Is Premier Lacrosse League the New Sport for Fluid Fans?
We’ve had our eye on Paul Rabil’s Premier Lacrosse League for a while now. It’s not only because Paul is a Sports Innovation Lab advisor, but because many of the decisions the league has announced in the build-up to their kick-off weekend address the needs of the Fluid Fan. This fluid fan is dynamic, empowered to choose from an overabundance of sports and entertainment content, and capturing attention is increasingly difficult. So how does the PLL address these challenges?
How does PLL build a fan base? They invested heavily in social media first. They focused on emphasizing players to help build the overall brand. They developed a barnstorming “traveling spectacle” model borrowed from the WWE to visit as many cities as possible in the inaugural year. They also worked with Adidas to develop team branding without connections to any geography.
How is PLL changing the broadcast? By borrowing from esports and other emerging sports like the Drone Racing League, the producers emphasized fan access. From player interviews mere seconds after a play, to mic’d up players using helmet microphones, the PLL used media to bring fans closer to the players and the action on the field. What’s more, all of the innovative content was funneled to both the OTT and OTA broadcast as well as to a continuous social media stream.
How is PLL leaning on the smart venue? The live experience is designed to be festival-like and about more than just the action on the field. Tickets were day-passes to all games that day, and there was plenty to take in from player clinics, to a Premier Zone for fans with a beer garden, merchandise, games, and other vendors.
How is the PLL developing immersive media? The broadcast with NBC did some experimenting with production techniques to provide new perspectives on the game. From aerial camera angles to non-interruptive replays and shot speed data, the broadcast was designed to give viewers new broadcast experiences.
How is the PLL developing transmedia? They are embracing a transmedia approach to sports (what’s transmedia?), providing many points of access for fans. In advance of the launch, the PLL produced a training camp documentary ALL IN, they were the first league to announce rosters with Bitmojis, and, throughout the weekend, the PLL pumped content across Twitter and Instagram on channels for the league, for teams, and for players, generating a reported 20M impressions.
What the PLL still needs to do:
- Embrace the Fluid Fan. Die-hard lacrosse fans will journey to Gillette stadium and lots of fans were carrying their sticks with them into the venue. These fans know the college game. These fans know what they’re watching. To reach the broader audience and develop the festival environment the PLL is going for, the PLL needs to find a way to amplify and explain the action to the live audience who doesn’t know the game as well.
- Heavy up on new forms of monetization. Sell gear, not eyeballs. While the PLL broadcasts one game OTA on NBC, most of the games were paywalled behind NBC Sports Gold package. While the subscription business decision may make sense for established sports to provide an a la carte option for fans, it can negatively impact discoverability and fan acquisition for emerging sports properties. It’s a difficult balance, figuring out how to monetize engaged impressions versus building a bigger fan base. We believe that as monetization models change in the New Age of Sports, it’ll be to the advantage of mid-tier and emerging sports to build a solid base, and focus on acquisition early.
- Venues matter. As new esports venues emerge, they are very aware of the size of their audiences—nobody wants to compete in a half-empty house. New technologies like green screen warehouses (like Intel’s volumetric studio) and VR technology are also opening up new possibilities for a digital gate—tickets to a virtual event. Big stadiums like Gillette will swallow emerging leagues like the PLL alive. This is a lesson the MLS has learned over the last few years as many of their teams have own built their own stadiums at the rights size for their audiences.
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