EXCLUSIVE: The Premier Lacrosse League, which staged a successful bubble season in Utah during the rise of Covid-19 last year, has set its 2021 broadcast schedule.
As pandemic limitations ease, games will be played in 11 U.S. cities starting early next month in front of limited crowds. Beyond the Covid comeback, the June-to-September TV and streaming schedule (see it in full below) is noteworthy for the 23 games exclusive to Peacock Premium. All 44 regular-season and playoff matchups will stream on Peacock, but about half will be simulcasts with NBC and cable’s NBC Sports Network.
The league is in the third and final year of its rights deal with NBCUniversal and is migrating from premium service NBC Sports Gold to Peacock. NBCSN will also be unplugged at the end of 2021, NBCU has said, with live sports shifting to USA Network and Peacock. The streaming service, which has drawn 42 million sign-ups as of March 31, has embraced live sports, with Premier League soccer and the recent arrival of the WWE helping drive viewership.
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Paul Rabil, who co-founded the PLL in 2018 and also plays for the league, said the tilt toward streaming is because media companies “have got to go where the audiences are.” He said more than one-quarter of active viewership of Peacock can be attributed to sports, and retention among sports viewers is more than 90%.
Talks about a potential rights renewal have been held and will heat up after the season, Rabil said. When he was first forming the league, he recalled, one scenario he and the other founders (including his brother, Michael) considered was creating their own streaming service. This league-centric model has been tried by the UFC and some other sports leagues and some entities, especially Major League Baseball, have hit pay dirt by retaining digital rights. While the revenue would not have to be shared under a PLL-led model, the work of building and scaling a service is far from easy.
“We’re thrilled with our deal with NBCUniversal,” Rabil said. “So much of sport is tied to entertainment and product validation. That’s what partnering with NBCU meant for us.”
NBC will have four games on the broadcast network, including the PLL championship on September 19.
Along with managing to be the first pro sport to navigate a path through the pandemic and complete a season without any Covid-19 infections, the PLL also made a major M&A deal in 2020. It merged with Major League Lacrosse, adding the MLL’s Boston Cannons as the eighth PLL team. (Paul Rabil was also traded to the Cannons in the off-season.) The deal gave the PLL rights to 20 years of footage of MLL games. Rabil said that footage will be used to enhance PLL broadcasts.
In the official announcement of the broadcast details, NBC Sports Chairman Pete Bevacqua called the offseason for the PLL “momentous.” He added of the post-merger league, “We’re excited to showcase this historic moment on NBC Sports.”
Rather than home-and-away dates like other leagues, the nature of lacrosse led to the organization of the schedule in a way that concentrates interest geographically on specific dates. Like a touring company, the PLL will play weekends in 11 cities, including several former MLL markets. Virtually all players are expected to be vaccinated against Covid-19 and safety protocols will be followed for fans and teams.
Teams are not rooted to a particular market, as in other sports. Each has the designation “lacrosse club” instead of a city or regional name. In addition to the Cannons, teams include the Archers, Atlas, Chaos, Chrome, Redwoods, Whipsnakes and Waterdogs.
The growth of lacrosse overall is helping attract viewers, Rabil said, even though the sport has a ways to go before reaching the top tier. There are about 10 million lacrosse fans in the U.S. and 2 million participants. It has cleared initial hurdles to becoming a demonstration sport at the 2028 Olympics in LA, though it hasn’t been confirmed yet officially.
Here is the schedule (all times ET):
Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, MA
June 4 – 7 p.m., Peacock
June 5 – 5 p.m., NBC Sports Network; 7:45 p.m., Peacock
June 6 – 1 p.m., NBCSN; 3:45 p.m., Peacock
Fifth Third Bank Stadium, Atlanta
June 11 – 7PM, Peacock
June 12 – 12PM, NBC; 3 p.m., NBCSN
June 13 – 1 p.m., NBCSN; 3:45 p.m., Peacock
Homewood Field, Baltimore, MD
June 25 – 8 p.m., NBCSN
June 26 – 5:15 p.m., Peacock; 8 p.m., NBCSN
June 27 – 12 p.m., Peacock; 2:45 p.m., Peacock
Shuart Stadium, Hempstead, NY
July 2 – 7 p.m., Peacock
July 3 – 12 p.m., NBC; 3 p.m., NBCSN
July 4 – 12:15 p.m., Peacock; 3 p.m., NBCSN
TCO Stadium, Minneapolis, MN
July 9 – 8 p.m., Peacock
July 10 – 6 p.m., NBCSN; 8:45pm, Peacock
July 11 – 5:45 p.m., Peacock; 8:30 p.m., NBCSN
PayPal Park, San Jose, CA
July 18 – All-Star Skills, 5:30 p.m., Peacock; All-Star Game, 7 p.m., NBCSN
Weidner Field, Colorado Springs, CO
July 30 – 9 p.m., Peacock
July 31 – 7:15 p.m., Peacock; 10 p.m., Peacock
August 1 – 2 p.m., Peacock; 4:45 p.m., Peacock
Tom and Mary Casey Stadium, Albany, NY
August 13 – 6 p.m., Peacock; 8:30 p.m., NBCSN
August 14 – 4:15 p.m., Peacock; 7 p.m., NBCSN
August 15 – 2 p.m., NBCSN; 4:45 p.m., Peacock
Rio Tinto Stadium, Sandy, UT
August 20 – 8:30 p.m., Peacock
August 21 – 2:30 p.m., NBC; 6 p.m., NBCSN
Subaru Park, Philadelphia, PA
September 10 – Semifinals, 6 p.m., NBCSN; 8:30 p.m., NBCSN
Audi Field, Washington, DC
September 19 – Championship, 12 p.m., NBC
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