Athletes Unlimited CEO Jon Patricof is 'Fired Up' for Women's Lacrosse

PHOTO BY ADY KERRY

Kayla Treanor is one of several U.S. women's national team stars signed on to play in the Athletes Unlimited women's lacrosse league.


Just about 10 weeks after the WPLL announced it would be shutting its doors, several of the top professional women’s lacrosse players have been given another opportunity to further grow the sport.

On Tuesday, Athletes Unlimited announced it would add women’s lacrosse as its third professional sports league, with the opening season scheduled to begin July 19, 2021.

Athletes Unlimited offers a different model for professional sports leagues than we’re accustomed to seeing. Lacrosse will be small-sided, featuring 9-on-9 gameplay with a 60-second shot clock on an 80-yard-by-50-yard playing field.

CEO Jon Patricof told US Lacrosse Magazine that the experience for athletes will be better than anything they’ve experienced in the past. On top of their base compensation that starts at $8,000 for the season, athletes will have the opportunity to earn bonuses based on their performance and where they end up on an individual season-long leaderboard, which updates on a play-by-play basis.

They’ll also earn a share of the league’s profits in their first year and then for 19 more years into the future.

But on top of the compensation, Patricof said he wants to give athletes access to premier resources that are unrivaled in other women’s sports. Patricof said Athletes Unlimited will offer professional development, mental health resources, social activism opportunities and more.

Patricof thinks this model can be here to stay.

“I’m someone who’s been in the sports and entertainment industry for my entire career,” Patricof said. “Starting a new sports company or property is difficult to do. I think we’ve created a sustainable model. We’ve been really thoughtful about the media model. Today, the key for a successful sports property is to reach a wide audience through all media platforms.”

Athletes Unlimited targeted a core group of players, highlighted by U.S. women’s national team stars Michelle Tumolo and Kayla Treanor, who are viewed as “leaders in the sport.” As a player-driven league, the athletes were hands-on in helping develop rules, recruiting players and more.

Patricof said more details will be made available regarding rules and scoring at a later date.

“We’ve had tremendous momentum within the last month or so,” Patricof said. “Within the last 10 days, we’ve completed contracts with more than eight players.”







When the WPLL folded on August 6, there were reports that Athletes Unlimited could provide another opportunity for women’s lacrosse. Michele DeJuliis, the CEO of the WPLL, will join Athletes Unlimited as the Senior Director of Lacrosse.

“We got introduced through Mike Rabil back in March of this year,” Patricof said. “DJ and I have spoken every few days since then. We’ve really worked hand in hand. She’s been so dedicated to the sport and has so much expertise. She was so hoping to find a home for the pro game. She’s just been an awesome partner in this.”

The formatting of Athletes Unlimited is unlike anything we’ve seen in women’s sports. Athletes will be housed in one market for a five-week period. During that time, all games will be accompanied by camps and clinics for youth at a site that is still to be determined.

This makes the league’s social media model easier to accomplish, as we saw this past summer with the “bubble” seasons held by both Major League Lacrosse and the Premier Lacrosse League. With all of the league’s assets in one place, content should be at an all-time high.

But because of this format, some well-known players who also coach collegiate lacrosse may find it difficult — if not impossible — to participate. That point in the summer is typically flush with recruiting events, so coaches will be on the road and unable to step away for five weeks at at a time.

“We’ve worked to find dates that work for them,” Patricof said. “A large number of players are somehow involved in the college lacrosse world, so we’ve tried to find dates that work within those schedules.”

Athletes Unlimited unveiled its inaugural softball season during the pandemic, and it was widely praised. An indoor volleyball season will come next before attention shifts to lacrosse.

Patricof said Athletes Unlimited is “fired up” to get started on lacrosse, and the small-sided format should offer fans a unique way to consume the sport.

“For us, we want to keep the game as fast and exciting as possible,” Patricof said. “I think there’s a lot of discussion around what the format might be for the Olympics, and this is a place that we felt comfortable after a lot of discussion.”

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