Monday, February 12, 2007

My Turn - Part III of IV - Make Money or Keep it a Secret?

Grassroots - that's how Ultimate has grown. It's a chain reaction; good people play a fun competitive sport that is self-officiated and they tell someone else to try it. We can continue this path and the sport will continue to grow. Juniors are fine, the UPA is a good organization, and Ultimate seems to be heading on a fine path.

As of late, the two topics that keep me up at night are my future and how is Goat (or more broadly, the east) going to qualify and compete with the west. Oddly enough, sometimes these two thoughts form into one as I imagine making an entrepreneurial drive into Ultimate. Where's the money in Ultimate. So far we've seen success in apparel (though it's getting more and more competitive) and tournament organizers must be making money (or they could be if they wanted to). Private leagues are also flourishing, and the not for profit leagues and larger organizations are employing full-time people to run organizations. In my mind, the next frontier is the pro league.

Pictured Above: Another snow sequence of Kirk Nylen (one of my workout partners) laying out in the snow.

I believe the biggest advantage the eastern teams have over the west is that our population base is pretty close (geographically) to one another and regular competition could only make the teams in the East stronger (I'm thinking original six in hockey). This competition in the form of a professional league (professional meaning prize money and league type games at the beginning) would make this regular competition a whole lot more interesting.

I have lots of ideas on how this could work, and I truly believe that we could pull it off with some success, but how does pro Ultimate relate to my view on question 1 - Ultimate's growth. It's simple. Every point I've brought up links to one thing. Growth, respect of the sport, more youth development, and finally money leads to one thing - the real athletes aren't here yet. As soon as real money comes into the picture 99% of us disappear from the competitive level. Good or bad - you decide.

It's actually a solid point for lots of players. The smaller we are (hoarding principle), the bigger chance we each have of making it to the highest levels. I, personally, can't say I'm too worried since I've done many of the things I wanted to. But even with the growth in the last five years, I've seen people shifted away from the competitive levels because they're just not good enough and never will be compared to the current top echelon.

Even if Ultimate doesn't make it into big money sport, just the basic organization into coaches and observers (and daresay thoughts of the Olympics) means that growth equals more legitimacy which equals stronger athletes and less inclusiveness. This might not be completely the case, but it's something to think about.

I sort of laugh at all this. Why? Well Canada is notorious for doing well in emerging sports. We get in early; win a few medals. And then the big guys come along and get serious about the sport. Luckily, we can hold our own in winter sports just because we have cheap access to snow and ice, but with global warming that advantage may be disappearing. Even the United States has had great success in inventing sports and having early success until the rest of the world wants in on the game and the money (basketball being the most recent example). Not that I've lost hope, but I fear many of the opportunities I've had in Ultimate are going won't be there for the next group. Like I've said earlier, there will, however, be a new niche to fill the gap that Ultimate will leave.

I'm, definitely, not going to make a strong stand to try and keep Ultimate the way it is. Things are going to change and rightly so. The UPA is addressing a very legitimate topic on how is the sport going to grow (or shrink) and how are they (we) going to help shape it. Let's take it slow and think and discuss question one.

A pro league would be really cool though.

Next, I'll move onto the second question and make a few points about the spirit of the game.



Anonymous said...

I stopped playing soccer recently because of the turn the sport takes when you go from a junior league to an adult league. Everytime I was a near the ball, someone who spends much more time working out would stab his elbow into my side and throw me away, and there was nothing I could do about, and the ref never called anything (all this just in house league). Luckily, I found ultimate, and with the SOTG the way it is, I much prefer it. However ultimate grows, I think we as current ultimate players should make it our number one priority to make sure that new players learn and appreciate what the SOTG does for ultimate. I fear the competition might cause players to make greedy calls and abuse the rules.

On a more personal and self-centred note, I am very excited at the possibility of touring. While I'm not quite there yet, I feel that after one season of hard work I could easily play for one of the lower level touring teams. I would be very upset if ultimate suddenly exploded in popularity and made this impossible for me.

