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Can The PLL’s All-Star Model Succeed When Others Are Failing?

There’s a bit of an issue in professional sports. Leagues like the NBA, NFL and MLB are seeing less interest in All-Star games. Can the PLL change that?

The numbers from this past weekend’s All-Star game were impressive, as it was the most-watched and highly rated NBCSN — note that we are excluding broadcasts on NBC — PLL telecast ever, making history for a league that has been making waves since its inception.

The results from last weekend come at a time when interest in All-Star events is steadily decreasing amongst mainstream sports fans. The NBA, NFL, and MLB have experienced declining attendance and viewership at All-Star games the past several years.

We are taking a look at the PLL and how the league’s business model compares to other leagues such as the NBA, NFL or MLB, where each team has a home city and the All-Star game is played in another venue, compared to the PLL who travels and plays at different venues each week.

PLL Lacrosse winners and losers

All-Star Games In Other Professional Leagues

Let’s start making some comparisons by looking at the most successful professional sports league in the United States.

Yep, the NFL.

Including this past Pro Bowl that took place in January, ratings and viewership for the All-Star game have declined for seven of the past eight years. In fact, it was the third-smallest audience for the Pro Bowl in the past 12 years, with a 5.1 rating and 8.23 million viewers across ESPN, ABS and Disney XD, according to Sports Media Watch.

That may seem like a large audience, especially when you compare it to a lacrosse broadcast. But first, consider this:

The 2019 NFL Pro Bowl had a 48% lower total audience than the average NFL game for the same season. The viewership audience for an average NFL game is about 15.8 million people per game.

While the NFL may be one of the most extreme cases in terms of disparity between audience draw of their All-Star game and a normal game, most other leagues are suffering from the same phenomenon.

The 2019 NBA All-Star game, which had normally been one of the more stable All-Star games out there, drew a league-tying low 3.8 ratings for the All-Star game,  which ranked as the second-smallest TV audience ever for the NBA All-Star game. The TV ratings go back to 1990. For the NBA All-Star game attendance statistics, click here.

Then, there’s Major League Baseball. The MLB is a league similar to the NFL and NBA in that its viewership statistics are similar to those other leagues.


Comparing the PLL

Traveling Model, Not Franchise-Based

How does the PLL All-Star event compare to those of other, more established professional sports leagues? First we need to take a look at this new league as a whole so the fundamental differences become clear.

The fact that the league is a traveling league is one of the main differences. Each week, six teams of roughly 30 or so players travel to a location not determined by a franchise’s location and play three games to a crowd interested in watching top-level lacrosse. The idea behind this is to travel to markets where attendance will be the largest due to interest from the area, while also balancing in exploring emerging markets.

That is in comparison to franchise-based markets, that heavily rely on local support for teams by assigning them to a geographical location such as the New York Knicks or Golden State Warriors. Or, for lacrosse, the Denver Outlaws. While they may not draw as much national attention as travel-based teams would — unless they are doing really well and are at the top of their game — they get a ton of local fans attending games and supporting the team due to a sense of location loyalty.

Given that the franchise-based professional leagues generate a much larger audience for normal games than an All-Star game would indicate that a traveling league model would not be successful. Ratings for the Super Bowl, after all, have fallen for the fourth straight year, while Super Bowl LIII was watched by the fewest amount of viewers in 11 years.

How does this relate to the All-Star game? Well, if the PLL is relying on travel-based model, that would mean that it would make sense for its All-Star game to be successful, as it is basically enhancing what the league structure already is.

Taking another look at the release sent out by the PLL, these were the statistics for the PLL All-Star Game:

  • Total Audience Delivery of 128,000 across NBCSN, and the NBC Sports app
  • It was the most-watched and highest rated NBCSN PLL telecast ever.
  • Additionally, Sunday’s telecast marked the fourth consecutive week of viewership growth on NBCSN PLL broadcasts.

