The Premier Lacrosse League’s 2020 season has been completely reshaped in light of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Instead of following last year’s approach of a 14-weekend touring model in major markets, the league will launch the PLL Championship Series, a two-week quarantined and fanless tournament.
The two-part tournament will run from July 25 to August 9. The first week will feature a fourteen game, group-play format with all seven teams to determine seeding for the following week’s single-elimination tournament for 20 total games. The winner of the tournament will be crowned the 2020 PLL Champion. A host venue has not yet been announced.
The series will be carried by the league’s media rights partner NBC on its broadcast network, as well as on NBC Sports Network and NBC Sports Gold. All televised games will also stream live on NBCSports.com or the network’s app.
“We looked at a number of different scenarios, from pushing the start of our season back from the late May start and ending the season later to postponing the start and revisiting those weeks later in the season when we would have had league-wide byes,” PLL COO Andrew Sinnenberg said. “We landed on this format because it ensures the safety of our players [and] staff, gives us premium broadcast windows, and provides an exciting format that we think fans will be excited to watch.”
The hope is that, despite the condensed season calendar, the combination of filling the live sports void and the heightened importance of games will drive fans to the broadcast.
“We are expecting fan and viewer interest to be at an even greater level,” Sinnenberg added. “The two-week format with games every day gives both fans and players a ‘do-or-die’ mentality. They know that the entire outcome of a team’s 2020 season can be altered within the space of 24-48 hours. We are also in a specific timeframe right now where fans are yearning for live sports content.”
The creation of a single-tournament style season follows the PLL’s postponement of its second season indefinitely on April 10 due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The PLL’s 2020 season was originally scheduled to begin on May 29 at Gillette Stadium.
PLL co-founder and Atlas Lacrosse Club midfielder Paul Rabil told FOS in April that he was hopeful they’d have a season in some shape or form. He’d even proposed the idea of a fanless season.
“We believe that we will have a season,” Rabil said. “It could take a number of different shapes in 2020. Our team [is] putting together some scenarios that would either have a season that starts later with a full slate of games, a season that starts later and it’s compressed or exploring several offsite strategies that would represent a version of our season and postseason that would be fanless and measured up against appropriate CDC protocol and medical safety protocol.”
CDC guidelines are still paramount in this summers’ fanless set up to guarantee the safety of tournament participants and staff. The PLL has formed a COVID-19 medical committee that will consist of multiple physicians, including infectious disease experts, who will be on-site during the series, the league said. Throughout the duration of the tournament, the PLL will implement regular COVID-19 preventative measures and restrict all travel in and out of the to-be-selected location.
“We are looking to make an announcement as soon as we can,” Sinnenberg said of when a decision will be made about the tournament’s venue. “There are numerous boxes that we need to check off in order to ensure we find the right fit. The venue needs to allow us to maximize participant safety – most importantly – [and] fit broadcast production specifications, etc.”
Each team will be able to bring 22 active players, totaling 154 players, none of whom will be permitted to come or go through the two-week tournament. An estimated 300 personnel in total will be on-site, including league staffers, the production team, medical personnel, coaches, etc.
The league will also have to strategize financially with the new format, which doesn’t come with the typical ticket sale and on-site merchandise revenue streams the league had relied heavily on in its inaugural season.
In order to encourage a continued connection to the league and its players – which will hopefully generate revenue in the realms of merchandise and online coaching, which the league has pivoted to after its in-person PLL Academy events were no longer possible due to the pandemic – the PLL and NBC Sports Gold have unlocked all games from the 2019 inaugural season. The games are available to be streamed for free on the NBC Sports Gold Premier Lacrosse League Pass through May 31 in the lead up to the truncated 2020 tournament-style season.
The planned July start date makes the PLL one of the first sports organizations to officially announce a return to play. The PGA previously announced it will resume in June with rigorous COVID-19 testing and restrictions, while NASCAR is set to resume racing with fans in the stands on May 17.