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Premier Lacrosse Fighting: A Look At This Dilemma

Is fighting good for lacrosse? A divide has quickly developed within the lacrosse community on social media because of a WWE-style body slam and punch that occurred during Premier Lacrosse League action in Chicago over the weekend.

Fighting hard become a noticeable trend in the league’s first two weeks of play, but I question whether anyone subscribed to the NBC Sports Gold “lacrosse pass” to see wrestling moves on display during week three.

The scene involved Blaze Riorden, goalie for Choas, and Nick Ossello of the Redwoods. Riorden body-slammed Nick Ossello from behind in a move that reminded LAS staff of the “suplex” in wrestling, popularized in WWE. He had witnessed Ossello go after his teammate Troy Reh who had laid a heavy uncalled slash on the ball carrier. Ossello rolled out of the bodyslam quickly and punched Riorden directly in the face.

Here’s a firsthand look at the fight from the PLL itself:

More video and comments from both pro players following the weekend:

Nick Ossello

View this post on Instagram


Well Saturday was a hell of a day at the office! That’s funny because I play sports sometimes and don’t play sports in an office, little comedy 101 right there for the kids at home. But to address the fight, here are a couple things. 1) It’s a right cross not a right hook. My right hook is even weaker 2) I got suplexed to mars, blaze must be hitting the weights because even thought I have a petite frame I weigh too much to be tossed like that 3) glad to be making waves (lol pun) in the lacrosse community again not because I’m a good player, but because I’m a jackass 4) If you think this little scrap was bad for the sport, ruined the PLL, shouldn’t be posted, or shouldn’t have happened in the first place you are a dork and give me your lunch money before I stuff you in a locker 5) Nobody messes with my mans Sergio and gets away with it ? (except everyone that did) 6) I’m stuck in Chicago for a day or two hit me up if you’re in town 7) Now that I’m safely on the internet, I can talk about how tough I am with no repercussions #InternetToughGuy Shoutout everyone who texted me about how soft I am and shoutout jack Near for not helping and Travis Allen for being scared of me

A post shared by Nick Ossello (@nossello) on Jun 17, 2019 at 1:09pm PDT

Blaze Riorden

It took what seemed like an eternity to field lacrosse fans like myself for the referees to sort out this commotion, and then finally, finally, finally we got back to watching ball.

As a diehard lacrosse fan, I can understand the turmoil that might occur with such actions during a normal field lacrosse game – especially at this elite level of competition. What I can’t understand, however, is the outcomes and results of this instance, in particular.

The PLL played this fight up big-time across its social media accounts, for example:

We polled @LaxAllStars followers on Sunday to find out what our loyal following thinks about fighting in the Premier Lacrosse League. We received 469 votes on our Twitter poll and 141 votes on our Facebook page, plus another 743 comments on our Instagram post.

Twitter Poll Results
Facebook Poll: Premier Lacrosse Fighting
Facebook Poll Results

Most commenters on Instagram chimed in about whether or not they think fighting is a good thing for the “future of the sport,” but others, especially those with Native American ties, spoke about whether or not it honors the game.

All of this commotion made me want to take a look at the pros and cons of this whole fighting dilemma in Premier Lacrosse. More specifically, I want to dissect how this may affect PLL’s audience growth and business.

Pros & Cons of Fighting in Premier Lacrosse

I’m typically the optimist in any group, so let’s take a look at the pros first.

Pros of Fighting

1) Mainstream Appeal

Having those kind of in-game scuffles gives the league a certain WWE-like appeal, and it wants more fans, right? The WWE has become wildly popular, particularly among sports fans that also share an affinity for lacrosse. Now the echoes of ‘The Rock’ laying down “The People’s Elbow” are starting to be heard on one of lacrosse’s biggest stages. Will this appeal to the lacrosse audience worldwide? As you can see from our poll results above, it just might!

Aside: Ah yes… “The People’s Elbow!” A classic. It was just as great watching it on TV as it was using it to terrorize my younger brothers.

2) Entertainment Value

This one is obvious, only further backing up why more mainstream appeal may come from fights. People seem drawn to fighting in our sport for the same reasons they are in others. Witnessing a fight provides a thrill, gets adrenaline pumping, and amplifies the intensity and drama of the game experience. There’s nothing that gets sports fans more riled up and passionate about supporting their team or hating their enemy. Good life lessons? You be the judge. But it sure is enjoyable, right? That enjoyment fans experience boosts page views and drives engagement online, and keeps the attention of fans for a longer period of time. Nothing increases corporate sponsorship revenue more than entertainment value and audience size.

3) Viewership Potential

Creating content that appeals to the WWE demographic is a great way to stir up clicks and controversy on social media. That can generate a lot of viewership, which means that it could potentially drum-up ticket sales. It’s the principle of all attention is good attention. Out of the four major professional team sports leagues in North America (NFL, NBA, MLB and NHL), only one of those leagues has a reputation for fights. Hockey, a sport that has a reputation of being rough, has the most lenient discipline policies compared to the other major sports for misbehavior. Some may argue that baseball has a reputation for bench clearing brawls, but those happen far less frequently and are usually harshly dealt with. The difference with hockey is that they tend to allow a lot more rough play than the other leagues.

