What would the process of creating a new sports league from scratch look like? In recent years, a number of sports have tried each other, including the failed attempt to create a European Super League earlier this year and the rise of a new professional lacrosse league, the PLL, in 2019. by Louisa Thomas on the new yorker explores the formation of Athletes Unlimited – a league focused on women’s softball and volleyball, and which may well offer an entirely new model for running a professional sports league.
Thomas writes that “what sets Athletes Unlimited apart from major American sports leagues is that players are meant to be in the driver’s seat”. The players in question include a number of athletes who have represented their country at the Olympic Games; League founders Jon Patricof and Jonathan Soros also have significant experience in their field, with Patricof having spent several years as president of Major League Soccer’s New York City Football Club.
For Athletes Unlimited, Patricof and Soros focused on an athlete-centric approach, allowing fans to track the performance of individual players. The games also shared a single location – and although the league’s inaugural season was in 2020, this effectively allowed them to have a pre-existing bubble in which to play.
The organization also had high-profile supporters, including Bill Murray, who threw the first pitch of the 2020 season.
The resulting league was based on investing in players and in players having a voice in how things unfolded. Thomas notes that “player committees would inform decisions on everything from food to fines.” And it seems to have worked well in its first year; tickets are now on sale for this year’s softball and lacrosse leagues.
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