Meet Paul Rabil, lacrosse’s first $1 million man
Bill Belichick can see the next safety of the Patriots: another versatile — and undervalued — piece who could contribute to the five-time Super Bowl champions.
He is a proven winner. He is passionate. He is 6-foot-3, 220 pounds, and sculpted from stone.
“He’s got the size, the speed, the toughness, that every year I look in the draft, and I don’t see anybody that has the physical attributes that he would have to be a safety,” Belichick said of the athlete in a recent interview. “I’ve told him this many times, we’re always looking for a strong safety.”
Paul Rabil’s been too busy being the best lacrosse player in the world.
“That time has passed, I think,” Rabil, a midfielder for the New York Lizards of Major League Lacrosse, said in response to the football coach/lacrosse enthusiast’s comments to Lacrosse Magazine, having known Belichick for more than a decade. “In another life, I would’ve made that jump.”
In this life, Rabil, 31, is the face of lacrosse.
The Maryland native has resided at the top of the sport since winning two national championships at Johns Hopkins. He was taken with the first overall pick in the 2008 Major League Lacrosse Draft, was the league’s MVP by his second season and earned championship game MVP honors in 2015.
In this life, though, being the world’s biggest lacrosse star isn’t enough to provide for the future. Even the present can be challenging for most players.
“Our wages are a fraction of what you see in the NBA, NFL, MLB and mainstream team sports, and for guys that want to be full-time professional lacrosse players … the fact is you have to develop alternative revenue streams to support that lifestyle,” Rabil said via phone from Team USA tryouts. “It’s a sensitive topic for a lot of guys. … There are guys that have traditional jobs across different industries, and then take off on Thursday and Friday for practices, and play Saturday night games. It’s very similar to the NFL and the NBA in the ’60’s and ’70s.
“I’m an entrepreneur by necessity.”
Since MLL salaries range from roughly $10,000-$25,000 — the average salary of the indoor National Lacrosse League is around $15,000 — many players hold jobs connected to the sport, running clinics, or working corporate jobs for lacrosse brands.
Rabil, who spent his first nine months after college working at a real estate investment firm, and was unsure that playing professionally full-time was a viable option, didn’t want to make the same climb. He chiseled a tunnel through the mountain, and became labeled the “million dollar man,” for becoming the first lacrosse player to surpass seven figures in career earnings, primarily off the field.
Rabil has numerous endorsement deals, with companies such as New Balance, Red Bull and GoPro. His list of investments is even longer, including tech startups such as Whistle Sports and Muzik, which produces smart headphones.
Every Monday, the Lizards star releases a sports business podcast called “Suiting Up,”which already has featured Belichick, Venus Williams and Jeremy Lin as guests. On Wednesday or Friday, he posts a video for the Paul Rabil Experience, which provides instructional lessons, workout techniques and nutritional advice, and is available on Amazon, through their partnership.
“He’s making the most of what he can do in that kind of sport, and it’s pretty amazing what he’s accomplished,” said Bob Dorfman, creative director at Baker Street Advertising. “It’s extremely difficult. You’ve got a limited fan base, not any kind of a TV audience, it’s not extremely national, [but] he’s got a lot of things going for him. Number 1, he’s one of the best players in the country. He’s good-looking. He’s very articulate and very smart.
“He’s kind of following in the footsteps of Michael Jordan and LeBron James, the big guys in the big sports who have kind of gone from just being shills for another company to being the guy who is an equity owner, building their own brands around businesses, and becoming strategists in those businesses, as opposed to someone who is just taking $1 million to hawk a Coke can.”
Rabil has seen numerous avenues open after being traded from the Boston Cannons to New York in 2015, though he credits much of his success to social media, which has allowed him to connect with the under-served audience of one of the nation’s fastest growing sports. He has more than 72,000 followers on Twitter and 82,000 on Facebook, and has his own YouTube channel.
“I didn’t know that I was building a brand, but I knew that I was communicating with a lacrosse audience that was hungry for content because the traditional media groups weren’t covering it,” Rabil said. “I was creating this connection that I knew was important because I was getting immediate feedback. I was learning on the go, like everyone else, and challenged myself creatively and conceptually, and surrounded myself with good content creators.”
Rabil hopes to grow his brand, and the sport, simultaneously.
This year, he will visit 13 cities for Paul Rabil Live! — an instructional clinic — and before each home game at Hofstra, Rabil hosts Chalk Talk, where he meets with fans, signs autographs, and answers questions.
“People see his commercials, his YouTube channel, and when they come to games, they already have a connection with him,” said Joe Spallina, the Lizards head coach/general manager. “When we’re on the road and we pull up, we’re like The Beatles. They all want to see him and meet him. His fan base is off the charts. People come early, they stay late.
“All eyes are on him all the time and he understands there’s no such thing as having a bad game when you have people coming to see you for the first time, and have a reputation to uphold.”
That reputation has stretched farther from the field than he ever imagined, but Rabil’s priorities haven’t changed — only his management of time.
“Training and team take priority, and has been my entire life,” Rabil said. “Beyond that, I have four employees, and terrific business partners, so I’ve learned a skill set of delegating and trusting your group, and placing them into positions to succeed.
“To grow, you have to do things differently.”