ESPN Went All-In on Lacrosse in 2022


Josh Byrne shoots on Dillon Ward in the PLL Championship Game.

The “Worldwide Leader in Sports” is now very much the worldwide leader in lacrosse.

ESPN, the marquee network with major broadcast agreements across the largest, most popular sports in the world, became the de facto home for lacrosse in 2022.

The National Lacrosse League was the first league to be housed on the platform, signing a historic multi-year agreement that started in December 2021. The Premier Lacrosse League followed suit, leaving NBC — the league’s first broadcast home — for increased exposure on ESPN’s family of networks.

Then came the World Lacrosse Women’s Championship in Towson, Md., another historic agreement in its own right.

Finally, Athletes Unlimited’s second lacrosse season was featured on ESPN. The entire professional and post-collegiate slate of content added to an already strong collection of agreements with college conferences, making ESPN a must-have for lacrosse fans.

“It really goes back to the launch of ESPNU when we saw college lacrosse as an under-utilized sport on ESPN platforms,” ESPN senior director of programming and acquisitions Dan Margulis said. “With the college networks, particularly the ACC Network, that’s allowed us to do even more and allowed us to get into the women’s game. That’s been a big focus of ours the past several years, the women’s game.”

It was certainly a whirlwind of opportunistic acquisitions. Margulis admitted that ESPN never really had a pro strategy in the past. There were agreements with Major League Lacrosse and an off-and-on relationship with the NLL, but now ESPN is squarely focused on building its lacrosse viewership and product.

Margulis said lacrosse is something ESPN has identified as having “growth potential” as an emerging sport.

“As lacrosse has organized itself, with the PLL in particular, it’s allowed us to take what we have with a new platform in ESPN+,” Margulis said. “We can create this vertical where it’s a one-stop shop for lacrosse fans. The digital assets have really helped us with that. Lacrosse fans are a pretty sophisticated digital audience. It doesn’t freak them out.”

That digital sophistication adds to the sport’s commercial viability, Margulis thinks. It’s all about the technology and providing the best viewing experience possible. Producers are always asking themselves how they can push the boundaries when it comes to cameras, microphones and in-game interviews.

“Let’s experiment. Let’s try new things,” Margulis said. “That’s what we’re doing.”

Margulis likened the growth potential of lacrosse to the recent rise in Formula 1 popularity. In large part due to the booming success of Netflix’s “Formula 1: Drive to Survive,” F1 has taken off in the United States. It can be difficult to market athletes who wear helmets or headgear, but F1 has capitalized on the ability to tell stories about its drivers outside of the driver’s seat.

Margulis was thrilled with the success of “Fate of a Sport,” the documentary that provided a raw, behind-the-scenes look at the formation of the PLL, and thinks lacrosse needs more storytelling just like that.

“When you start to get people interested in the people off the field, that’s when you have something,” Margulis said. “How do you express those personalities and do more storytelling?”

The biggest difficulty, Margulis said, is that each form of lacrosse is different. Box is different than field, which is different than the women’s game, which is different from Sixes — a discipline Margulis said could “maybe” be next for ESPN.

“It’s about, ‘What makes sense next?’ Margulis said. “Maybe Sixes is next. How do we keep partnering with the sport to help with that growth? Clearly, this is one of the sports we’ve identified as having growth potential and connecting with various other areas of our business. They are loyal fans that embrace everything new.”


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