Thursday, August 10, 2006

You won't see that on Television

To continue our discussion on the spectator value of Ultimate, I thought I would address some of the points made in the comments on the previous post. The main two points include comparing ultimate to existing popular sports, and questioning if there is any benefit to making ultimate a TV based sport.

First off, lets look at the similarities and differences between ultimate and other television sports.
- American Football - #2 in the U.S. My feeling is that NFL viewership benefits from only having one game a week, close games with last second come backs and quick momentum shifts, hitting, a beer and BBQ culture, and the scoring value is high. Ultimate doesn't really have many of these qualities. The culture is currently different (could change), and it is possible to have very few games in a season to keep each game important.

- Hockey - #1 in Canada. Hockey is watched for the hitting, violence, high value of goals, speed,and beer culture. Ultimate lacks in all of these categories, but it would be funny to add a penalty box.

- Rest of the World Football - #1 in most of the world. The average North American has a tough time appreciating the beautiful game. Football is all about anticipation, creative plays (footwork, passes), and the extremely high value of a goal. Ultimate has none of these.

- Baseball - Many people attack baseball due to the potential size of some of the athletes and the general slowness of the game. What people don't realize is that baseball is a managers sport in which one game might be interesting, but the sport needs to be watched over an entire season with a keen eye for stats and manager decisions. Ultimate has very few similarities, and arguably, none of you would want to compare the two.

- Ultimate Fighting Championship - One of the up-and-comers in the North American TV market. This sports success is due to good use of reality TV, primal instincts, high number of KOs, visible sculpted bodies, tension, and good Pay Per View and cable TV matched marketing. Other than the word "Ultimate" there's little to compare with this sport.

We could also look at figure skating (higher than basketball and hockey in the U.S.), Nascar (#1 in the U.S.), Cricket and Golf, but we probably should argue that both footballs and ultimate are really in the same category. Ultimate will have a tough time fighting with those markets.

So, let's forget about trying to break into big market sports, and think niche (maybe just spectators). Ultimate has a playability niche since it offers 20+ an option for a co-ed sport that is a lot of fun. The touring scene gets some television coverage, mostly at the college level, and tournaments can usually fill the sidelines with people from the tournament.

As a thought experiment, can we increase this viewership beyond the small tournament crowds at say UPA finals or UPA College finals?

Many people make the suggestion that adding referees (or observers to rebel against the mainstream). Sure this may make the game more "fair", but some things are lost. One, I firmly believe we call our game "Ultimate" because we are self officiated. Referees introduce the element of trying to get away with things (cheat). Anyone who plays refereed sports is very familiar with the statement, "we lost the game because of the refs".

Lots of other suggestions have been made and play tested, but I still don't think we are there yet. There's no doubt the game is fun to play and is very challenging, but I still get bored watching a game.

I think we all want to watch something that is exciting, has momentum swings, spectacular athletic moments, creative flow, surprises, and not too many slow points. The question remains, how do we create this environment.



ESL said...

perhaps you could look at sport participation at the grassroots (or overall level) compared to popularity watching it. honeyhands commented on this a bit.

fact is, people enjoy watching things they are familiar with - not only in terms of the rules, but more importantly in terms of recognizing and being able to appreciate great plays and sport-specific skills.

as ultiamte gains popularity, demand to see it played/displayed at a premiere level will increase. two things really going for popularity increase are 1) acceptance of the coed game and b) probably most importantly, how cheap the game is to play. as cheap as rest of the world football. way cheaper than any/most other major sports aside stupid things like 'running' and 'breathing;'

i think this is a big reason why poker is suddenly a televised success. the rising popularity of ultimate fighting /mixed martial arts is more along the lines of a spectacle, rather than 'sport' in the same sense. plus, everyone fights at one point or another.


p.s. i haven't learned numbers higher than 1 or letters before or after 'b'
p.p.s. i just learned a new word in the word verification box below. it is xjxinit. i am eager to look up its definition, and then twist my oriental tongue into pronouncing it.

Anonymous said...

My sentiments exactly, esl. I sent essentially the same message to Pete in an email not long ago. ANYTHING is interesting to observe if it is something that the observer can identify with.

Jeters just likes to cause trouble.

Hammertown Queen