fans to do everything in their power to grow the game during this time.
It’s a huge opportunity for the sport, but maximizing it will take a team effort from the community that loves it so much.