Major League Lacrosse has announced it will stage its 2020 season as a week-long quarantined tournament in Annapolis, Maryland, in the wake of the global Covid-19 pandemic.
The competition, which will be held without spectators, will be staged from July 18-26. The event will be broadcast on ESPN networks and direct-to-consumer platform ESPN+.
Games will be played at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium, the home of 2019 MLL champions, the Chesapeake Bayhawks. Each team will play five games before a four-team playoff. In total, there will be 18 games over eight days. The event will be preceded by a two-day training camp.
The six-team MLL traditionally plays games in the markets of home teams.
“Lacrosse fans missed their spring seasons and are now eager and excited to see a return of the game this summer,” said MLL commissioner Alexander Brown in a statement. “While celebrating what will be our 20th anniversary season, MLL has great respect for the responsibility that comes with returning to the field. We have been working closely with our local, state, and national health officials to make decisions based on the latest medical and public health advice available. We look forward to returning to Annapolis and again providing the very best our sport has to offer.”
Maryland Governor Larry Hogan added: “The Bayhawks have been the pinnacle of lacrosse in Maryland, the nation’s epicenter of lacrosse, for 20 years. As we gradually reopen the state for business and entertainment, it is great to see national organizations like Major League Lacrosse invest in Maryland.”
According to the Baltimore Sun, all 150 players, along with coaches and support staff, will stay at the nearby Westin Hotel and will be bused to and from the venue. They will dress and undress in the hotel to avoid using the stadium’s locker rooms.
MLL is also working with lacrosse equipment provider Cascade, a league partner, to create helmets with visors which will help avoid the spread of the coronavirus on the field.
Notably, the MLL tournament will be staged ahead of – and will partly clash with – a similar event being held by the rival Premier Lacrosse League. The start-up league is staging the PLL Championship Series from July 25-August 6 at Zions Bank Stadium in Herriman, Utah.
The PLL’s quarantined tournament is being broadcast across NBC networks, helping to fill the the US network’s programming void from the rescheduled 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
“We feel good that we’re going to beat the PLL to the punch,” MLL chief revenue officer Mark Burdett told the Baltimore Sun.
MLL undertook a major restructuring earlier this year as the outdoor professional league looks to fight off the challenge of the PLL. Both summer leagues are directly competing with each other for players, fans, commercial partners, and media attention.
The Boston-based MLL began its fightback ahead of the 2019 season by shutting down three teams – the Ohio Machine, Florida Launch, and Charlotte Hounds – re-aquiring the league’s media rights, undergoing a brand refresh including a new logo, and expanding its salary cap, schedule, and game-day active rosters.
This process continued earlier this year, with the league switching from a franchise model to a single-entity structure, closing the Atlanta Blaze and Dallas Rattlers and forming two new teams, the Connecticut Hammerheads and the resurrected Philadelphia Barrage, to give the MLL more of a Northeast regional feel, and one more squarely centered on where the foremost US lacrosse avidity exists geographically.