4) Reputation

So, does the NHL benefit as a result? According to Statista, a website that describes itself as “the leading provider of market and consumer data”, the NHL has grown from $2.27 billion dollars in league revenue from the 2005-2006 season to $4.86 billion for the 2017-2018 season. It’s no question that the fights in the game have contributed to its success.

5) Ticket Sales

I know plenty of people who have paid more than the price of PLL ticket to attend boxing matches and the like. Don’t you? These antics may have the ability to drive a lot of new lacrosse fans toward the gate.

Cons of Fighting

Now, for the cons.

1) Player Injuries

Many of these guys have been playing against each other since college, if not earlier, and they know one another’s tendencies. If fighting is already allowed, how long until one guy takes it too far and seriously injures his opponent? I’d hate to see Connor Buczek of Atlas LC out for the remainder of the season, but that’s what almost happened when Joel White took him out from behind after one play last weekend. Luckily Joel knows his own strength and is a class act, plus it may or may not have been all for show. 

These players know each other well – too well, maybe. Does that make anything possible in a player run league?

2) Consumer Distrust

Premier Lacrosse Fighting WWE
One of many comments we found claiming fights are somehow staged

We’ve observed many comments from fans claiming the fighting displayed on the field is staged. Kind of like WWE matches.

The reason why people all know that the WWE is completely staged and still love it is because it’s so eccentric. I highly doubt that’s the image the PLL is going for, but I digress… Could a strategy like this work after all? Maybe. I’m just not holding my breath. There’s currently a decline in attendance at WWE events.

3) Lax Bro 2.0

Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.

Some people that are typified as ‘bros’ are associated with negative connotations for a reason. It sucks to say or admit, but it’s true. I don’t think all fighting in sports is necessarily bad, and I know plenty of folks who enjoy it out-right. WWE fans certainly do.

But here’s an example that proves this con valid: The wife of my colleague at LAS would never watch WWE, but she would watch pro box lacrosse, AKA the NLL, and hockey. She just doesn’t want to watch Premier Lacrosse “shenanigans” because she said they feel rehearsed rather than (and don’t take theses as my words, these are hers…) “two players making an adult decision to go to battle.” She said the Premier Lacrosse players look like angry lax bros in action.

Similarly, check out these remarks from Towson men’s lax head coach Shawn Nadelen, a well-respected member of the Baltimore lacrosse community, where the PLL is headed next:

4) Notoriety

The image kind of rubs off on everyone, right? This could be good or bad for the PLL. When I meet a local wrestler, I don’t think of the WWE. It’s yet to be determined whether a lacrosse player who enters the super market will be noted as a fighter moving forward, but it’s possible, and that may or may not be good for business.

We just don’t know yet. What I do know is one LAS adviser asked if “that bald guy would be fighting again next week” after he caught his first game last weekend. Then he complained about the time it took the refs to figure out the situation. To be honest, the conversation about pro field lacrosse went all downhill from there. He follows Paul Rabil and is aware of Paul’s WWE fandom, so you can imagine what came next. It’s not his fault he grew up a baseball player and prefers MLB bouts, right?

5) Social Impact

Football, like other youth sports, is already at a decline in participation in the United States due to the fact that parents are worried about their kids sustaining injuries. You can read about it here in Forbes. There are other factors, too, such as more parents and their kids withdrawing from youth sports because of negative experiences had in athletics as a youth.

According to the Huffington Post:

A coach with the wrong priorities or disrespecting peers can quickly kill a kid’s motivation or demolish their self-worth, so much so that a kid may never play a sport again.

How does this tie into the PLL and promoting the fighting in the league? Glad you asked.

Kids have a tendency to mirror what they see their heroes do. No surprise there. C’mon. Case in point: Every person reading this who was born in the 1980’s or 90’s has tried to dunk from the free throw line at least one time in their life.

If a kid sees his favorite lacrosse player out brawling every weekend, then he’s bound to start developing a more aggressive attitude… right?

This kind of mentality amongst kids and youth coaches who also support that in professional sports could be bad for the masses. Fact is fighting, and any sight of bullying in general, can really discourage potential participants from joining any activity. It all comes down to culture fit.

Considering that right now the majority of the Premier Lacrosse League’s audience is made up of kids under the age of 18, losing sight of the fan base this early could spell disaster. Or will it just increase ticket sales and Adidas gear purchases?

In Conclusion…

Kyle Hartzell, Premier Lacrosse, WWE
Via PLL player Kyle Hartzell on Instagram

So there you have it. Both sides of the dilemma as I see it.

The Premier Lacrosse League has attempted to play-up and glorify the fighting aspect. Is there a place and time for fighting? Probably. But should we glorify it?

The majority of voters on our Twitter and Instagram polls said ‘Give me more!’ Regardless of personal feelings on this matter, it will be an interesting case study for anyone starting a professional sports league in the future.

Will the inclusion of fighting lead the way to the league’s overall success? I guess we’ve seen it work in hockey.

I don’t know if any league discipline will be coming down — I haven’t heard of anything yet — so we’ll see if this will pay-off long-term for the PLL players involved.

Now, let’s go watch some lacrosse, eh?!