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Why the Premier Lacrosse League and Women’s Professional Lacrosse League Joined Forces

The new partnership will see the two leagues collaborate with an emphasis on co-hosted events, youth initiatives, broadcast exposure, and new media.

Bailey Knecht

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Photo via Premier Lacrosse League

In a major move toward gender parity in sports, the Premier Lacrosse League (PLL) and the Women’s Professional Lacrosse League (WPLL) have entered into a partnership with an emphasis on co-hosted events, youth initiatives, broadcast exposure, and new media.

The partnership stemmed from parallel values between the two young leagues — the WPLL was launched by Michele DeJuliis in 2018, while the PLL, founded by Mike and Paul Rabil, kicks off its inaugural season this upcoming summer.

“It was a culmination of six months of in-person meetings, hours on the phone, and an exploration of what a partnership would look like,” said PLL co-founder Paul Rabil. “We discovered a match both intellectually and of company core values. We’re especially excited about this one because it is important for our sports — and all team sports — to align the men’s and women’s games and work toward creating a more powerful industry, but also to focus on correcting historicals around gender gaps in sports.”

DeJuliis, who serves as CEO of the WPLL, added that the partnership originated from a shared commitment to providing players with a top-notch experience on and off the field.

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“Honestly, we are 100 percent dedicated to making this experience great,” she said. “Of course, money is always important, but providing the opportunity to play at a high level and build their brands, showcase their talent, connect with the next generation, and grow as amazing players — that is our focus. I think Paul is the same way. He really values what lacrosse has given him, like I value what it’s given me, and it’s at the forefront of our minds.”

The collaboration will take advantage of a business model aimed at bolstering the PLL and WPLL brands using new media and technology.

“I think we have that major focus, getting it across as many media platforms as we can,” DeJuliis said. “Obviously, with us partnering with the men, it gives us even more opportunities.”

“We believe that these two groups are far better together,” Rabil added. “There are tactical ways to deploy it, from both a commercial business standpoint and so that players feel that unification — co-hosting events, combining our commercial assets to work with brands, and a broader distribution of our athletes and games.”

The co-hosting aspect will take shape in the form of joint events held by the leagues, showcasing men’s and women’s players on the same stage.

“One example is, we’ll have a major-market city where WPLL and PLL teams are playing, and we will each have games played that weekend, and a single ticket will get you access to both games,” Rabil said.

The leagues also plan to work together to host youth initiatives — something the WPLL has prioritized since its origin.

“(The WPLL) has done a terrific job with this, taking players into existing markets where teams play, and new markets, and having them interact with women’s players, to hosting tournaments,” Rabil said. “We have a similar initiative, with the PLL Academy. It will be similar to co-hosting game weekends, where we are co-hosting youth events with both men’s and women’s players.”

“We all know how important this is for young boys and girls to see two individual pro leagues supporting one another, respecting one another, and how important that life lesson is,” added DeJuliis. “It’s critical to the development and success of boys and girls.”

The partnership was a natural fit for Rabil and the PLL, considering that the league was created with inclusion and equality in mind from the get-go.

“For us, we’re building our business around core values like critical thinking, unifying, diversification and inclusion,” Rabil said. “The latter, for us, stems from a number of areas, from the partnership with the women’s pro lacrosse game, to speaking on behalf of groups that have been primarily under-serviced and under-amplified, like Native Americans who were the initial lacrosse creators, and African Americans and Hispanics who play but don’t have the same access to the sport as white people.”

Unlike many partnerships in which the men’s league was established before the women’s — such as the NHL and NWHL and the NBA and WNBA — the WPLL was founded just prior to the PLL. As a result, the PLL will look to the WPLL as an example, and the two will collaborate as equals, rather than facing an uneven power dynamic from the inception of the partnership.

“We’re really excited because, for a long time, men’s and women’s sports have been bifurcated,” Rabil said. “We’re basically starting from scratch where the WPLL is two years in, and this is our first year, so this is the messaging out of the gate, and we can have a greater impact. It’s primarily a byproduct of timing, but it’s still an important factor nonetheless.”

