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.
“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.”