Features

Jessica Evans – Premier Lacrosse League 

Scoring legal victories for emerging sports league 

Major League Baseball’s first season was played in 1903, while the National Hockey League (1917) and National Football League (1920) are over 100 years old. The National Basketball Association is the youngest of the big four sports leagues in America, and it started play in 1947. So, the opportunity to work for an emerging sports league doesn’t come around very often. 

That was part of the reason Jessica Evans jumped at the chance to lead the in-house legal department for the Premier Lacrosse League a few years ago. And she hasn’t looked back. 

Jessica Evans | General Counsel | Premier Lacrosse League 

Jessica Evans | General Counsel | Premier Lacrosse League

“Growing up in California, I didn’t know a lot about lacrosse until I got to college, but I attended every game my first year with the PLL and have been a consumer of our product ever since,” Evans tells Vanguard during an interview in early February.  

As general counsel for the league entering its sixth season, Evans is charged with ensuring sustainability by managing and thinking strategically about risk across the business. Examples include negotiating revenue transactions, media rights, leasing venues, and overseeing the league’s intellectual property. 

The PLL has made strides over the past few seasons, garnering new fans and media recognition, but in terms of mainstream familiarity, the league is still a start-up.  

“The NFL had decades of empty stands before they became the most popular sport in the U.S. It takes a long time to build a sustainable organization, and we have the pieces to succeed.” 

Reaching league goals 

In the legal department, Evans is a team of one supported outside counsel and legal interns. She says she plans on hiring her first full-time attorney later this year, as the need for additional help handling legal matters has grown with the league’s growth.  

Since its inception, the PLL has operated a tour model, meaning games were played in major cities across the country over a 14-week season. This season, the league will continue with a tour model but is shifting strategies by establishing home markets—teams are based in Boston, New York, California, Maryland, Philadelphia, Denver, Carolina and Utah. Teams will play doubleheaders in their home markets. 

Jessica Evans | General Counsel | Premier Lacrosse League 

“These are markets we’ve visited, and we have been growing fan bases for the past five years,” Evans says. “We feel confident in these markets and are excited about this major milestone in our growth. This is our biggest investment in the league since launching in 2018.” 

The PLL is a single-entity league that owns all eight teams, meaning players, coaches, and staff are the league’s employees. Player contracts cover the term of the season, and benefits include health insurance and equity in the League.  

Playing in local markets opens up potential growth opportunities that didn’t exist in the past. Evans says the league is excited about the prospect of putting down roots, growing local sponsorships, and even adding season ticket holders.   

“We have local supporter groups, and we’re working hard to make connections within local markets. It’s the best path to tap into the 100 million casual sports fans,” Evans says.  

Starting it up 

The PLL was founded by lacrosse superstar Paul Rabil and his brother Mike Rabil, a serial entrepreneur and investor. Select games are broadcast on The Walt Disney Company’s family of networks, including ABC, ESPN and ESPN 2—all games stream live on ESPN+. That contract expires after the 2025 season, and Evans is already pondering strategies to best position the league for its next TV rights deal.  

At the core of the PLL’s ethos lies a commitment to empowering its players and fostering inclusivity. With unique player contracts that offer equity in the league and a focus on the player experience, the PLL is trailblazing the future of professional sports. Furthermore, Evans is proud of the league’s advocacy for gender diversity and inclusion, including championing initiatives to promote women’s sports and creating a more inclusive environment for women in front offices.  

Evans has been instrumental in the league’s evolution since joining the organization in 2021. One of her key contributions has been working with the league’s lacrosse product team to revamp the league’s policies and processes, including on-field regulations and handbooks for players and coaches.  

“It is crucial to understand the sport and the business because the advice I provide must be sound, practical and relevant,” she explains.  

As the league’s general counsel, Evans’s role extends beyond legal compliance. From navigating the complexities of media rights and sponsorships to spearheading IP strategies, her expertise has been instrumental in guiding the PLL through uncharted legal territory. Her proactive approach to risk management and her emphasis on being a strategic advisor has streamlined operations and positioned the PLL for continued success in the ever-evolving sports business landscape. 

Last year’s opening PLL game was the most-watched professional lacrosse game in history, and the league continues to grow each year –Evans says the team’s passion pushes her to work harder and do better. 

“You wouldn’t build a business like this without this type of team in place,” Evans says.  

Being a legal player 

As a college student, Evans says she considered getting into politics but realized she wasn’t enamored with the field while interning in Washington, D.C.  

She earned political science and French degrees from the University of California, Santa Barbara, and a J.D. from the University of California, College of the Law in San Francisco. She interned with a public defender during her first year—but that wasn’t the right path for her. With student debt, she thought corporate law was the answer and prioritized getting a job at a big law firm. Evans spent almost three years as an associate for Squire Patton Boggs. 

“I found law firm work intellectually stimulating. I must be learning or growing, or I start to feel stagnant,” she says. “But I wasn’t inspired by becoming a partner in a law firm, so I changed my path.” 

Evans pivoted and jumped into FinTech, where she initially crossed paths with Mike Rabil. Evans worked with him for several months on sales and partnerships and learned how the business operated before moving to the company’s in-house legal team and focusing on capital markets transactions. Evans and Rabil eventually left that company and largely lost contact until he reached out about needing a general counsel for his new sports league.  

“We talked several times over a few months, and ultimately, I decided it was an adventure I wanted to undertake,” Evans remembers.  

Despite not knowing much about lacrosse and sports law, Evans hit the ground running and says she’s been successful because of her business acumen and legal expertise. The law is the law is the law, but the sports business does have unique legal applications, particularly when it comes to media rights, sponsorships and intellectual property—its most valuable commodity.  

“There is never a dull day, it has been quite an adventure,” Evans recounts.  

The league continues to chart growth across audiences. Most recently, its 2024 Championship Series final saw a 24 percent increase in average viewership on ESPN2 and a 42 percent viewership increase on ESPN+ compared to 2023—on the heels of the most watched season in PLL history last year.  

“This has been such a rewarding experience, and I can’t wait for what’s next.”  

View this feature in the Vanguard Spring I 2024 Edition here.

Published on: March 14, 2024

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