On the other hand, a few more throwing partners would be good.


Scott said...

"how is Goat (or more broadly, the east) going to qualify and compete with the west ..."

Perhaps a first step is to make a stronger effort to attract and cultivate talent from surrounding areas. There are several ways one could try to accomplish this:

a) increased exposure in local leagues (i.e. not just TO but Guelph, Waterloo, Hamilton, Brampton, etc ..)
--> could be posts in forums
--> or trying to get websites posted on the main page

b) hold well publicized elite clinics (throughout the summer)

c) have a winter men's league -- could be the genesis of the numbers you would need to have enough players to form a Pro League

d) scout the Co-ed division for people from smaller markets (i.e. from those listed above that might be excellent Open players if given the chance and invite them to tryout or at the very least to elite clinics)

The reason I say this is that people that didn't play for university Ultimate teams typically are introduced to co-ed Ultimate through league or intramural play. And therefore I'm sure there are many people (I was one of them a while back) that initially a) have no idea what touring is and b) have no idea that Open and Womens even exists (I would guess that this is more true for people that play in Ultimate leagues other than TUC or OCUA).

Just some thoughts.


Anonymous said...

I saw on Wiki that baseball first started at kind of a grassroots level in the mid 1800s. By 1865, there were about 100 clubs/organizations, and that swelled to 400 by 1867. Professional clubs began forming after 1869. I wonder if post-civil war baseball players were worried that the sport was growing too fast, and that such growth would limit their opportunities to play at their current levels?

I don't follow the logic in these posts that says too much growth in Ultimate will limit our opportunities to play. If the popularity is there, opportunities will be created, and participation on all levels will increase, benefiting all players from casual to elite. Maybe I'm interpreting these blogs incorrectly, but I would say this is a case of lead, follow, or get out of the way.

- Baer

Anonymous said...

"I don't follow the logic in these posts that says too much growth in Ultimate will limit our opportunities to play."

There's the problem of field space. There is high demand and fairly high supply for soccer field space. There clearly is not enough supply to make everyone happy, but there is enough supply that the unhappy people are a minority. Also, people are forced to play late at night and at other poor times.

Because ultimate demands less of its fields (they don't need nets or preset sidelines, and they're smaller), there is easily a small supply of ultimate field space. If ultimate grows significantly, it might be hard to get fields are decent times. And in order to let everyone play (which I think TUC will do), they might have to stop people from playing on several nights in the same season.


Jeters said...

I'm glad there are a variety of interests. As much as I could argue my points, some will have similar and some will have different.


ulticritic said...

wow, you were all over the place with this post. As for east vs west....its an ebb and flow. Back in the day ny and boston dominated the ultimate scene, now its seatle and vc. These shifts just occur. It will make its way back east....but maybe not before it goes south.

as for sotg and refs, dont even try to compare the arbitration system (anonymous)of soccer to ANY american sport. I'm sure if there were more eyeballs watching for various deliberate infractions and there were more severe consequenses there would be fewer elbows to the side. and learning to be a fair competitor might be better accomplished with an immidiate and active diciplinary system as apposed to an "on your honor" statagy.

So face it, ultimate is a white boy sport. As soon as the brotha's start playin it is you that will be on the back of the bus. I'm sure you will be able to find a white boy league....unless you can hang, like steve nash. Either way, that progression wont happen overnight. First youll have to see ulti accepted as an NCAA varsity sport. Then you will see scholarships being awarded. Then you will see good athleates gravitating to ulti.

a pro league at this time would take some drastic changes in the rules and presentation process. Emphisis would shift from the players to the spectators and the goal would HAVE to be to maximize the entertainment value. And of course this would foster growth. It would give somthing that is more exciting and official for the youth to aspire to. Who knows, they (the youth) might see this new modernized version of ulti and demand the same dynamics (refs, timed games, foul limits, etc)in their comp.

the whole $$ issue..... well the money will become more prevalent as the #'s increase. Once the market sees that there are enough people playing this sport they will start patronizing them....with the hope that all those people will inturn patronize their products. Its like having a disease. If you have one... you want to have one that alot of other people have because there is more chance for a cure....and this is because scientists will profit more by selling cures (drugs) to 1,000,000,000 people as apposed to only 10,000 people. In our case this disease would be ultimate fever.

