Robert Kraft is best known for his ownership of the New England Patriots. However, you won’t get as much money as him if you put all your eggs in one basket. Kraft is a magnate in the Boston sports scene and owns part of several teams in various leagues in the area. His latest venture will raise some eyebrows, especially as many people may not know that there is a national league for this small sport. Still, Kraft isn’t the only billionaire willing to pour money into the Premier Lacrosse League.
Why are Robert Kraft and others interested in the Premier Lacrosse League?
Did you know that lacrosse is the oldest team sport in North America? Probably not. It originated as a tribal game played by Native Americans in the 14th century. That legacy has done little to popularize the game over the years, but after years of chaos and unease, a stable league has finally emerged.
As explained in Joseph Pompliano’s Huddle Up newsletter, it took a lot of trial and error to get there. In 1999, the first professional outdoor lacrosse league, Major League Lacrosse, was formed. Attendance grew regularly, but the players had no support from the league. The average salary was around $10,000, and the league did not offer health insurance. These are not living conditions for anyone.
Star player Paul Rabil and his brother Mike started the Premier Lacrosse League in direct opposition to the status quo. They had the backing of investors like Creative Artists Agency, The Raine Group, and Brooklyn Nets owner Joe Tsai to offer much better benefits to players. The average salary was $35,000, health care was a given, and players could even earn a stake in the league.
The PLL also made structural changes to the game to increase viewership. They shortened the pitch and shot clock, used yellow balls instead of white balls, and even added intra-game interviews with players after goals. On the presentation level, wide-angle cameras have been removed.
These decisions helped earn sponsorship deals from companies like Gatorade, Adidas, Champion, Ticketmaster, and DraftKings. The PLL recently signed an exclusive partnership with NBC’s Peacock, bringing its content to hundreds of millions of homes.
These changes worked so well that ratings and league earnings soared over the past year despite having to revise their schedule on the fly (replacing their traditional tour-based schedule with a 16-day tournament in July) and not having in-person attendance.
It’s easy to guess which league won. The PLL and MLL announced a merger agreement last December, expanding the league from seven teams to eight and bringing all the talent together in one place. PLL plans to double its sales this year and hopes to break even by 2024.
Robert Kraft is the latest investor in the PLL, providing an undisclosed amount after co-leading a funding round with Arctos Sports Partners and Joe Tsai. Kraft is well past the point where he needs to continue like this. He currently has a net worth of $6.2 billion, according to Celebrity Net Worth — but you don’t get all that money without an insatiable need for more.
He first built his fortune as CEO and Chairman of Kraft Group, a conglomerate with assets in paper and packaging, real estate and private equity. But the reason we all know him is because of his ownership of the New England Patriots. (Well, that and the arrest.)
He bought the team in 1994 for $172 million, setting the record for the highest price ever paid for a franchise. The Patriots are now worth about $5 billion, according to Forbes.
Kraft grew up in the Boston area and many of his most notable investments are in Massachusetts. He also owns MLS’s New England Revolution, Gillette Stadium (where both the Patriots and Revolution play), retail outlet Patriot Place and export team Boston Uprising.
Other owners and players have poured some money into lesser-known American sports leagues
Many other team owners and big-name players invest in smaller American leagues in order to make big profits for a relatively small cost.
Major League Soccer has risen in profile in recent years, as has the fame of people interested in becoming associates. Magic Johnson (Los Angeles Football Club), Kevin Durant (Philadelphia Union) and Steve Nash (Vancouver Whitecaps) have all bought minority stakes in recent years. (See the MLS official website for a larger list.)
James Harden has a small stake in the group which owns Houston Dynamo of the MLS and Houston Dash of the National Women’s Soccer League. Patrick Mahomes (Kansas City NWSL) and Naomi Osaka (North Carolina Courage) also bought into the NWSL, and Vikings owners Zygi and Mark Wolf own the Orlando Pride.
According to Esports Insider, the esports world is also a growing market with everyone from Odell Beckham to Steph Curry to Michael Jordan investing in teams.
Robert Kraft and Joe Tsai have already been replaced as the most famous owners of a lacrosse team. A new team will be formed in Las Vegas (they don’t have a name, team colors, or logo yet), and ownership will include a Wayne Gretzky, according to Review Journal.
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