EXCLUSIVE: ESPN has added more lacrosse to its linear and streaming offerings via a new rights deal with the Premier Lacrosse League, whose prior media partner was NBCUniversal.
The four-year deal will put all 47 of the PLL’s games, including playoffs, across ESPN, ESPN+, ABC and ESPN2 from June through September. Since the PLL’s inaugural season in 2019, it had been carried by NBCU, initially on NBC Sports Network but increasingly on Peacock.
While the official announcement of the agreement did not specify a value, multiple people familiar with its terms said it fell in the range of eight figures. While that’s far from the multi-billion-dollar outlays for the NFL at the top end of the market, for both ESPN and the burgeoning league the deal comes with considerable upside.
“We would like to really put our shoulder behind connecting the sport at all levels,” Burke Magnus, president of ESPN programming and original content, told Deadline in an interview. “It is a fantastic college sport … and the young demo is significant.”
Magnus said the PLL’s media profile is similar to that of the X-Games, an extreme-sports showcase incubated by ESPN in the 1990s that remains a popular draw. Teams in the PLL, unlike those in most pro leagues, do not have geographic affiliation. Instead, the entire league plays a series of weekend games in a rotating number of cities through the summer months. This year, there will be games in 14 cities, with each generating revenue from merchandise sales and other sources in addition to tickets.
ESPN carries a considerable amount of men’s and women’s college lacrosse, as does the ESPN-owned ACC Network. Last year, ESPN also locked a deal with the National Lacrosse League, a pro circuit that plays games indoors in a slight variation on the outdoor sport.
NBCU was in the running to renew, sources indicated, along with Amazon and Apple.
Paul Rabil, who co-founded the PLL and retired last year as a player in order to take a lead exec role with the league, said rights talks were held with multiple parties. He called the ESPN deal “a testament to our gameday experience, the business teams at the PLL, growing interest level and engagement of a global lacrosse audience, as well as ESPN’s foresight and meaningful investment into a game that’s indigenous to North America – one of the fastest-growing in the U.S. today.”
PLL games will air exclusively on ABC, ESPN, ESPN2, and ESPN+, with all 47 games available to stream on ESPN+. More details, including game times and network schedules, will be announced later this spring.
Jimmy Pitaro, chairman of ESPN and sports content, said the agreement “will maximize exposure for the league and sport as a whole, with a number of events on linear television and all games being available direct to consumer. Paul and Mike Rabil are incredible leaders and innovators in the sport and we are all looking forward to continued growth for the PLL.”
Evolution Media Capital, an affiliate of CAA, served as media advisor to the PLL.
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