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Another strength that the leagues can lean on is the fact that both were founded by those who know the game of lacrosse better than anyone. Rabil holds the all-time scoring record in Major League Lacrosse, while DeJuliis is a former member of the U.S. national lacrosse team.

“Not only do players have multiple strong touchpoints on where sports are going, from the new technology and new media, and the product on-field, but we also have existing relationships, and, in business, relationships are so powerful, especially if they align both from a hard and soft-skill standpoint,” Rabil said. “We have a collective vision of the sport — where our players have passion, the commitment and sacrifice it takes, and alignment on collaboration and coalescing our assets where it makes more business sense.”

That firsthand experience allowed Rabil and DeJuliis to create their own unique leagues, and now, a progressive partnership based on coinciding values.

“We help them as much as they help us, and I see us as being equal, and they treat us as such, and we treat them as such,” DeJuliis said. “We have just as much respect for each other, probably because we’re all putting everyone else first. If we do that, we can’t go wrong because we know we’re following what we think is right for everyone else before thinking of ourselves.”

Bailey Knecht is a Northeastern University graduate and has worked for New Balance, the Boston Bruins and the Northeastern and UMass Lowell athletic departments. She covers media and marketing for Front Office Sports, with an emphasis on women's sports and basketball. She can be contacted at bailey@frntofficesport.com.

Business

Uninterrupted Sees Opportunity in Acquisition of ‘More Than An Athlete’

Uninterrupted acquired “More Than An Athlete,” as the two brands’ visions and missions were aligned in helping empower athletes off the field.

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Uninterrupted is furthering its athlete empowerment platform with the acquisition of “More Than An Athlete.”

With this acquisition, the “More Than An Athlete” platform and activewear line will be integrated into the Uninterrupted brand, Uninterrupted President Devin Johnson said. “More Than An Athlete” founder DeAndra Alex will also join the Uninterrupted team as a marketing and brand strategist.

“When we learned about DeAndra and the grassroots platform they had built, we recognized an immediate alignment from a mission perspective,” Johnson said. “We reached out to learn more about the company, and as the conversations evolved, we both decided that our impact would be greater by joining forces.”

Alex started the company in 2012 and has since built a platform of marketing initiatives, community-action programs and an apparel line to help athletes change the perception of what it means to be an athlete. The community Alex built is made up of professional and student-athletes.

READ MORE: How Uninterrupted Brand Partnerships Help Showcase Athlete Stories

“Uninterrupted has defined and embodied what it means to be ‘More Than An Athlete’ and through their content, have empowered athletes to start important conversations on a host of issues,” she said. “I couldn’t be happier to be joining the team and look forward to continuing this important work.”

The joint passion of elevating athlete voices was the major draw, but Johnson said he is especially excited about the student-athlete contributions to the Uninterrupted brand the acquisition can provide.

“We were really interested in the ways in which they were working with and reaching student-athletes, especially younger student-athletes who don’t always get the media attention they deserve, but have equally important stories to tell,” he said. “At every level of sport, there is more to the athlete than the game.”

Johnson expects the two brands to be joined seamlessly as it grows beyond a media and content company. The addition will help extend Uninterrupted into areas beyond the digital content the company has founded itself on, into areas like merchandise and events. The “More Than An Athlete” portfolio includes a range of shirts and negative ion energy bracelets.

While the acquisition will help Uninterrupted expand its offerings, the “More Than An Athlete” platform will be introduced into a massive athlete network and a large media distribution.

“We are also looking forward to working with DeAndra to give an even bigger platform to the work she started in 2012,” Johnson said. “DeAndra will be a great asset to our team, especially from a marketing and branding perspective. She understands and is wholly committed to the mission, and as a savvy entrepreneur, her perspective and experiences will be invaluable to our team, network and audience.”

READ MORE: Former NFL Player Andrew Hawkins Is Building a New Career Playbook

Johnson said the deal should only make both brands stronger, but more importantly, have a greater impact in the company’s mission to empower athletes beyond the field.

