April 25, 2014 by Charlie Eisenhood in Opinion with 23 comments
Another late Mailbag — too many Regionals this weekend! So much to prep for and write about this week.
Let’s get right into your questions so I can get right back to work on the North Central Div. 1 Men’s Preview.
Q: I was blown away watching the Montreal Royal home opener this weekend. What an incredible atmosphere! I think that was the perfect example of how great the pro leagues can potentially be for the sport. With that said, however, many of the other games around both leagues were poorly attended. As of now, Montreal and Toronto seem to be head and shoulders above the other franchises in terms of their professionalism and building a fan base.
What are they doing that sets them apart from all the other teams? Is there anything you think other franchises can and should be doing to improve their attendance numbers? Finally, do you think that the relative success of those two franchises (albeit one game in Montreal’s case), could possibly suggest that the AUDL’s more autonomous business model is the better way to go?
– Pat M.
A: Consider this: MLU’s top aggregate attendance last year came unquestionably in Vancouver. AUDL’s: clearly Toronto. Now the Montreal Royal step up to the plate and hit a 2,333 person home run, marking the largest attendance of maybe any ultimate event ever? (Note: MLU reported that they had 2,441 at their Championship Game last year, but on-site estimates suggest and internal league sources say that was an exaggeration; the real number was almost certainly below 2,000.)
So let’s get to the burning question: why is ultimate so much more popular in Canada?! I want to say it’s because their hockey teams stink — for the first time since 1973, only one Canadian team (the Montreal Canadiens) made it to the NHL playoffs. The country hasn’t hoisted the Stanley Cup since 1993.
So perhaps there is a clamoring for sports excellence? Toronto still hasn’t lost a game in the AUDL. Vancouver is looking tough in both leagues this year. Maybe Canadians really need something to get excited about.
But perhaps it’s this: there is good money backing the teams and they are being run like pro organizations. I get press releases from the Toronto Rush once every couple of weeks. That is not true of almost any other team in either league.
Really, though, I don’t know what the difference is. All of the Canadian pro teams have great stadiums, which may be one of the biggest drivers of their success thus far. Montreal played their game at McGill’s beautiful stadium last weekend which was a sight to see.
Here’s what I think other franchises can learn: it takes money to make money. You need staff, you need boots on the ground, you need a marketing person, you need someone selling sponsorships. Crowds don’t just materialize. Ultimately, you need to offer a fun experience — all the most successful teams (attendance-wise) have fun game experiences — including things like food, beer, contests, entertainment, music, convenient stadiums, etc. It is not easy. Pro sports is a devastatingly difficult industry to crack in to. You have to be prepared to spend a lot of money before you’re gonna see any of it back.
A note to the AUDL and MLU: I will gladly continue to write positive things about the Canadian pro teams if I get sent Tim Horton’s coupons.
Q: With Summer coming, my mind keeps turning to one of my all-time favorite ultimate events, the NexGen tour. I think it’s a shame that there will be no 2014 edition, but I understand the reasons why it was cancelled. Do you see any hope for future NexGen, or All-Star tours like it in the future?
– Aaron B.
A: Has there ever been a better player marketing tool in ultimate than the NexGen tour? Elite college players went from being big in their region to being national superstars thanks to a brilliant idea from Kevin Minderhout, the founder of NexGen.
I think the ship has sailed, though. The rise of the semi-pro leagues, as well as an increased focus from USA Ultimate on showcasing the sport at the highest level, has probably saturated the market for something like the NexGen tour. Why go see a showcase game when you can go see your local pro team play any time during the spring and early summer? There are also vast logistical challenges associated with the NexGen tour, which include driving around the country on a bus full of sweaty athletes for weeks on end.
BUT. There is hope. It is time for an All-Star game of some kind. McDonalds All-American game for the high schoolers, some sort of all-star game for the top college students. Both genders could be represented, and you could tie it in to some existing tournament so that people would have a reason to be there already. I think USA Ultimate should think strongly about it.
Right now, USAU is getting killed by the pro leagues at making stars. If you follow the three leagues closely, you’ll find that you know a lot more about the stats and stories behind players like Jeff Graham, Chris Mazur, Jonathan Helton, Cameron Brock, and Beau Kittredge through their play in the pro leagues. Sports are star-driven — why do you think ESPN relentlessly discusses Lebron, Kevin Durant, and the latest signing for the New York Yankees?
Let’s get more stars: All-Star games help — a lot.
Q: So recently I just found out that HBO has a new series called Silicon Valley, which hilariously parodies all facets of life and social culture of the South Bay area. How long before they catch on to the fact that Ultimate Frisbee has a professional team and make it their next victim? And do you think that Beau, if offered a nice sum of money to play the role of a frisbee-player for one of the episodes, would (1) happily accept the offer or (2) disgustingly reject the idea out of protest to the stereotypes promoted?
– Dan J.
A: Oh, this is definitely on its way. Biddle already went in on ultimate on Valleywag and how easy a target is professional ultimate?
Now to the Beau question. I think it’s tough. It’s a question of whether Beau’s goofiness would outweigh his desire to increase the legitimacy of elite ultimate. If I was a consultant for Beau and the San Jose Spiders, I would surely tell them to get involved. All press is good press.
Also, the episode would probably be hilarious. Better to be in on the joke than sulking on the outside.
Q: Thoughts on having the AUDL serve as a minor league type farm system that feeds into the MLU or vice versa?
– Elan K.
A: I think we’re getting a litttttle ahead of ourselves if we think a farm system is in any way economically feasible for pro ultimate. As I mentioned last week in the Mailbag, there is room for either 0 or 1 professional leagues. Who is convinced that pro ultimate is definitely going to last? Attendance growth is flat, at best, on aggregate this year. I think there are glimmers of hope, but also a lot of teams doing very poorly.
I think you’re gonna have a really difficult time getting people to come out to a AAA frisbee game when they could go to the pro game for basically the same price and see better players. It’s nice in theory, but there’s a 0% chance that it’s sustainable.
Q: How has no one used “Flawless” as the song for a Callahan video?
– Patrick S.
A: There is so much discussion about how to make a Callahan video — did you have enough highlights? Too many pictures? What about testimonials?
I say that the music selection may be one of the real keys to success in your Callahan candidacy.
Some of these videos just have awful music. It detracts from the experience. Think about one of the best videos of all time: Nick Lance. It is vastly improved by Carmina Burana. The build up, the urgency — perfect way to raise the intensity of the already unbelievable highlights.
I thought Lisa Pitcaithley made a great song choice with ‘Boys Wanna Be Her’ — meaningful lyrics, good energy.
But then you look at a video like Justin Allen’s. The highlights are undeniably great — they really showcase his non-traditional style and athleticism. And the music starts off great! The first movement of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata. Great contrast to the plays on the field. And then…Fall Out Boy. A jarring transition that makes me want to mute the soundtrack. Could have been so much better!
Think long and hard about your music choice, college kids — you should, like great DJs, try to tell a story and evoke emotion with your song selection.
Patrick S., you’re our winner this week. You get a free Ultiworld jersey. Contact me.
As always, hit me with questions on email (email@example.com) or Twitter (@ceisenhood).