Photo Credit: JOHN TLUMACKI/GLOBE STAFF
February 15, 2019
FOXBOROUGH — The opening games of a new professional lacrosse league’s inaugural season will be played at Gillette Stadium this spring.
Premier Lacrosse League co-founder Paul Rabil announced Friday that the league’s opening weekend will be held in Foxborough June 1-2. Gillette, chosen out of 30 possible host sites, will be the venue for two games on Saturday, June 1, and a third on Sunday, June 2.
“I think some of the intangibles came down to venue selection as well as people who really want to partner with us,” said Rabil, who played seven of his 10 Major League Lacrosse seasons for the Boston Cannons. “Building a pro sports league is highly complex; it’s an umbrella where six businesses sit underneath it.
“So we’re not going to be successful alone. Successful businesses have partners who are willing to invest in and operate with them, so finding those operating teams on the ground were a big piece of it outside of just the empirical data and evidence that we had.”
Kraft Group president/international Dan Kraft, who played lacrosse at Tufts, was at the announcement to express his family’s support for the new league. Also, a group of Foxborough High School lacrosse players took part in a clinic with Rabil.
The announcement does not mean that a new lacrosse team will be based in Boston or New England. The PLL, which Rabil launched in October with his brother, Mike, will operate as a tour-based model, with six teams playing each other in a different host city each weekend of a 14-week season. There will be 10 regular-season weekends, an All-Star week, and three playoff weekends.
The first weekend of June was chosen as opening weekend in part because the NCAA lacrosse season will be over by then. PLL games will be broadcast on NBC Sports networks.
The tour-based model — like NASCAR or MMA — attempts to capitalize on event scarcity rather than a consistent base of season ticket-holders. Over time, Rabil said, he hopes the league will grow to the point where it could support a city-based model. For now, the PLL expects spectators to come from up to 250 miles away, with only one opportunity per season to see a weekend of professional lacrosse in their community.
The PLL has yet to announce the names of its six teams. It will not have a draft in its first year, but form teams in a way that encourages competitive balance before handing more responsibility in roster-building over to individual teams and coaches in seasons to come.
New England was chosen to host the opening weekend over cities including Baltimore and Philadelphia in the Mid-Atlantic, where lacrosse is most popular. Rabil, who is from the Washington, D.C., area and played college lacrosse at Johns Hopkins, said the decision was largely based on empirical data. Household TV viewership of lacrosse, participation rates in the sport, and quality of venues were all factors.
Personal relationships with the Kraft family and others in the region played a role, too. Rabil has known Bill Belichick since college, having first met the Patriots coach at an All-American dinner. Those relationships were strengthened during his MLL days in Boston. Patriots receiver Chris Hogan, a college lacrosse player, is an investor in PLL.
Even though teams won’t have a home field in any specific city, Rabil still expects the league to establish strong ties to individual communities.
“There’s no market that cares more about their team and their city than New England,” Rabil said. “While we’re certainly out here pushing creatively with new media, with great distribution from our partners at NBC, and we’re leaning into a different version of a team sports league — being tour-based, building lacrosse clubs and pushing the boundaries of celebrity profiles of our athletes — we don’t by any stretch of the imagination think that city alignment with team is irrelevant. It’s actually more relevant than ever.”