It makes sense, if you think about it. When other league’s All-Star numbers are declining, a league that is based on an All-Star model would do better when it comes to an actual All-Star game. The difference is that we are comparing one game — the All-Star game — to viewership from three games over one weekend. Since that is the case, that means that the PLL All-Star game did VERY well considering the average audience it gets for a regular-season weekend. In fact, this would have been the highest attended game for the entire PLL season, with the second most-attended being the primetime matchup between the Whipsnakes and Atlas at Homewood Field.

So, with that being said, I think that this result was probably to be expected.

Now, can the PLL succeed with this All-Star model of play?

I don’t have the answer for that, but here’s what I do know.

The PLL has done mostly everything right to make this strategy work. The league’s social media following has exploded since its inception last fall. The league provides instant all-access for its fans and has a media team that is second-to-none in the lacrosse sphere. Ticket sales, for what we expected from them at the beginning of the season, have been fairly good for the league’s first year.

There may have been some things that have drawn ire — and on the flip side, praise — from fans that the league has done, such as the whole fighting debacle earlier in the season and the new faceoff rules during the All-Star game.

But, in my opinion, the league has been doing a really great job on doing what it can to make itself successful.

Given that the PLL did so well on its numbers for the All-Star game, it seems like emphasizing that concept would be beneficial for the league.

The only thing I would suggest to the PLL to help it grow would be to spread the games out across a lot of other locations. Instead of focusing three games in one location for a weekend — which makes sense for now given the probably expensive costs of setup — the league should work up to having each game in multiple locations across the country each weekend. That way, not only is it capitalizing on the benefits of the travel model, but it also capitalizes somewhat on the theory behind localizing teams across the country with set franchises. I don’t know how the league could capitalize anymore on the idea of having an All-Star game every weekend — I have a hard time envisioning a feasible way to do that — but the principle of the idea could be beneficial.

There have been rumors that the PLL would eventually move to a franchise model, but those are unconfirmed. I have seen a few rumblings on social media about this, as there are supposedly a few investors waiting in the wings to move to a franchise model should this traveling concept not work out.

Regardless, it seems like the PLL is in a good position should the traveling model not work out.

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Television Audiences

Second, while we are going to look at the PLL’s All-Star game audience and compare it to its regular season, it should be noted the NBC Sports measures their audiences in a different way than other networks. You can read about it in AdWeek here, but basically the Total Audience Delivery that the PLL is referring to in this press release means that they are not only taking into consideration linear (television) viewing, but also digital and out-of-home viewing. By comparison, a Nielsen TV rating — like the one’s we have referenced for the other professional sports leagues above — calculate their rating and audience in a separate way. It’s a bit long and complicated, but you can read about it more here.

So what does that mean? Well, it means that it makes it hard to compare the PLL’s numbers to other leagues. While the NFL, NBA and MLB may only receive around 8 million to 15 million viewers on television, it’s a lot harder to calculate a similar statistic by the average fan for them as those games can be redistributed through networks like fuboTV or Bleacher Report. Basically, those leagues are raking in far more viewers than the Nielsen ratings let on. At least, that is according to my understanding of it. Correct me if I am wrong!

Even for a league that has been making as big of waves as the PLL has, it still has a lot of catching up to do to make it with the more established leagues.

Athlete Engagement

The third thing is that the PLL does have going for it is its social following. While monetizing content on social media platforms can be tricky and potentially risky, LADBible seems to have increased their digital ad revenue bump by about 160%, according to Digiday. So, it’s definitely possible given the right strategy, which the PLL thinks they have.

Will PLL All-Star Weekend Succeed Long-Term?

At any rate, it seems that the PLL All-Star game has been incredibly successful. Give the viewership and attendance stats from All-Star weekend are very encouraging. The PLL may end up being one of the only leagues to still host an All-Star game in the years to come, as their business model certainly caters to supporting one as we have discussed.

And, since the All-Star game did so well, that’s a pretty good sign that the league is doing well, too.

What are your thoughts on the PLL? Share in the comments or tag us on social media with the handle @LaxAllStars.