Baker: MLL and PLL give fans equal entertainment in first week of play

Archers vs. Chrome, June 1, 2019. (Photo credit: Laura Kupsey)

It happened one summer, it happened one time

It happened forever, for one short time

The Motels 1983

Summer arrived and this year in particular is historic as there are two organizations putting incredible lacrosse products on the field.  So far into this young season, the fans are the winners. The first weekend of professional field lacrosse took place with the two leagues turning in incredible performances.

The established league, Major League Lacrosse, kicked off the weekend with the defending champion Denver Outlaws edging the New York Lizards by a score of 11-9. Next up, the Boston Cannons upheld the city’s tradition of ruining New Yorkers days by defeating the Lizards 13-12. This annual clash usually takes place towards the middle of the season, not the opening weekend. The weekend wrapped up with Atlanta toppled the defending champion Denver 14-12 while Chesapeake proved victorious over Dallas 14-11. Major League Lacrosse definitely hit the ground running with its smaller league. The league announced earlier in the year that it suspended operations in Ohio, Charlotte and Florida and absorbed those players into a dispersal draft. The leaner and meaner league has so far produced closer and higher scoring games in their first outing of the new season, but will the initial success prove sustainable?

The Premier Lacrosse League opened play at Gillette Stadium and the first two games went into overtime, almost as if by design. This opening week of overtime games saw itself in many of the MLL’s early weeks as teams jelled and team chemistry formed. The familiarity of many seasons in the MLL carried over and it showed in the play as the PLL definitely had the smoother games. MLL has talented players, but with so many new players on rosters having replaced those who jumped ship, they lack the benefit of playing together for multiple seasons as the PLL now does.

The Archers unhorsed Chrome while the Whipsnakes proved quicker than Chaos. The last game proved a close contest between the Redwoods and Atlas that saw the bears outscore the bulls 11-9. Attendance was announced around 13,600 for the opening weekend, but what proved more impressive was that the PLL had more social media hits than the NHL during the Stanley Cup. In addition to the social media barrage, the PLL introduced players wearing headsets and microphones and conducting on field interviews, giving fans a rare insight to the game. The fans definitely got the benefit of an excellent weekend of lacrosse from both leagues.

Thus far, both leagues have managed to co-exist at the beginning of summer and we are all seeing history in the making. It appears that the PLL forced MLL to evolve into a more player-focused organization to the extent of increasing pay and expanding game day rosters.

Each camp issued chirps at the other during the whole launch of the PLL. Perhaps most telling was what newly appointed MLL Chief Revenue Officer Mark Burdett said in an interview the Capital Gazette“I believe that Major League Lacrosse is at a tipping point. I’d like to see the league survive and thrive. It became time to fight or flee and we have decided to go to war.”

One wonders if the war for survival means the outright targeting of the PLL or presenting the best version of lacrosse on the field and allowing the fans to reap the benefits. Games mean nothing if no one watches or buys tickets. As for the other side, what level of frustration drove Paul Rabil to form the PLL? Rabil, former MLL point leader (John Grant Jr. took that title on June 8) and several of the other players that left for the PLL were the foundation of their former league. Some critics accuse the players of entitled behavior, but ask the question why put some much effort into securing capital and starting a league just for a minor disagreement? People do not leave jobs on a whim or lark, even now in the age of the millennial. It took a lot for the players to leave for the PLL and it took a lot for MLL to change course. For now, we enjoy the benefit of excellent lacrosse from two leagues. My hope is that it not like the classic Motels’ lyric for a short time, but rather forever.