While celebrations with friends and family are common on Long Island, they’re rarely featured on national television.
But that’s what happened last weekend as Hofstra University’s Shuart Stadium hosted the burgeoning Premier Lacrosse League and its eight teams with rosters filled with dozens of Long Islanders.
The four games on Friday evening and Saturday afternoon drew thousands of lacrosse fans, many of whom were there to cheer their sons, brothers, friends and former school mates who are now professional athletes and coaches in the PLL.
Founded by lacrosse stars and brothers Paul and Mike Rabil four years ago, the Premier Lacrosse League got a big boost this season from major corporate sponsors like Ticketmaster and Progressive Insurance and a television contract with ESPN, which has propelled the league and the sport to new heights. The league’s story was featured in a LeBron James-company-produced documentary titled “Fate Of A Sport,” which debuted at the Tribeca Film Festival last week.
The PLL’s rise, celebrated by Long Island’s rabid lacrosse fans, has also helped business, as those who market the sport’s equipment and merchandise have seen a bump in sales.
Joe DeSimone, principal of retailer Lacrosse Unlimited, said the growing popularity of the pro league helps to showcase new products and create buzz in the marketplace. DeSimone started the business in 1990 when he was just 22 years old. Since opening his first Lacrosse Unlimited store in Hauppauge, the company has grown to 46 locations in 14 states and a 40,000-square-foot headquarters in Edgewood.
“The fact that kids are playing more enthusiastically because there’s an aspiration to become a pro, they’re buying PLL merchandise,” said DeSimone, noting that the PLL sells its jerseys for $90 a pop. “The interesting thing about the PLL is that they promote the athletes, not so much the teams. They create a lot of role models instead of loyalty to one team. It makes the kids buy more gear.”
For a couple of years in the early 2000s, DeSimone owned the Long Island Lizards, a pro team that played in Major League Lacrosse, a league that was absorbed into the PLL three years ago.
Besides the boost in merchandise sales, DeSimone also has a rooting interest in the PLL, as his son Connor is in his rookie season with the league. Connor DeSimone, who played lacrosse for Smithtown East High School and for Johns Hopkins University, is now an attackman for the PLL’s Archers Lacrosse Club. His game Saturday at Hofstra was nationally televised on ABC.
“I grew up playing here and it was a great homecoming, getting to play in front of friends and family who have grown up watching me play lacrosse and have been by my side encouraging me and been so supportive,” said DeSimone, who starts a new career in commercial real estate with CBRE in Melville next month. “It was great to have all that support and encouragement pay off and have me come back to Long Island at the sport’s highest level, so it was really special and something I’ll never forget.”
DeSimone also serves as director of the Tenacious Turtles, a Long Island youth lacrosse program founded by his family where kids from the third grade through high school hone their skills.
Last weekend was the second time the PLL came to Hofstra, as the league also played games there on Fourth of July weekend in 2021. But the holiday and a steady rain hurt attendance.
“This year we had beautiful weather and all the games were aired on ESPN or ESPN Plus and my game in particular was on ABC,” said Jake Froccaro, a four-year PLL veteran and a midfielder for the Cannons Lacrosse Club. “There were so many fans, which was nice to see. It’s nice to play in front of a home crowd and be in front of people who know you and appreciate your play. Being able to play in front of my family was special and I know it was special for a lot of the guys from Long Island.”
Players in the PLL are paid per game and if they appear in all of the season’s games, they can earn around $30,000. So, like most of the players in the PLL, Froccaro, who played lacrosse at Paul D. Schreiber High School in Port Washington and on college teams at Princeton University and Villanova University, has a day job. He works in the family franchise business, Burger Brothers Restaurant Group, where he helps run its 33 Burger King locations and eight Qdoba Mexican Eats restaurants, and the PLL games added customers.
“We have some stores in close proximity to where we played this weekend and it was nice to see so many of the professional players at our restaurants and a ton of fans were in our restaurants as well,” Froccaro said.
For lacrosse veterans like John Walker, the success of the PLL is much appreciated. Walker played lacrosse for Half Hollow Hills West High School and West Point, where he was a three-time All American, before coaching at the University of Virginia and Princeton. The former Long Islander also served as an assistant coach for the Chrome Lacrosse Club in the PLL’s inaugural season.
“The roots are so deep on Long Island,” said Walker, son of former New York Jets receiver Wesley Walker. “We’ve been the hotbed of lacrosse for generations now and the PLL is giving the sport a platform it truly deserves. I think they’ve packaged it in such a way that it’s digestible for demographics and people from across the country who have never seen it quite showcased that way.”
The PLL season lasts from June to September, when its caravan stops in 13 venues across the country, including Baltimore, Boston, Dallas, Denver, Minneapolis and Seattle. In the winter, many PLL players also compete in the National Lacrosse League, a 14-team pro circuit for the indoor game, also known as box lacrosse, which is played inside the confines of a hockey rink. The New York Riptide is Long Island’s entry in NLL, playing its home games at Nassau Coliseum.
But the outdoor game most mirrors the sport’s Native American origins and the PLL aims to capitalize on its popularity with kids and families.
“They’re doing a good job from a social media perspective, and they have younger kids, not like baseball which appeals to an older demographic,” Walker says. “High-level athletes from other sports are taking an interest in it because their kids are playing it. There are huge pockets of athletes out there that are picking up a lacrosse stick and it’s great for our game and it’s only going to advance it further and further. The PLL has the platform to do it and they are doing it.”