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A New Era: Thoughts on the first weekend of pro lacrosse in 2019

The PLL debuted, while the MLL returned for another season.

Premier Lacrosse League

The college season is over. And professional field lacrosse has taken over.

Alongside Major League Lacrosse is the Premier Lacrosse League, a new league started up by Paul and Mike Rabil back in late October. Both leagues have six teams each with all of them playing at least one game (Denver and New York in the MLL played twice).

Below are some thoughts on the weekend.

Major League Lacrosse

I’ll start with the league that’s been there the longest by many years and who also started a day earlier than the PLL. I watched the Denver-New York game on Friday night and a little bit of the New York-Boston game on Saturday.

  • Things were different from the start. The production felt a lot better than before with MLL running point on most of the game telecasts. Graphics and scorebugs looked great, and guys such as Joe Beninati, Quint Kessenich, Evan Washburn, and Travis Eldridge were veteran voices that knew the sport. There was even a special halftime segment on Friday with Kyle Denhoff. From that standpoint, it was a huge improvement from what the league had the past few seasons, even though the broadcast platforms were announced a day or two prior to the start of the season.
  • Sunday might have been the worst day in terms of the broadcast production. I didn’t watch the Denver-Atlanta game, but I heard there were a few mispronunciations of names (one of them involved Tommy Palasek) and the shot clock had problems which forced the referees to count down manually.
  • The final game of the day, which pitted Chesapeake against Dallas, was on ESPN+. If you know ESPN+, it’s $4.99 a month. But it was also streaming on the MLL’s website for free. So what’s the point for people to pay nearly $5 a month for ESPN+ when those games are available for free and provided by the league? Doesn’t make sense.
  • The on-field action is still great. You still have some world-class and very good lacrosse players out there. That won’t change! The faces will, but the action won’t.
  • MLL is still lagging behind on social media. Any video highlights from games on Twitter came from either the official MLL account, LSN, or Stadium. There’s no full game highlights available on the MLL’s site or on their YouTube page. Teams updated games with either regular tweets, graphics, or GIFs. It goes without saying that having highlights are beneficial for new, casual, and even hardcore fans. Some of the videos from Friday and Saturday need work. Also, make sure you tag the correct team the first time.
  • Overall, the stream production is better than it was before. The social media still lags behind.

Premier Lacrosse League

Unlike the MLL, I watched all PLL three games this weekend, as well as going to the one on Sunday in person. This will be more detailed because it’s a brand new league.

