The WPLL Isn't Going Away Without a Fight


The WPLL Brave celebrate its 2019 championship at William G. Tierney Field at US Lacrosse Headquarters.

Michele DeJuliis, CEO and founder of the Women’s Professional Lacrosse League, wants to make something clear. Despite the recent restructuring and cancellation of the 2020 season due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the WPLL isn’t going away.

Not without a fight.

“I knew it wasn’t going to be an easy task,” said DeJuliis, recalling the early days of forming the WPLL. “I knew it wasn’t going to happen overnight. I knew it would be a longer play.”

Canceling the third season is less than ideal for a league hoping to grow its fanbase and gain notoriety, but DeJuliis said the health and safety of everybody involved with the WPLL (including the fans) comes first.

Ending the season before it started also came down to where the games were scheduled to be played. Long Island has been hit hard by the novel coronavirus, making the league’s first stop at Stony Brook University all but impossible. Other sites in Pennsylvania (Lehigh and West Chester) were also closed.

“In essence, we were just getting bad news after bad news,” she said.

Money has proven to be an obstacle for the league, and DeJuliis said some sponsors were unable to provide anticipated funding for the season to go as planned given the current climate.

Prior to the pandemic, however, DeJuliis said a spike in interest in the league by investors happened as a result of the league’s restructuring. In late February, the WPLL eliminated the Fire and became a four-team league.

“I can be as transparent as I need to be. It’s a struggle with women’s pro sports in general,” DeJuliis said. “We’re constantly fighting an uphill battle and trying to gain more sponsorships. Investment hadn’t been there up until we made some hard decisions to restructure. Deciding to drop that one team saved us a lot of money. You don’t want to have to do it, but we want to restructure and build a solid foundation and then from there, add the teams right back in a year or two.”

The WPLL’s Futures program has helped bring money into the organization, DeJuliis said, and it’s another means of sustaining a long-term interest by getting youth athletes involved with the pros.

With “some great new partners” ready to be announced — one of which will be a championship sponsor, DeJuliis said — she hopes the league can hit the ground running in 2021.

“In basketball, it’s taken 20 years for the WNBA to get where it is today,” DeJuliis said. “This whole increase they’ve had in this past year is amazing for the game, and I’m so happy for those women. I would love for the lacrosse community to view the women’s game like they do the men.

“You see it in women’s hockey also. And in women’s soccer. It’s always been a struggle to see men and women as equals.”

She hopes to eventually have a seven-week, two-month season when the league can afford to pay its players a livable wage. That’s why the regular season is currently just five games long.

“We have to be mindful of these working women, and some of them are moms, and some of them are entrepreneurs,” she said.

Although the recent months have brought about an unfortunate string of events, DeJuliis hopes this will position the WPLL for future growth. She sees “an amazing 2021 season with a great draft class” anchoring excitement for next season, and with more investment interest in the pipeline, growth could be on the horizon.

“We’re trying to do as much as we can with as little as we can,” she said, “and I think we’ve done a lot with a little.

“I just want to do it. I want to make it happen.”

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