Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Nothing to see here - not a spectator sport

Hey Folks,

It's time to stir up the pot a little. This is "The Cultimate Opinion", and it's time to edge on a few of my loyal readers (I'm guessing 5 people right now) into a little bit of discussion. My basic thesis is that:

Ultimate is not a good spectator sport and is only watched by those who play the sport or have friends who play the sport.

Let's now state some parameters.
- I am open minded about changing this thesis. The reason the sport might not be a spectator sport at present might be just a case of current rules.
- My favourite sport watching is English Football, Hockey, NFL playoffs, UFC, and Tennis.
- Ultimate is presently my favourite participation sport.

I've discussed the above thesis with a few people at tournaments, at the bar, and on rides home from tournaments. Too start off the discussion, some of my basic points are:

1. Ultimate doesn't have that spectacular point of the game (homerun, few goals, touchdown) where anticipation builds around. The game is more like basketball with too many points scored, which devalues the actual score and results in little excitement for the spectator.
2. There is too much waiting time during call discussions, line changes, and turnovers making the pace of the game slow.
3. The spectacular play in the game, "layouts", are remarkable, but not well appreciated by fans.
4. The disc doesn't flow fast enough. Ten stalls is too much time.

These points give me ideas for some changes to the game that might make it more interesting, but I'm still not convinced I would enjoy the game:
- Continuous ultimate where each time has 5 timeouts that can only be called at a score. 90 second timeout is taken where the defending team has to pull the disc.
- Calls can be contested, but there is no onfield discussion. A panel of judges reviews the call using cameras and can deduct a point for a bad call.
- The game is timed. Stop time makes for last second heroics.
- Stall counts to 5 or 7.

Factors that might be limiting the spectator success of the sport:
- Poor filming and lack of experience filming ultimate (Recent example is the revolution in Texas Hold'em)
- Poor commentators for the game (watch UFC and "The Next Ultimate Fighter" to get a feel for what commentators sometimes add to a sport)
- Lack of knowledge of the game (Cricket for the North American)
- Where's our poster girls and boys?

Well that's the starting point for my thesis. Depending on responses I have a few more takes on why Ultimate is not a good spectator sport.



Ofer Shai said...

Hey Pete,
nicely done :)
I agree - Ultimate is not a spectator friendly sport.
I am surprised you made no mention of "Major League Ultimate" which took place at potlatch (
I think they did some things right, but missed out on one crucial aspect. They kept much of the spirit of the rules - correct the mistake, don't punish - which led to people fouling, picking, etc. "strategically" (check out the first person account of the event further down the page). I think if we are going to introduce referees, which is probably necessary for a spectator sport, then we need to penalize for violations - free throws, power-plays, etc.

That's it for now.

HoneyHands said...

Maybe not enough people know what ultimate is yet... once outside of the incestuous bounds of the cultimate community, the majority of people I speak to haven't even heard of the sport.

Until you actually have a viewer base on TV by which to compare it to other sports in terms of mass-media popularity, it's hard to say what needs to be adjusted.

For instance, I rarely see people coming out to watch pick-up or rec league soccer, basketball or football. There needs to be a groundspring of knowledge about a sports' existence coupled with an attempt to market that sport through media to judge how popular it could be.

I mean, baseball has a strong viewing audience and it is worse than ultimate in every category you criticized ultimate for in your article.

tigger said...

i only like watching ultimate because i'm sitting drinking beer with my mates - believe me i've seen hundreds of hours of it on video and for the most part it's dull as dishwater

Tom said...

I think one of the issues in ultimate videos is that it is impossible to see the plays developing, mostly because the camera is zoomed in too far. Ultimate needs to be filmed like soccer, with a big overhead shot giving a good sense of what's going on on the field, but regrettably the ultimate community lacks the financial resources to get some sort of skycam.

I'm not sure the stoppages in play are a major problem. Football has lots of stoppages, and it's one of the most popular sports in North America. Stoppages actually become advantageous for television viewing, because they provide the opportunity to show replays and commercial breaks.

I think what makes ultimate challenging as a spectator sport is that the player with the disc is the most boring player on the field most of the time.

Televised ultimate would probably need to be filmed a lot like American football, zooming in on catches and stuff like that, but zooming way out during a stall count, showing replays, stats, and ads during all the stoppages, with some John Madden type scribbling all over the screen to show how the plays develop.

In terms of rule changes, I agree that some sort of penalties need to be instituted. Perhaps the soccer model is appropriate, with observers handing out yellow and red cards for deliberate infractions, egregiously bad calls, etc. I also feel that the observers need to be given more power.

Anonymous said...

Here's a question - is there value in a spectator sport that's fun to watch from the sidelines but not on tv? Right now everyone seems to be pumped about getting on TV, but the successful exhibitions (MLU, NACS, and others in Boston, San Fran, etc.) can bring in (low) hundreds of paying customers from the surrounding area.

Ultivillage is barely paying one guy's rent, and the UPA has to pay for CSTV to carry college games - how many spectators does ultimate need to consider it succesful? Given how few of us will actually play in these games, can't we all just enjoy it with each other?


Jeters said...

5 good comments...

I'll respond to some comments in a post.

Taylor said...

I'm with you for most of this. Particularly, I think onfield discussions are one of the worst parts the game. When a foul is called or contested, allowing discussion gives people a license to run their mouthes off, often ending in sideline shouting matches (see any ROY game). The stupidest thing is that it accomplishes nothing, because most people are too stubborn to take back a call. The idea of observers with yellow and red cards for delay of game and intentional fouls seems tempting to me.

Where I disagree is in timed games. Playing intramural ultimate is probably the only time I've played with a time limit. I think stop time is only exciting in soccer because teams usually only trail by 1 point. In ultimate, the scores are usually off by 2 to 3 in an interesting game. If they're any closer, universe point takes care of it, providing ample chances for last minute heroics.

Cheers Peter,


Taylor said...

Oh, and you're way off when you say the sport lacks poster boys. One particular article in last year's The Varsity comes to mind...