  • This should not be a stunner, but the action is great. It felt similar to the gameplay and tempo the MLL had last season (most of the PLL players played there), which makes sense. Plus, you have a ton of world-class and very good players available. At least on Sunday, I don’t think there was a ton of settled offense. Everything was fast-paced.
  • The television production of the games were unreal. They felt...professional. Brendan Burke and Ryan Boyle in the booth are great, and Paul Burmeister is a good sideline guy. The skycam was cool, and so were the in-game interviews with players via helmet mics (when they were working). It felt crisp, clean, and even revolutionary.
  • One thing that’s should be looked at on the NBC Sports Gold games is the cut to team huddles during TV timeouts. Nearly every cut to a huddle was met with a curse word from either a player or coach. As a 22-year-old, I along with a handful of others enjoyed hearing the authenticity of the huddles. But that might not be the same for some of the younger fans and their parents. An alternative could be a “Mic’d Up” segment coming out of commercials on NBCSN/NBC. As for Gold, that’s going to be tough since the league promised no commercial breaks. You can’t tell players and coaches to use PG language, it doesn’t make sense. Just have to be careful going forward.
  • Similar to the TV/streaming broadcasts, their social media game is unreal. During games, they had in-progress highlights not only on the PLL account, but also from the individual team accounts so you really didn’t miss a thing. They even had their own video team chop up some quick edits as well.
  • Oh, and they have highlights.
  • I enjoyed the tweaks to the gameplay with the shorter field, the 52 second shot clock, 12 minute quarters, three timeouts per game, and some of the new faceoff rules. Plus, the games were about two hours total! Perfect for TV windows!
  • I’m still against a two-point arc in the college game, but I’m fine with it in the pro game. MLL’s two-pointer is 16 yards from the net, while the PLL’s is 15 yards. I’d like to see it move even closer, say maybe 13 yards. It should be similar to the NBA’s three-point line, where it’s at a distance where it’s makeable and could see more of them in games instead of once or twice. I don’t know how many 2s were made this weekend (maybe one or two).
  • Some smaller, but notable, changes. The volt yellow ball, similar to the one in tennis, was great. It helps viewers know where the ball is at all times and is easy to track. The goldish goal posts didn’t look gold on TV, more like olive green. It’s not a pretty looking color if you ask me. Finally, the referee uniforms of yellow and black were different. But Boyle called them giraffes on the broadcasts and they’re here to stay.
  • I thought the overall atmosphere was mixed. The PLL Experience outside Gillette was okay, nothing special. There were three shooting stations for fastest shot or accuracy. There was also gear available and some players coming to sign. For me, it wasn’t that thrilling. These were pictures from about 11:30 in the morning on Sunday.
Chris Jastrzembski
Chris Jastrzembski
  • Inside the stadium on Sunday, the only entertainment going on was the game itself. Not a ton of activity during timeouts or halftime outside of jumbotron ads and PLL videos. There were people that left during the second half of the Sunday game, and there were even some that were leaving during the second half and overtime of the first game on Saturday.
  • These games can’t be in giant NFL stadiums. That shouldn’t be a surprise since Paul Rabil mentioned the league was targeting MLS stadiums. But I get why the league had their first weekend at Gillette Stadium, kick off the start of something new with a bang. And with Bill Belichick nonetheless.
Premier Lacrosse League
  • I did appreciate the WPLL also starting their season alongside the PLL. But that attendance was pretty bad. I was down on the field for the Sunday game and could count the number of people in the stands. It was...not good.
Chris Jastrzembski

I’ll be intrigued to see how they draw on their tour this season when they’re not with the PLL. They resume next weekend in Richmond, Virginia at the River City Sportsplex.

Overall, a good start by the PLL. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.

Things On Both Leagues

One big question was attendance for both leagues. Here was the attendance for MLL’s games this weekend, per their boxscores.

  • New York: 5,512
  • Boston: 5,200
  • Atlanta: 1,523
  • Dallas: 6,112

I’ll focus on Boston’s for a second. Because the Cannons announced a sellout of 5,025 at their game on Saturday. That’s a difference of 175 people. Plus, from pictures or video streams, it did not look anywhere near a sellout. Same with Dallas.

As for the PLL, they never announced an attendance. Some people I talked to were guesstimating 5,000-7,000, but a security guard inside Gillette Stadium told me Saturday’s attendance was 4,962. (UPDATE: PLL announced 13,681 over three games, average of 4,560 for three games.)

Overall, I’d take any attendance number from either league with a grain of salt.

Additionally, both leagues need to improve their stats. For the MLL, they don’t have live stats. That might be a good thing to have. They do have boxscores, but don’t have team or league stats pages.

For the PLL, they do have live stats on their homepage, but that’s a work in progress. They do not have boxscores of individual games, which would be great to have, but they do have team and league stats pages, even though you only see the top three in goals, assists, points, faceoff wins, caused turnovers, and saves (which comes up as 20.0% saves for Jack Concannon who made 20 saves in the loss to Redwoods).

Coming from someone that covers the college game and works at a huge sports company that uses stats a good amount for highlights and breakdowns, reliable stats helps everyone involved.

Overall, both leagues are a work in progress. That shouldn’t surprise anybody. The games are great in both leagues. The MLL has been around much longer, but the PLL has the TV partnerships and the players to market. And now they have video footage from games to use and help market themselves even more.

I’ll be at Red Bull Arena on Sunday for the PLL game, which is on NBC.