The face of lacrosse is obscured by a tugged-down-low winter hat with the logo for Red Bull, one of the corporate sponsors that have made Paul Rabil the sport’s first million-dollar man.
Also included in the 6-foot-3, 220-pound Rabil’s endorsement portfolio are New Balance Inc.’s Warrior brand, which features a Rabil line; Polk Audio; Nooka watches; EFX performance bracelets; and Snap Fitness Inc. All will combine to pay the 27-year-old “a couple of million dollars” in the next several years, the first time a lacrosse player has topped seven figures, according to Ira Rainess, his Baltimore-based agent.
Helped by friends and classmates now on Wall Street, the Johns Hopkins University graduate is building his brand amid a surge of interest in his sport.
“Paul’s a force,” says Dick Long, 66, Rabil’s former coach at DeMatha Catholic High School in Hyattsville, Maryland.
Speaking over lunch in Philadelphia, where he plays for the Wings of the indoor National Lacrosse League, Rabil said a predecessor such as Gary Gait might have been a marketing behemoth had he played during a time of Facebook pages, Twitter feeds and 24-hour sports networks.
“The biggest thing has been social media,” said Rabil, who has 34,000 Twitter followers and more than 63,000 likes on his Facebook page. The cumulative total should be 500,000, he said.
Rabil and the companies that pay him are encouraged by how many lacrosse fans there are, where they are, how much money they have and how easy it is to interact with them.
“It’s certainly a different world,” said Gait, 45, a lacrosse Hall of Fame player who is now coach of the women’s team at his alma mater, Syracuse University. “Paul is doing things that people have never done before.”
According to a Sports & Fitness Industry Association survey, there were about 1.5 million lacrosse players in the U.S. last year, up 37 percent from 2008, the largest jump in team sports. In that same time, baseball participation fell almost 13 percent and tackle football dropped about 18 percent.