What's next for PLL after 2024 Championship Series success?

There was an epic celebration for Boston Cannons players and fans following the team's 23-22 overtime win over the Philadelphia Waterdogs. Courtesy of the Premier Lacrosse League

Days after the Boston Cannons defeated the Philadelphia Waterdogs 23-22 in the Premier Lacrosse League's Championship Series final on an overtime goal by Matt Kavanagh, Paul Rabil was asked for his overall takeaway from the event.

"The flow of the game is incredible," Rabil, co-founder and president of the PLL told ESPN. "This format is higher speed, higher intensity and higher skilled."

After witnessing a barrage of shots, goals and viral highlights over the six-day event, fans would certainly agree with that assessment, and those on the field came away fired up as well.

"I talked to all my players this week, and every single one told me it was one of the coolest experiences of their life," Cannons coach/GM Brian Holman said. "For a group of professional players to say they felt like 12-year-old kids out there again playing the game, that's something special."

What comes next for the PLL after this successful showcase, with the sport's return to the Olympics just four years away?

THE CHAMPIONSHIP SERIES saw the four top teams from the 2023 regular season -- the California Redwoods, Utah Archers, Cannons and Waterdogs -- play a round robin, semis and final in the "sixes" format that will be used when lacrosse returns to the Olympics in 2028. This was the first time the event was staged in this format after the IOC's announcement in October 2023.

There a number of differences between sixes and traditional field lacrosse, but here are the big ones:

  • Instead of 10 players on the field per team, it's 6-on-6.

  • There are no long-stick players in sixes, and all the runners all essentially play as midfielders on a 70-by-36-meter field.

  • The shot clock is much shorter. At 30 seconds, it increases the speed of the game, compared to 52 seconds in traditional PLL games, 80 seconds in NCAA men's games, 90 seconds in NCAA women's games and no shot clock in international games.

  • Instead of returning to midfield for a faceoff after goals, there are quick restarts, with the goalie starting the play up again.

  • In traditional field lacrosse, there is a race for the sideline or end line when a shot goes out of bounds, with the closest player awarded possession. In sixes, possession is awarded to the defense after a shot goes out.

"This is a simpler version of the game," Rabil said. "It's easier to follow the flow of the game if you played -- and especially for people who didn't play."

But, it also led to some challenges for those constructing and coaching the teams.

"I had never coached it before, and was excited to see how all of the nuances would unfold," Holman said. "We thought we would see more two-point shots and we did. It was also important to emphasize putting balls on the cage; you miss it and it's a turnover, so I wanted guys who had accurate shots."

Holman was also quick to credit Brodie Merrill -- the namesake of the PLL's long-stick midfielder of the year award -- who joined his coaching staff for the event, and had experience with the format from coaching Canada in the 2022 World Games.

There was also a need for a wardrobe adjustment for his goalies.

"I pretty much demanded that they wear sweatshirts and sweatpants," the coach said with a laugh. "I knew they were gonna see a lot more rubber in these games than a typical game."

Overall, the Championship Series averaged 83.7 shots per game -- which included an astounding 93 in the Cannons' opener against the Redwoods.

None of the 85 shots in the final were more important than Matt Kavanagh's, which sealed the deal for Boston.

"He's done it a million times before," Cannons teammate Marcus Holman said after the game, per the league site. "He's the most clutch player probably in the history of lacrosse, straight up."

NOT ONLY DID this event feature the PLL's best-on-best tournament, fans were also treated to the Unleashed women's all-star game, where the best players in the world matched up in the sixes format as well.

The game ended with the North team defeating the South, 18-12, in front of a packed crowd. Charlotte North led the way for the victors, with six goals and two assists in earning MVP honors.

"These are the world's best, it doesn't get better than this, so to suit up alongside them was a dream come true," North said on the broadcast after the game.

Rabil noted the importance of including the top women's players, particularly when it comes to the Olympic return. And for fans, it's an easy switch to watch the women's game.

"The rules for men and women in this format are the same: the number of players, pace of play, shot clock, etc.," Rabil said. "We were thrilled to have this opportunity to showcase the world's greatest players."

The league brings a group of men and women players to Japan each March to do clinics and generally grow the game in that country, and he's been pleased with the results. Down the road, the idea is to have women's players at more PLL events, including the All-Star Game and future Championship Series.

SO WHAT COMES NEXT for the PLL, and this event? Asked for what he'd change if he was in charge for a day, Cannons coach Holman raised a line of discussion that might sound familiar to NFL fans.

"I'd change the OT rules," he said. "Make it more equitable, maybe make it a three-minute quarter or something. With this format, you don't really have any faceoff guys there, and the team that gets that first one in OT has a huge chance to win."

Or, at the very least, he'll be sure to get a certain message to his players, unlike some of his NFL counterparts.

"I definitely made sure they knew what the rules are," he said with a laugh.

The coach also thought maybe expanding the rosters to 12 field players and two goalies would make the grind of the series easier, but acknowledged that the physical and mental challenge of playing that many games in a row was a great experience and bonding opportunity for his team.

Fans who watched the series couldn't miss how different the tech and access were than other sports they watch on broadcast. All of that, of course, is by design.

"It's a collective effort for us with our broadcast partners to give fans the most immersive access and experience," Rabil said.

One of the new developments this year was the use of the jib camera, which functioned like a skycam to bring viewers close to the action. Zones were created on the field where the ref travels, which provided a safe path for the camera operators.

"We took a page out of the XFL version 1.0," Rabil noted.

The advancements in audio were also readily apparent, from goal mics that let fans hear a pop when a ball hits the net, to enhanced audio that allowed viewers to hear what coaches and players were saying throughout the game, leading to this viral moment when Tim Troutner had some trash talk for his former High Point teammate Asher Nolting:

Beyond continued innovation in how the game looks and sounds, the league has considered expanding the Championship Series field to include all eight teams, or potentially holding a play-in round. And there's also the international aspect to ponder, as Rabil noted they could hold a Little League World Series-style event, with top teams from other countries taking on the domestic clubs.

But before all of that, the PLL will hold its draft in early May, followed by the start of the 2024 regular season from May 31 to June 2 in Albany, NY.

"We are thrilled with how the Champ Series went," Rabil noted. "Revenues were up 50%, attendance was up 30% and social media viewership was up 140%. It sets us up for another great season."