“We’re excited about the future of Uninterrupted as an athlete empowerment brand that goes beyond media and content,” Johnson said. “We look forward to developing the limitless potential of ‘More Than An Athlete’ brand, exploring new content and new products, pulling from what we have both done as individual companies and also creating new content, franchises and products together.”

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Premier Lacrosse League’s Newest Investment Opens Up Exciting Possibilities

Alibaba co-founder and Brooklyn Nets owner Joe Tsai leads the latest lacrosse league investment as the PLL prepares for its inaugural season.

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Photo credit: PLL

The Premier Lacrosse League is preparing to launch in June, riding on a recent round of investments. 

The PLL’s Series A round of investment includes Alibaba Group co-founder and Brooklyn Nets investor Joe Tsai. The league was founded by brothers Paul and Michael Rabil, who are betting their experience in sports and business — and a demand for sports content — will help the league succeed.

Still, launching a new sports league isn’t easy, said Michael Rabil, the acting CEO of the PLL.

“This is the first time I’ve done it, but any new business isn’t easy to launch,” Rabil said. “It doesn’t matter if it’s a gym in Franklin, New Hampshire or a nationwide lacrosse league. There’s so many small nuances and details. A sports league is the heaviest lift I’ve ever done, but we’re pleased how we’ve been received.”

READ MORE: Why the PLL and Women’s Professional Lacrosse League Joined Forces

Ahead of its launch slated for June 1, the PLL is seeing the details coming together quickly. The six-team league will be a traveling league, touring through 12 major markets. The cities and teams are to be announced in the coming weeks, Rabil said. The league has announced its inaugural weekend site in Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Massachusetts. New York’s Red Bull Arena was announced as the second weekend’s tour stop and as a playoff site in September.  

“The announcement calendars are chock full,” he said. In addition, the league will reveal team logos on Tuesday.

The initial round of investors was led by the Raine Group and included the Chernin Group, Blum Capital and CAA. Amount raised was not disclosed by the league. The first round allowed the Rabils to set up a three-point plan to reach the second round of funding.

The first objective was hiring a great executive team, while the second goal was to attract the best players in the world — the league announced 140 players signed in October. The last piece was a major media deal.

“If we could do those three things, we had a compelling business plan,” Rabil said. “It was important to implement a certain set of milestones to warrant a large capital raise and it’s important to hit those to justify the capital raised.”

The PLL signed a multi-year deal with NBC Sports Group, with three games broadcast on NBC and 19 games set to air on NBCSN and full-season package available on the subscription streaming service NBC Sports Gold. Several dry runs of broadcasts will be held before the launch. 

“You only have one chance,” Rabil said.

The league will act as a competitor to a current professional lacrosse league, Major League Lacrosse. The Rabils hope the league’s media deals can help make the sport continue a trend toward the mainstream.

Content is at the heart of the PLL’s strategy to win fans, and Rabil said there’s been continuous planning for high-quality content creation, including original programming, to tell the sport’s stories. Rabil said he and his brother hope to showcase a lower barrier of entry for the sport, which is often painted as an elite East Coast hobby.

“At the end of the day, we’re entertaining people,” he said. “We want to entertain with a high level of competition, but also with the stories behind the players and how unique they are.”

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The new influx of capital also will help the PLL leadership to make a few more key executive hires and continue to build and execute the game day experience, which will be key to the league’s success, Rabil said.

“Not only do fans expect a highly competitive game, but an atmosphere that is interactive with national sponsors,” he said.

Rabil said he’s enjoyed watching the first few weeks of the Alliance of American Football, which launched its inaugural season earlier this month. He’s impressed in the distribution and the diverse audience reach the league has achieved early in its existence.

“The AAF has done a great job of telling their story around football,” Rabil said. “It’s been great; I’ve learned a lot about a new industry. I don’t consider myself an expert in this space — just in building a business.

“I’ve applied a lot of what I’ve learned and hopefully it pays off.”

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3 Key Startup Lessons From Up-and-Coming Sports Entrepreneurs

Let’s take a look at some advice from three up-and-coming sports startup founders on their journeys to create opportunity.

