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Bayhawks owner not worried about competition from proposed league

Chesapeake Bayhawks owner Brendan Kelly had an interesting reaction when contacted for comment about report of an outdoor professional lacrosse league being created to compete with the one he has helped build.

“I see this as a positive. You’re calling me about pro lacrosse on September 26th,” was Kelly’s initial reaction. “It’s not competition, it’s exposure.”

Bloomberg reported on Tuesday that Paul Rabil, arguably the most recognizable player in lacrosse, is starting a new outdoor league with a group of sports and media investors led by the Raine Group.

Bloomberg, citing sources familiar with the planning, reported the Premier Lacrosse League would feature six teams and begin play next summer. Both Rabil and the Raine Group declined to comment for the report, which stated the proposed league would compete with the existing outdoor professional league to secure the best players.

Major League Lacrosse, which was founded in 2001, currently consists of nine franchises spread throughout the United States. Kelly owns the Bayhawks, who have been based in Maryland for most of the organization’s existence.

“I think the key word here is proposed. Honestly, I don’t see it happening, but time will tell.” Kelly said. “It’s a heavy lift to run a league and MLL has been doing it 18 years. I see MLL getting better and stronger every day.”

Kelly said he and others involved with Major League Lacrosse were well aware that Rabil was considering launching a separate outdoor professional league.

“I have a lot of respect for Paul Rabil, who is a brand unto himself,” Kelly said. “Paul is trying to bring fresh money into the sport, which is a good thing. I applaud anyone who is taking an initiative to grow the game and putting money into pro lacrosse.”

Major League Lacrosse recently announced several initiatives, all of which are designed to invest in players. Commissioner Alex Brown said MLL owners voted unanimously to increase the salary cap, expand the regular season game schedule and add one player to the Game Day Active Roster.

Specifically, MLL will expand its schedule to 16 games (two more than previous seasons) and increase the salary cap by 51 percent. Brown said raising the salary cap will allow more players the financial freedom to dedicate themselves to the game and to the sport, and will ensure a higher level of competition.

Brown issued the following statement when contacted by The Baltimore Sun Media Group about the the proposed Premier Lacrosse League.

“I could not be more excited about where this league is headed. In August, we presented a three-year plan to the owners on which we are now executing. Expansion, a robust development of digital content and media are all very much a part of our plan,” Brown said. “Most importantly, our owners are resolute on the future of our league and our sport. There is much work for us to do, but we have made tangible, measurable progress for Major League Lacrosse.”

Later on Wednesday, Kelly also issued a formal statement with regard to the future of Major League Lacrosse.

“I’m entering my ninth year as owner of the Chesapeake Bayhawks and I’ve never been more excited about where the MLL is headed. Lacrosse is the fastest growing sport in the United States and one of the fastest growing sports around the world,” Kelly said. “The opportunity for lacrosse to explode is now. I know the league leadership and unified ownership group in place is dedicated to growing our sport, employing and empowering the best lacrosse players in the world, and continuing to advance Major League Lacrosse heading into its 19th year.”

Kelly said he is not concerned about losing players to a start-up league. Over the past two weeks, the Bayhawks have announced a flurry of signings and Kelly said the team now has 15 players under contract.

“Strictly from a Bayhawks standpoint, we have the bulk of our team coming back. I don’t see us losing one player,” he said.

According to the Bloomberg article, the Premier Lacrosse League has secured the participation of many well-known players, including several that represented the United States and Canada in the Federation of International Lacrosse World Championships this past summer.

Bloomberg reported that players in the PLL will be full-time employees, receive health benefits and have an undisclosed equity stake in the operation. Additionally, the PLL will run from June through September and will follow a tour-based model in which teams travel to a particular city at the same time and play a series of games on Saturday and Sunday.

Rabil grew up in Gaithersburg and played at DeMatha Catholic and Johns Hopkins University. The 32-year-old midfielder was a three-time, first team All-American at Hopkins and has been a member of Team USA for three world championships (2010, 2014, 2018).

Rabil has played Major League Lacrosse for 11 seasons since being selected by the Boston Cannons No. 1 overall in the 2008 MLL Collegiate Draft. The 6-foot-3, 220-pounder with the cannon crank shot is a 10-time All-Star and three-time MLL Offensive Player of the Year. He remains under contract with the New York Lizards until February 28, 2019.

Jesse Bernhardt, who played on the United States national team alongside Rabil in 2014 and 2018, acknowledged he’s heard rumblings about the possibility of a new outdoor league.

“It’s been a hot topic of discussion within the lacrosse world. Lacrosse is a small world so any new news seems to be big news,” Bernhardt said. “I’m never going to knock anyone for trying to grow the sport. It will be interesting to see what happens; There are a lot of questions left unanswered and many new ones that will arise in the coming weeks.”

Bernhardt is under contract with Chesapeake through the end of the 2019 season. A six-year veteran of Major League Lacrosse, Bernhardt is pleased with the three significant changes announced on Sept. 17.

“Obviously, MLL has made a push to increase the salaries for players, which is great news,” Bernhardt said. “They seem to be going in the right direction to make the league more professional and provide more exposure.”

Colin Heacock, who signed a three-year contract with the Bayhawks on Sept. 14, indicated he is also happy with Major League Lacrosse. Heacock, who starred at Boys’ Latin and the University of Maryland, is coming off a breakout sophomore season at the professional level in which he led Chesapeake in scoring with 38 points.

“Major League Lacrosse has an 18-year history of the greatest lacrosse players in the world competing every summer. I am excited and honored to have the opportunity to be part of this great tradition,” Heacock said. “I’ve had the privilege of competing for two seasons with the Bayhawks and have signed an extension through 2021 to play for the most successful organization in MLL with five championship titles, which also happens to be in my hometown.”

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