Former Johns Hopkins All-American Paul Rabil formally announced his intention to form a new professional outdoor lacrosse league by issuing a press release on Monday.
Rabil and his brother Mike are co-founders of the Premier Lacrosse League, which intends to launch its inaugural season on June 1, 2019. According to the press release, the PLL will feature six teams and make stops in 12 “major-market” cities.
Premier Lacrosse League also announced it has secured a media rights deal with NBC Sports Group, which will televise a total of 19 games. NBCSN will televise 17 games while the championship game and two others will be on NBC.
Rabil stated in the announcement that the new league’s players will receive full-time wages, benefits and equity in the league. That would make PLL the first major North American professional sports league to offer equity to its players.
Premier Lacrosse League announced it has financial backing from companies such as The Raine Group, Creative Artists Agency, The Chernin Group, and Blum Capital. According to Bloomberg, New England Patriots wide receiver Chris Hogan, who played lacrosse at Penn State, is also an investor.
“Ever since I fell in love with the game I dreamed of being a professional athlete on the sport’s biggest stage,” Rabil said in a statement. “We’re building the professional sports league that lacrosse deserves. The best players in the world will be showcased like never before, thanks to a unique touring model, a robust media-rights partnership, and player content strategy.”
Rabil, a Gaithersburg native who prepped at DeMatha Catholic, is probably the most high-profile lacrosse player in the world. The 6-foot-3, 220-pound midfielder was a three-time, first team All-American at Johns Hopkins and has been a standout professional both indoors and outdoors.
Rabil played Major League Lacrosse for the Boston Cannons and New York Lizards and has been a perennial All-Star along with three-time Offensive Player of the Year.
PLL published a list of 140 players it says have committed to the new venture and it features 86 former collegiate All-Americans, 25 past members of United States national team, 10 former Tewaaraton Award winners and nine former Major League Lacrosse Most Valuable Players.
Rabil, Jordan Wolf, Tom Schreiber, Kevin Rice, Drew Adams, Trevor Baptiste, Matt Dunn, Matt Rambo and James Pannell are among the big-name players who have signed on with PLL.
“Additionally, our players will be owners in the PLL, contributing to the build, competition, and ultimate success of the league,” Rabil said in the statement. “This is a product that aligns a league and the players like never before, serving a passionate fan base that deserves access to the sport nationwide, at state-of-the-art venues, and on screens everywhere.”
Every current Major League Lacrosse franchise had players defect to the Premier Lacrosse League. The Chesapeake Bayhawks will be losing standout midfielder Myles Jones, veteran attackman Matt Danowski and second-year attackman Josh Byrne, the 2017 MLL Rookie of the Year. Defenseman Matt Rees, a 2017 Naval Academy graduate, has also committed to the PLL.
Jones and Byrne ranked as Chesapeake’s second- and third-leading scorers with 38 and 30 points, respectively. Rees had a breakout campaign and scored five goals, three of which were 2-pointers. Defenseman Goran Murray and midfielder Jake Froccaro are the other players who were on the Bayhawks roster and are apparently leaving for the PLL.
Mark Burdett, president of the Chesapeake Bayhawks, declined to comment about the potential loss of players. Burdett cautioned that some of the players on the Premier Lacrosse League list may not actually be committed to the new venture.
“We have known about the PLL for a while and have been anticipating this announcement. For the Bayhawks, the MLL, and professional lacrosse in general, an investment and commitment to our sport is always going to be viewed as a positive,” Burdett said.
“This new venture, the PLL, will provide MLL alumni a second chapter to showcase their skills and remain close to the game. The Bayhawks draft and sign as many as 10 new players annually from the best collegiate rosters in the country to maintain our competitive edge and feature the best players every year.”
A trio of Anne Arundel County products – midfielders Kevin Cooper (Archbishop Spalding, Maryland), Patrick Harbeson (DeMatha, Virginia) and Mark McNeill (St. Mary’s, North Carolina) – were on the list of PLL players. Cooper, a Crofton native, played for the Charlotte Hounds last season. McNeill, a Davidsonville native, played for the Florida Launch. Harbeson, an Annapolis resident, was last with the Ohio Machine.
PLL will announce its six teams comprised of 20 players along with the cities it plans to visit at a later date. According to the release, the Premier Lacrosse League will descend upon each market for a weekend and provide three games on the field and unprecedented access through a fan festival and other interactive opportunities.
While it remains unclear whether the Premier Lacrosse League will make a stop in the Baltimore-Washington region, Burdett is not worried about the potential competition.
“Whether there is demand for a traveling lacrosse venture, similar to a circus that comes to your town temporarily, has yet to be realized. The Bayhawks are rooted here in our community. We volunteer as a team to support many important needs and causes in our home region,” he said.
“We donate and contribute to our community partners such as Anne Arundel Medical Center. We employ numerous people for both seasonal and game day jobs in addition to our full-time staff headquartered in Annapolis. The Bayhawks celebrate a symbiotic relationship with our community. We depend on them for fan support and participation; they depend on us to provide the best professional lacrosse experience anywhere.”