Jarrod Barnes

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Photo credit: Pixabay

With the sports industry’s market size growing to just over $73 billion in 2019, there is no lack of opportunity to create and innovate within the business of sports.

The question is, where does one start?

A quick Google search of “how to start a business” will yield approximately 11.6 million results. The traditional path of attending a top business school seems to be the road less traveled for many entrepreneurs today. Current and former professional athletes like Kobe Bryant and Alex Morgan have continued to turn heads by launching businesses and building venture capital portfolios, almost making the process look easy.

Let’s take a look at some advice from three up-and-coming sports startup founders on creating opportunity and reaching success as a business owner.

Embrace Failure

“Entrepreneurship is dealing with failure; it’s one thing for you to create an idea that you like, but it doesn’t always stick with people,” states Chad Kayner, co-founder of 4est Ventures, an organization that transforms athletes into entrepreneurs and connects startups to potential investors. “It’s important to check your ego at the door — and understand that the stakes are much higher with your failures. You don’t truly learn until you go through it.”

Failure is, in fact, a harsh reality when it comes to launching a business, with the Small Business Association stating that 50 percent of businesses fail during the first five years.

READ MORE: Informational Interviews Can Be Crucial to Your Career Development

“Creating and selling things are fantastic, but you have to have the business model figured out in order to become sustainable,” said Kayner.

One of the top reasons small businesses fail is due to cash-flow problems.

“It’s survival; you have to use everything in your toolkit. If you haven’t been placed in that place before, entrepreneurship will bring it out.”

As Blake Masters and Peter Thiel say in the book “Zero To One”: “All failed companies are the same; they failed to escape competition.”

Starting from ground zero can be a huge challenge. Yet, it was failure that has helped Kayner build a community of mentors and a high-functioning organization. While it may seem like the odds are against entrepreneurs, it’s the ability to adapt, both yourself and the business, that can open the additional opportunity.

Be Prepared To Adapt

When launching a business, there isn’t always a direct next step or path to take. Rae Emard, founder of Athent, a mobile app that helps athletes and creatives easily understand and manage their finances, investments, and personal brands, shared how, “we grow up and go through our education system and come find out in business there are a million different ways to find what you’re looking for and get to where you want to be.”

Dominique Easley, a defensive tackle for the Los Angeles Rams, is also an investor in Athent and claims that he’s fallen in love with the process of entrepreneurship. Providing a solution to the needs of financial literacy and brand development that professional athletes face has given these entrepreneurs purpose.

But it wasn’t always that way.

“For me to enter that realm was difficult. It was too awkward for me, but then I started seeing how the app was evolving and started to understand the details and gain confidence,” stated Easley.

Emard and Easley both had to adapt, even if that meant moving across the country to find greater opportunity and be surrounded by the right people. “I came to Los Angeles and literally went from crowdfunding to a functional app,” stated Emard.

In the process of adaptation also comes growth. Both Emard and Easley have helped position Athent to receive the endorsement of prominent current and former NFL players.

Embracing failure while learning to adapt is one thing, but lasting success is built through remaining patient.

Remain Patient

The late William Feather, author of “The Business of Life” stated that “unnecessary hustle is one of the American follies. We hustle at both work and play, and consequently enjoy neither.”

Hard work is not to be overlooked or ignored, but it is focused energy over time that has the power to produce lasting results.

READ MORE: How to Master the First Month of a New Job in Sports Business

“It’s patience, and understanding the balance between executing and always knocking on doors. We need time to make really good decisions, and trusting your gut feelings comes from experience and patience,” shared Kayner.

Jumping to a quick conclusion may feel like it can give you an edge, but it can cause you to create an artificial timeline. When an idea fails to align with that timeline, the mind can run wild.

“Control what you can control; solve what you see is the problem,” stated Easley.

Ideas are powerful, and the sports-business landscape is wide open for those willing to bring an idea to life. Enthusiasm, passion, and grit are all key characteristics of startup founders, but in order to sustain a business, be prepared to embrace failure, adapt, and remain patient in your pursuit.

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