September 15, 2014 by Charlie Eisenhood in Livewire with 28 comments
Adrian Wojnarowski, perhaps the country’s most heralded NBA reporter, has a column out this morning putting the FIBA Basketball World Cup (which, in case you didn’t know, the US dominated all tournament long to win gold this weekend) on blast. I won’t talk here about his main point that it is a recruiting tool for Duke basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski. Instead, I want to hone in on this quote from an unnamed NBA GM: “[Outside of the U.S. team], there’s more talent and more interest from basketball fans in the NBA summer league than this event.”
You could say the exact same thing about ultimate’s major international events. Regular season US tournaments garner more interest than international events. There is more interest in a fall college tournament than in the World Club Championships. The problem? There’s not a whole lot to get excited about.
The most compelling games of this summer’s WUCC were between US teams, save for the game between Boston’s Ironside and Japan’s Buzz Bullets (which is probably the only significant international team that comes to mind for most casual fans).
Not a single team from outside the United States made it into a final of the three main divisions, and no teams from outside North America made it in any division. It’s a snoozer. When one of the men’s semifinals is decided 17-4 (Seattle Sockeye over Sydney Colony), there’s a problem.
And this is not just conjecture. Our website traffic was muted during WUCC — we had a significant uptick in international readership, but that paled in comparison to the lack of interest from North America.
In his article, Wojnarowski calls for the US basketball team to feature younger players — college-aged budding stars that offer just as exciting a storyline while also leveling the playing field at the international level. While that same approach is unlikely to work in ultimate, it is time for a rethink.
Of course, these international events are much more for the players than for fans. But that balance is likely to shift more towards spectatorship. WFDF knows the importance of building a fan experience around the international events — ultimate’s not making the Olympics without that proof of concept.
It’s wonderful for USA Ultimate to be able to put out a press release describing how utterly dominant the American teams have been over the past two years at international events, but it sure is boring.