What the PLL should adopt from other sports leagues this offseason
Pro Lacrosse Talk contributor Dan Arestia provides his recommendations on what the PLL should adopt from other pro sports leagues this offseason.
“PLL Year One” is officially in the books.
I’ve been watching pro lacrosse, with varying degrees of seriousness since I first spent summer nights at Harbor Yard taking in a Bridgeport Barrage game and cheering on Roy Colsey and company. I have to say, this summer finally felt like pro lacrosse taking a great leap forward.
I’ve long loved the on-field product of pro field lacrosse; the sport has never had a problem there. I’ve gone as far as to suggest that in terms of strictly the game being played on the field and the people playing it, pro outdoor lacrosse is as good if not better than any of the big four pro sports. It’s that entertaining, and it always has been.
Where things really took off this summer, as everyone knows, is the way we the sport was delivered to the fans. The broadcast quality that came with watching a PLL game was out of this world. The team of Brendan Burke and Ryan Boyle felt like a match for this league from week one. The instant access via speaking to players on the field, sideline interviews, the (occasionally very hot) mics in huddles; it allows the players to show us their personality, while also giving the game its own personality.
For the PLL now, it’s about keeping people engaged and talking about this sport between October and June so the momentum they’ve built for lacrosse keeps on rolling into the summer of year two. Doing that is hard, especially for a new league in what is still a niche, but growing sport. Fortunately, other pro sports leagues have provided a blueprint to staying on the top of fans’ minds throughout the offseason.
Let’s start with the obvious: Copy NBA player movement.
I know from a rules and protocol standpoint, it’s not in the best place right now as tampering in the NBA seems to be pretty obviously rampant. But is that really all that bad? NBA free agency in the summertime is guaranteed to set social media and fans’ hopes absolutely on fire. And it’s always so wonderfully drawn out.
A few years ago if Dwyane Wade tweeted an eyes emoji and a banana emoji, within ten minutes there are fully fleshed out theories and think pieces on legit media outlets about how it means LeBron James, Chris Paul, Wade, and Carmelo Anthony are all signing together on a team that none of those four guys currently play for.
THE BANANA BOAT IS GETTING TOGETHER, AND IT’S HAPPENING IN MEMPHIS.
There are Instagram shots posted by random accounts with 100 followers, but it’s of a vaguely tall guy in an airport standing 60 yards away. The caption says it’s Anthony Davis and he just landed in New York—and Spike Lee liked the post. This is the gold standard for player movement chatter.
Can you imagine if in the offseason, if Justin Guterding went to California and visited the actual Redwood forest, and posted a picture of him with a giant tree and some cryptic series of emojis as a caption? I’d have 1,000 words ready to go on Guterding to the Redwoods like six minutes. Fans LOVE this stuff. We eat it up twice and beg for thirds.
Player empowerment isn’t a problem in the NBA, and clearly isn’t for the PLL, so lean all the way into this and let the players give us just enough to really let our imaginations run wild. But also, some real movement too.
The NFL is the absolute goliath. Everyone knows this.
But what they do well is time their announcements throughout the year. That’s what the PLL needs to take from football. Every time people just barely start to maybe stop thinking and talking about an NFL event, a new one drops. From the Super Bowl to the next season opening, there’s the combine, the draft, and the preseason, but they also make a big deal out of the schedule release, minicamps, OTAs, all sorts of essentially meaningless events that keep people engaged.
Does it really matter in May when you find out who your favorite team’s Week 6 opponent is? Of course not! But it puts football right back at the front of mind and keeps people talking until the next little teaser, like when the QB you drafted has a drive in 7-on-7 where he’s perfect or something. None of that is important, but it fires up fans, and keeps the conversation lit.
For the PLL, copy that model. Tease out next year’s locations, let things go just a little bit quiet, then make another announcement. Between now and next summer, there should be talk of venues, possible expansion, schedule, player movement, training camp, and I’m sure loads of other content. The league did a solid job of this between when they first announced last September to the start of the season. They need to find a way to make it all feel brand new again.
The NHL is the smallest of the big four, but it has one outstanding event that the PLL should try and adapt: The Prospect Tournament.
It’s actually pretty ready to be adapted, as in the NHL there are 8 teams that participate. Prospects from each of the teams play in a two-division tournament, hosted by the Red Wings up in Michigan.
Have a showcase event, PLL. It’s a way to showcase the guys who didn’t crack the lineup as often and allow them to be seen by fans and evaluated by coaches, and if current college seniors could be involved that’s a huge plus.
I have no idea if the NCAA would allow this. Since it sounds fun, it’s a safe bet they probably wouldn’t. But for the sake of argument, imagine that as an offseason event. A team of the guys who just got drafted, are looking to be drafted, squaring off under the PLL umbrella. Another way to go with this is to fold in the PLL Academy and youth development work that the PLL does, and have a prospect showcase that way.
The youth lacrosse and club scene are booming, this is not news. The World Series of Youth Lacrosse is in Denver every summer shows off some of tomorrow’s talent and is even on ESPN networks. A PLL Prospect tournament in the same mold, ideally showcasing the talent that’s closer to the pro level, would be a ton of fun.
Don’t do anything they do. They’re terrible. They have Mike Trout, a talent the likes of which the sport has seen a number of times you could probably count on one hand, and they have absolutely zero clue how to market him. Old-timey baseball fans think the current version of baseball stinks because it’s just nerds and home runs and strikeouts and that’s it. Young fans get bored to tears for basically the same reasons.
Even worse, their offseason involves the biggest names in free agency holding out for record deals well into training camp. Several weeks of speculation of where a big-time free agent is going to land is certainly fun, but when it regularly lasts four months, fans can lose interest quickly.
Steer clear of baseball.
And of course, give us more new stuff. When it comes to positive press and reviews from outside the lacrosse media world this summer, the thing praised most often was innovation. The PLL tried to do a lot of things that haven’t really been done in team sports before, and it needs to keep rolling.
Just another pro league trying to catch the big guys is not where this league is now, and it needs to stay that way. This summer, the initial draw of a brand new league doing a brand new thing won’t be there, and to keep bringing new eyeballs to the sport, the PLL needs to find something that captures the fans just as much as that first announcement did. And I’m looking forward to it.