Paul Rabil had a bigger vision than the Premier Lacrosse League, which he co-founded with his brother Mike four years ago.
His ambition was to take Native American sports to new heights, with the goal of reintroducing them to the Olympics for the first time in more than seven decades.
“It was a part of our early pitch materials — that on the horizon it was possible that lacrosse could be in the Olympic Games,” Paul Rabil said.
“It’s something that leadership in the sport has been working on for the greater part of the last two decades. There’s just a lot of organization that needs to take place. Most importantly, there is great leadership. We’re in good hands.”
The eight-team PLL kicked off its fourth tour-based season on Saturday in front of a nearly sold-out audience at an 8,500-seat facility in Albany, New York, the opening stop on a 47-game schedule in 13 cities across the United States.
The league has signed a new four-year agreement with ESPN that will expand lacrosse’s global reach to more than 170 nations.
World Lacrosse, the sport’s international governing body, recently agreed to provide ESPN global media rights to World Lacrosse championships until next year.
ESPN will cover 246 games as part of World Lacrosse’s first multi-year, multi-event media deal, which was announced in July when the International Olympic Committee granted the association full status.
“I think it’s important for us,” said Jim Scherr, chief executive of World Lacrosse. “That exposure for our world championships and international events … will help us build an audience for the game and build the brand of lacrosse as well as stimulate growth in other countries around the world.”
It is a major consideration for inclusion in the 2028 Los Angeles Olympics, as is the sport’s rise in popularity in the United States. Lacrosse has been the fastest-growing college sport for the previous two decades. According to the NCAA, there are now slightly over 900 teams in the three divisions, with more than half of them being women, and more than 28,000 athletes competing.
“It really is what we view as kind of a hotbed of lacrosse now, and it will continue to grow and prosper through 2028, whether we’re in the Games or not,” Scherr said, also noting the PLL is headquartered there.
World Lacrosse Sixes, a variant of the game with a smaller field and fewer stoppages in play that would be utilised in Olympic competition, will be featured at the World Games in July, an international multi-sport event with 16 teams from nine nations and four continents in Birmingham, Alabama.
The Olympic roster would be limited to 12 players, an important aspect for the IOC’s goal of shrinking the Games. According to Scherr, if the sport is chosen, there will most likely be eight to twelve teams for both men and women!