March 7, 2014 by Charlie Eisenhood in Livewire with 36 comments
Well, you gotta give it up to MLU’s Jeff Snader and Nic Darling. Whether you agree or disagree, you’ve probably been talking about what they said in their podcast, which was perhaps exactly their intention.
Now, we have a rebuttal to our fact checking article from yesterday and, well, it’s pretty brutal.
The biggest problem I have with a lot of the claims coming out of the MLU camp is that a lot of it is insinuation and innuendo, wrapped in plausible deniability. “Look at Tom Crawford’s salary — 7% of USAU’s gross revenue!” (That’s a totally normal number for sports governing bodies). “But he’s not overpaid, just the wrong guy for the job.”
If you don’t think he’s overpaid, why are you presenting the data in such a way to suggest that he is? This seems to be a big part of the MLU’s approach to critiquing USA Ultimate — condemnation by insinuation.
Now, Samantha Wittchen has written an article that basically does the same thing: asks for more transparency in the budget, but uses uninformed insinuations to suggest misdoings at USAU headquarters.
[quote]USAU claims to spend $430,780 on communications and publications in its annual report. However, its 2012 tax return shows that it only spent $146,160 on newsletter, printing and postage. So that leaves another $284,620 of mysterious communications/publications. You have to be sending a lot of e-mail campaigns (or be getting fleeced by your e-mail marketing firm) to make that number.
I suspect that a good portion of the $285K is the amount that USAU pays to ESPN to have its games covered. USAU has been cagey about this number, and possibly rightly so–I’m not so sure how I feel about USAU spending more than 10% of its gross revenue for 2012 ($2,338,227) on ESPN3 coverage, and I daresay other members wouldn’t like it so much, either. But this is really just conjecture, and therein lies the problem. We know that USAU pays for ESPN coverage, but they won’t say how much, so it’s up to us to guess or take them at their word that it’s a reasonable amount. And I don’t know about you, but I’m not willing to just take their word on it. ”Trust but verify” goes the adage, right? It may or may not actually be a reasonable amount, but why not tell us, and then we can have a conversation about the pros and cons of spending the money on it instead of something else?[/quote]
So, first of all, ESPN3 coverage was not a thing in 2012. That coverage did not begin until 2013. So let’s just throw out the majority of that second paragraph. This is what I mean. “Look at this number I know nothing about: it must be suspect use of funds. Transparency!”
Much of the rest of the post is spent carving up numbers into various categories and suggesting that USA Ultimate is not spending money properly. Too much money on the Championship Series for Youth, College, and Club. Not enough on “member services,” however you choose to define that.
But for so many players, the organization of the Championship Series and everything that goes along with that — rostering, insurance, etc. — is one of the most important member services there is.
As for member growth, how do you define that what they’re doing is not enough? In 2002, there were fewer than 1000 youth members. In 2012, there were nearly 10,000. And that’s just registered members! How many more kids have picked up the sport because of the efforts to get into PE classes in elementary schools?
While I can agree with Wittchen that, of course, more transparency would be good, the budgeting of USA Ultimate is perfectly reasonable and in line with what we see from other sports governing bodies. And calling their numbers “obfuscated,” as Wittchen does, makes little sense. They publish their publicly available tax return like every other non-profit in this country, and they release an annual report. They may not announce their expenditure on ESPN3 (we’d sure like to know, too!), but don’t pretend like what they’re doing isn’t normal. In fact, you can call them up and ask them about their line items; I bet they’ll give you some details as they did for me when I wrote this article back in 2012.
When players surveyed say they want to increase the exposure of ultimate, that’s what USA Ultimate is going to try to do. That’s what ESPN3 and ESPNU coverage is all about. Don’t like it? Say so on a survey. Vote in your board election (last year, 2% of eligible voters voted).
You want my take? USA Ultimate should keep doing what they’re doing, but also focus on working with people and organizations who are also helping to expand the sport: MLU, AUDL, Brodie Smith, etc. There seems to be resistance to working with these people for what seem to me to be minor differences in style. Unfortunately, this conversation is going to make partnerships even harder.