If you were to name the greatest of all-time in any of the major sports, it's more than likely a pretty easy task. Tom Brady is the name in football, Wayne Gretzky in hockey, Michael Jordan in basketball (touchy subject?).
The most recognizable name in lacrosse also takes that crown. He'll walk away from playing the game that made him famous.
Paul Rabil, the poster boy of Lacrosse, will retire from playing professionally. PIC: Icon Sportswire via AP Sports
Paul Rabil, 35 years old, announced in a Tuesday press conference at Audi Field in Washington, DC that he will retire from his professional playing career. He cited wanting to spend more time building the brand of the Premier Lacrosse League - a league co-founded by Rabil and his brother, Michael, in 2018.
Paul Rabil has been surrounded by lacrosse his entire life. Born and raised in Gaithersburg, Maryland, Rabil stood out...even in a geographical area bogged down by the best lacrosse talent in the nation. He was one of DeMatha Catholic High School's best athletes ever, bringing the program to three championships. Rabil went onto achieve greatness his entire four-year career at Johns Hopkins; he finished with 112 goals, 178 points, and two national championships.
Paul Rabil (left) and lacrosse great Kyle Harrison (right) celebrate their national championship in 2005. PIC: Kyle Harrison's Instagram page
Rabil went onto play 11 seasons in Major League Lacrosse - seven of them with the Boston Cannons, the others for the New York Lizards. In the MLL's offseasons, 5 years were spent in the NLL for the San Jose/Washington Stealth and the Philadelphia Wings. Between the two leagues (16 playing seasons), he racked up 381 goals in 211 total games. Absurd!
Rabil's aptitude for business ventures was known his whole career. He became Lacrosse's first "million dollar man" after massive deals with Red Bull, Warrior, and Polk Audio. He knew how to capitalize on lacrosse's "explosive growth," which made his current venture a no-brainer.
"As the game gets bigger, Paul's the guy who's going to continue to rise with it," said SAC Capital COO Sol Kumin, Rabil's longtime friend and teammate. He got that one right.
So naturally, along came the PLL in 2018; a venture which Rabil knew he had to undertake.
“We’re building a professional sports league that lacrosse deserves," he said in the PLL's inaugural press release in 2018. "This is a product that aligns a league and the players like never before, serving a passionate fan base that deserves access to the sport nationwide, at state-of-the-art venues, and on screens everywhere.”
Rabil and his brother managed to combine their passion for the sport along with their business-savvy skills to ink a three-year streaming deal with NBC Sports Group. Their unique touring model changed professional lacrosse forever; dwindling attendance and struggles to build team loyalty were plaguing other leagues. But due to the Rabil's new approach of hosting "weekends" all at one venue in one city, interest has arguably never been higher than it is now.
Rabil's challenges will be clear as the PLL continues to grow.
More reach to fans
As much as Rabil would like to believe otherwise, lacrosse is still not a "household" sport. In a nation that overwhelmingly finances baseball, hockey, football, and basketball, all other sports are considered "secondary." Lacrosse, unfortunately, doesn't make the cut. While the Creator's Game has certainly taken leaps and bounds from where it historically has been, Rabil knows there is work to do. Finding new channels to acquire fans - both virtually (engaging with content, buying merchandise, etc.) and in-venue (buying tickets) - is Rabil's mission. If there's anyone that can do it, it's Paul Rabil.
A new streaming deal
As the old saying goes, "If you want to be a professional, act like one." The PLL established instant credibility with its ability to ink a 3-year deal with NBC Sports Group to stream its games. Rabil has mentioned that renewing this deal will be a big priority; expect for him to play a major role in these negotiations.
The PLL does an exceptional job partnering with recognizable brands with large followings...including Champion, Vineyard Vines, and Athletic Brewing Company. Rabil will play an integral part of recruiting more brands with national reach to advertise with the PLL.
"I learned that it was never about the outcome," he said in his retirement press conference on Tuesday. "It was always about the game. The game is meant to be played, not won. There is no winning, and there is no end. So I'll continue to compete, win, lose, sprint, fall and get back up again."
"It'll just be a different uniform," he concluded with.
If the PLL succeeds with Paul Rabil, great. If it succeeds beyond him, even better. But for now, the GOAT has work to do.