Office Hours: Michael and Paul Rabil On Founding The PLL and More

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Welcome to the first episode of Office Hours: a podcast where Front Office Sports CEO Adam White has a discussion with figures from throughout the sports industry centered around three basic questions. Those questions are “What’s on your mind today?”, “What are you excited about?”, and “Any big ideas or theories you want to share?”

Mike and Paul Rabil are the co-founders as well as the CEO and CSO, respectively, of the Premier Lacrosse League. The brothers join White to discuss what it’s like to found a professional sports league and to live the life of a sports entrepreneur.

Edited highlights appear below:

On the life of an entrepreneur (5:06)

Mike Rabil: “I think entrepreneurship is glamorized a lot of times, but it’s really difficult. And then building a professional sports league as a company, there’s no real blueprint or roadmap for that…not that great entrepreneurs need that. I’m certainly not one of those, but there was nothing for us to really follow. So we were building lots of late nights together in the office before we even had an office, working out of a Brooklyn apartment.

Paul Rabil: “He would take the couch because I have a bad back. Today…when we’re jumping around hotel to hotel, he offers me the bed.”

On the launch of the PLL (11:35)

Paul Rabil: “Let’s keep in mind [the PLL] is different than other startups that can push back their go-to-market because they’re just not ready. They tweak this tweak that, we can’t do that. When you watch a pro sports league, you’re selling tickets to a game or a series of games that take place on June one. And so there’s all of this stuff that we just kept getting our backs closer and closer to the wall. And so that was, I think, advantageous in hindsight because you just have to get shit done, but also very feeling life-threatening.”

On the youth side of the business (17:10)

Paul Rabil: “The last [revenue] category for us is our youth business and it’s called PLL Academy. And we were lockstep in launching the league with a youth strategy, not only getting sticks in hands but instructing and leveraging the players who we have. Many of them are entrepreneurial and they get into our markets that we’re playing in and also new markets that we’re exploring and they’re the ones instructing these kids. So getting more sticks in hands is important, but getting our players right in front of our fans and developing as a byproduct of our league monikers and team identities and all that kind of stuff is really advantageous. Youth sports is a huge business and a really important business. As we see obesity trends in America continue to rise and just wanting to get kids outside more, we just want them outside playing lacrosse.”

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On the league’s path to profitability (46:29)

Mike Rabil: “One of our core values is to think critically. So we’re constantly thinking critically about our budget. But it’s always the balance of top-line growth versus profitability. And one of the great things about our model and being tour based is it’s capital efficient. And so we feel in the next few years we could turn on the profitability spigot pretty quickly….So that’s just one of those conversations that we have to figure out with our board…The good thing again about us is that we have longterm capital and they see the longterm vision.”

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