Lacrosse

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Merger of Two Leagues Set to Change Lacrosse Landscape

18 Dec, 2020

By: Mary Helen Sprecher
Five Cities Stand to Lose Active Teams and Adult Tournaments Will Become More Competitive

It’s not exactly the Hatfields and the McCoys or the clash of the titans but the news that Premier Lacrosse League was merging with Major League Lacrosse was definitely enough to make the sports world do a double-take.

The news, which broke in the middle of last week, saw even the sport’s national governing body cobbling together an article made up of Twitter announcements and the official league statement.

As a result of the merger, both organizations will now be known as Premier Lacrosse League.

Of course, the biggest question for the sports event industry is this: what happens to the current teams?

Not much has been said publicly. The only firm news we have is that the PLL will be enlarged to include the former MLL Boston Cannons, which will now be known as the Cannons Lacrosse Club.

Additionally, the PLL will retain the rights to all of the former MLL teams for future expansion considerations.

Less optimistic news comes from the other teams of MLL. The Baltimore Sun noted that the merger will end the run of the Chesapeake Bayhawks, which played at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis the past 10 years after previously playing in Baltimore and Washington D.C.

Other teams in the MLL with uncertain futures are the following:

  • Connecticut Hammerheads (based out of Fairfield and playing at Rafferty Stadium on the campus of Fairfield University)
  • Denver Outlaws (playing at the Peter Barton Lacrosse Stadium on the campus of the University of Denver)
  • New York Lizards (based in Hempstead and playing at the James M. Shuart Stadium on the campus of Hofstra University)
  • Philadelphia Barrage (the franchise had ceased operations prior to the 2009 season and was brought back for 2020; however, because of COVID-19, it was unable to announce a home field and played several quarantined away games during the most recent season)

The Charlotte Hounds, which had played at the American Legion Memorial Stadium, were inactive for the 2019 and 2020 seasons and are unlikely to make a return.

The loss of some or all of these teams represents not only lost economic impact but a lost magnet that draws youth players to those areas.

While it has been noted that the PLL will retain the rights to all of the former MLL teams in case of expansion, it is likely that more than a few teams will be out of work, along with front office, support administration, coaching and training staff, as well as others. LaxAllStars actually did a great job of summing up these points (and asking other questions), including the following:

  • Whether the league will maintain its tour model
  • What the effect of the merger will be on summer tournaments (after all, with more ex-pro players in circulation, tournaments are about to get a lot more competitive)
  • What impact the merger will have on the National Lacrosse League, known as box lacrosse
  • What the landscape of the sports will be like without two leagues competing against one another for time, talent, spectators and sponsorship dollars

All good questions – all of which will take time to answer. But as LaxAllStars notes, “Perhaps in 20 years, it will be obvious that this day was a massive success for the sport of lacrosse. It could also not work out. There’s no way for us to know at this point. Just watch and find out.”

For those whose response thus far is still a slack-jawed stare of shock, league executive Michael Rabil says it’s nothing that hasn’t been seen before. He told Sportico the merger is not unlike previous sports league tie-ups between the NFL and AFL, and the NBA and ABA. By joining forces instead of competing, those leagues were able to thrive. Rabil said the same outcome can be expected here.

“Our vision has always been to unify the sport,” he told Sportico. “We know this will bring a better commercial opportunity for the sport, for the league and for the players, and will bring more excitement on the field for the fans.”

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