One of Colorado’s winningest pro sports franchises is bursting back through the saloon doors.
The Denver Outlaws are returning to Colorado in 2024, the Premier Lacrosse League announced Tuesday, reviving a franchise that won three Major League Lacrosse championships and appeared in 10 title games overall from 2006 until the team’s folding in 2020.
The PLL’s tour-based model will still be intact for next year, meaning the Outlaws will host a doubleheader in Colorado on one weekend of the 10-week regular season.
PLL president Paul Rabil said that with the league’s decision to assign teams to specific cities, “there was only one choice for a team in Colorado and it was bringing back the Denver Outlaws.”
“I think about Denver, and the great state of Colorado, as a premier hotbed for lacrosse,” Rabil said. “We saw Denver as a chance to capture the Rocky Mountain region for lacrosse in the way the Patriots capture Boston and the greater New England area in the NFL. That was the decision we were making. We knew this region on the map was really valuable and important to us.”
In the PLL’s first five seasons, the league, which supplanted and then eventually merged with MLL as the nation’s top professional outdoor lacrosse league, operated with a touring model where teams did not have geographic affiliations.
But that’s changing for next year. Where the Outlaws will play their homestand in 2024 is still being finalized in an announcement to come in January.
PLL played a tour stop at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park in its inaugural year, and also recently played at DU’s Peter Barton Stadium. Historically, the Outlaws played their games at Empower Field at Mile High.
“The venue could change from year-to-year,” Rabil said. “And one thing that’s on our roadmap is trying to figure out how to bring back the famous Denver Outlaws July 4 fireworks game at Mile High that used to draw 30,000 people. To me, that’s an exciting proposition.”
Rabil sees the league’s decision to affiliate teams with geographic areas as the second of three potential phases in the PLL’s expansion as it continues to look to capture the attention and viewership of casual fans. The PLL is entering the third year of a four-deal media rights agreement with ABC/ESPN.
“What Phase 3 could look like is that traditional home-and-away schedule, and the PLL owning venues in each of these markets,” Rabil said. “That’s on our vision board.”
The Outlaws will inherit the roster and coaching staff of the PLL’s Chrome Lacrosse Club, and the Outlaws will get the No. 1 pick in the college draft in what Rabil says “is an opportunity to rebuild what was a historic MLL franchise.”
That means Duke senior attackman Brennan O’Neill is likely headed to Denver.
O’Neill, who won the 2023 Tewaaraton Award as college lacrosse’s best player, is regarded as the top prospect in a draft class that is being lauded by pundits as the most talented in the past decade. O’Neill was the lone collegiate player on the U.S. Men’s National Team for the 2023 World Men’s Lacrosse Championship, where he scored five goals in the gold medal victory over Canada en route to earning tournament MVP honors.
“O’Neill is truly a unique talent, and he’s already the consensus No. 1 overall pick,” Rabil said.
As part of the roster transition, the new Outlaws will feature one of the PLL’s top attackmen in Logan Wisnauskas (the 2022 Tewaaraton Award winner at Maryland) and renowned faceoff man Connor Farrell, a.k.a Thor and The Milkman because Rabil said “he drinks a gallon of milk a day and is built like a middle linebacker in the NFL.”
Rabil believes those faces will make up for the fact that the PLL team headlined by former DU stars Eric Law and Trevor Baptiste, the Atlas, will be based in New York. Law was a linchpin of the Outlaws’ three title teams, with five all-star nods from 2013-18, the MVP of the 2016 championship game and the MLL offensive player of the year in 2017.
Denver fans will get a chance to see six of the seven other PLL teams during the Outlaws’ 2024 homestand. In addition to the New York Atlas, the other announced teams are the Boston Cannons (another MLL reboot), Philadelphia Waterdogs, Maryland Whipsnakes, Carolina Chaos, Utah Archers and California Redwoods.
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