PHOTO BY JOHN STROHSACKER

Kayla Treanor played one of the best games in the WPLL's history, scoring seven goals in the 2019 championship game.

WPLL Shutters as Pro Women's Lax is 'Constantly Fighting for a Presence'


In a 24-minute phone call Wednesday morning, Michele DeJuliis used the words “empower” and “inspire” at least four times each. From the beginning, those were two pillars with which she used to build the Women’s Professional Lacrosse League.

But last week, DeJuliis told Inside Lacrosse that the WPLL would be shutting down for good in the wake of economic hardship faced in large part due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Sponsorship dollars had already been hard to come by, but the uncertain future brought about by the novel coronavirus made businesses hesitant to spend.

“All I really wanted to do was provide an opportunity for women to play professional lacrosse,” said DeJuliis, the league’s founder and CEO and former U.S. women’s national team captain. “I didn’t think it’d be as difficult as it was to gain the financial support that we’d need.”


“All I really wanted to do was provide an opportunity for women to play professional lacrosse.” — Michele DeJuliis


On April 14, the WPLL canceled its third season due to COVID-19. This was announced about six weeks after the league restructured, eliminating the WPLL Fire, to reduce overhead. The hope was that the league would come back stronger.

In an April 22 interview with US Lacrosse Magazine, DeJuliis expressed hope that the WPLL could recover. She hinted at “some great new partners” coming into the fold, and on May 8, the league announced Nike as its “champion” sponsor. But the ongoing impact of the pandemic proved too dire to continue.

“We continued to try to be positive,” DeJuliis said. “We knew that we had some really great partners that wanted to come on board. With COVID, there’s no opportunity for us to bring in sponsor dollars, which is how we thrive. Our Futures program went from live to virtual, and that’s another big financial producer for us.

“We didn’t feel it was smart for us to continue.”

DeJuliis said the plan is for the WPLL Futures program to carry on, just in a new form. WPLL Futures is a nationwide lacrosse development program for high school girls that “focuses as much on lacrosse as it does on character.”








There’s potentially good news on the horizon. DeJuliis said she is “in deep discussions” with Athletes Unlimited, which gives homes to “underrepresented sports like women’s softball and volleyball” that “did not have a sustainable way to play in the U.S. with less airtime, sponsorship and compensation.”

Women’s lacrosse would presumably be a perfect fit for such a model, but it remains to be seen how a league could take shape.

“It was hard,” DeJuliis said of her decision to shut down the league, which played its first games in June 2018. “I’ve been digesting it for several months, knowing that there’s no money coming in.”

DeJuliis formed the WPLL after leaving the United Women’s Lacrosse League. She served as commissioner during the UWLX’s inaugural season in 2016.

The UWLX played three seasons, the last of which in 2018. That’s now two women’s pro leagues that have folded for a variety of reasons. Kristen “Cookie” Carr, a member of the U.S. women’s national team who suited up for the UWLX’s Baltimore Ride and then the WPLL Pride, praised the efforts of DeJuliis and the WPLL’s front office.

“The fact that a bunch of lacrosse players can say they played in a professional women’s lacrosse league, that is such a dream come true,” Carr said. “The mission of the WPLL was ‘For players, by players.’ With [DeJuliis] and the front office, they put a lot of heart and sweat and blood into creating the WPLL and making it a platform for us to continue to pursue lacrosse.

“With the mission of the WPLL, they wanted to make sure that we were given the best experience as professional athletes. With the climate of what we’re all going through, I don’t think she felt like the WPLL could uphold that standard of excellence in the way she intended.”

Carr said she’s hopeful Athletes Unlimited can provide another “inspiring” platform.




PHOTO BY JOHN STROHSACKER

WPLL founder and CEO Michele DeJuliis: “Our women are constantly fighting for a presence.”


The loss of another league also reinvigorates the conversation about the viability of women’s professional sports. DeJuliis has long admired the growth of women’s soccer and the WNBA, which is now reaching new heights. The WNBA was founded in 1996 and is just now seeing a growth in popularity, however.

“It starts with promoting one another, promoting women within sports and continuing to give women that platform to showcase their skills and strength and confidence and character,” Carr said. “Social media has elevated that aspect for us in being able to showcase what we’re doing in the offseason and training, and then obviously the performance on the field.”

Similarly to the Premier Lacrosse League, the WPLL used social media as an outlet both to promote its product to younger generations and enhance the visibility of its athletes and their respective brands.

The PLL is “really impressive,” DeJuliis said, with how it’s been able to secure “tremendous financial support.” She hopes one day that women’s lacrosse can receive the same funding, exposure and interest.

“Our women are constantly fighting for a presence,” she said.

Still, the WPLL — even in its short life — did succeed in empowering young athletes. DeJuliis recalled the 2019 semifinals at Yale that featured sellout crowds.

“The brightest spots were the connections to the next generation, having our women interact with the fans,” DeJuliis said. “It gave them hope that they, too, can be a pro player. That was so satisfying for me, to give them the platform to play the game they love at a high level.”