Take it slow???? I think not. The #'s are increasing too fast to take it slow. Ultimate is embarking on entrance in to the sports entertainment industry and there aint nuthin slow about that. You got to strike the hammer while the iron is hot. If and when the various windows of opportunity come along ultimate has got to be ready to make its move, and there is alot of work to be done to ulti bebore it can be taken "up town". This is one reason that ALL teams, clubs, leagues but mostly, the upa, needs to start experimenting with refs. That element will be the first hurdle in acheiving, not only legitamcy but higher entertainment levels. Our arbitration system is laging behind our sport by over 30 years....its time to catch up.

Scott said...

The National Lacrosse League (NLL) might be a better example than baseball of a "marginalized" sport trying to go mainstream ... or at least a more recent example.


Anonymous said...

How is "lack of field space" a legitimate argument against growth?

The underlying themes that I see from all the people that are against growth or are wary of it seem to be based on their own inconvenience and frankly seem very selfish. The focus should be on the sport itself, not whether you get displaced from competitive teams once more people enter the sport.

Anonymous said...

Oliver - You make valid points about field space, and indeed it is something that everyone struggles with now. The local league in Denver that I play with is run very well, but finding quality fields is always an issue. However, and granted this is a big step and quite optimistic, if Ultimate becomes more popular, dedicating space may become more of a priority for parks and rec departments. For example, skate parks did not exist until it became obvious that skating was a popular enough activity that the spaces were needed.

Ulticritic - Aside from your grammar and racial comments, you make some excellent points regarding growth that I certainly agree with.

Scott - I agree NLL might have been a more relevant example, but the popularity of baseball got me thinking. Other "fringe" sports, including two professional lacrosse leagues, arena football, x-games, etc, have all found their own different ways of growing in recent years. Other sports also teach us lessons, from the marketing dominance of the NFL to the unfortunate floundering of the NHL, to the image problems of the NBA. For better or worse, if we are concerned about the growth of Ultimate, we can learn from all of these sports.

Jeters - As a lurker, I have always enjoyed reading your posts, and I appreciate the thoughts and discussions that you have fostered with your latest series. I had no idea that so many people were opposed to (or at least leery of) growth in Ultimate at various levels. Is there any way to put up a poll for blog readers (including non-registered ones) to respond to regarding growth? Who is opposed to and who is all for it? To what extent?

- Baer

Taylor said...

Hey Pete, are you going to address how the GAME of ultimate might change? What happens when we change the rules/structure (swapping on the fly, etc) just for viewing pleasure. Before playing indoor I was pretty put off by the idea of changing on the fly. After playing indoor, I still am. There's definitely something "distinctly ultimate" about picking your mark on the line and sticking with him for the point.

Will said...

The similarities and paths taken between early baseball and modern ultimate are strikingly similar.

A couple of months ago I bought a book called Playing for Keeps: History of Early Baseball by Warren Goldstein. (The entire book can be accessed on google books.)

I found the book to be very interesting. Many issues that were hotly contested in mid 19th century baseball are problems that we, as the ultimate community, face today.

Ironically, the first pro players were supported by entire clubs of people who played recreationally or not at all. This is a crossroads that ultimate has yet to come to.

No matter which way ultimate decides to go, pro or utilitarian, we should learn from the histories of other sports. That way we can actually get to where we want to go. Once we decide where we want to go, that is.