I’ll tell you what, nothing is worse than having someone else profit off of your hard work.
We all know that feeling, when you’ve come up with a great idea, busted your ass, and figured out all the hard stuff… only to have someone else swoop in and take the glory. It happens all the time, in all walks. School, business, art, sports. It’s a cruel fact of life, leaving you with only a few options.
1. Mope/bitch/sue somebody/eat your feelings.
2. Get back to work and try to do even better.
That’s the thought I’ve been left with after watching USA Ultimate bicker with the AUDL and MLU all winter, capped off today by USAU’s public statement on the professional leagues. I read it when I got home from work today, before I left for the gym to prepare for Dire Wolf tryouts and the upcoming club season. I read it, I angrily threw a bunch of weights around, and then I came back here to write.
Here’s a little about me, in the interest of full disclosure in case this spreads around, as some of the stuff on this site has in the past. This is my ninth year playing ultimate. I went to Carnegie Mellon University where I played for Mr. Yuk for five seasons, captaining during my fifth. I’ve played a total of six years of open club with Run Silent Run Deep (Boston), Forge (Pittsburgh), and Dire Wolf (Pittsburgh). I played for the Buffalo Hunters in the AUDL’s first season (in other words, I have played well-refereed games and I have played poorly-refereed games). My current goals as a player are to get to USAU Nationals with Dire Wolf, and to play for a Pittsburgh professional team as soon as one of the leagues puts one here. I’m not particularly athletically gifted and my throws are average, but I’ve put in the work for everything I’ve accomplished as a player. I have a job in graphic design, and I play or train for frisbee, and that accounts for the vast majority of my waking hours. Aside from my teammates, I have no allegiances. I think I’m your typical ultimate player in that respect, an average-height white dude with a solid tan who maybe takes his hobby a little too seriously. I just love this sport.
I support USA Ultimate and everything they’ve done to promote, grow, and improve the sport during my time as a player. Like most of you, I diligently pay my USA Ultimate dues for the privilege to play this awesome sport. I never questioned that until this winter. Don’t get any crazy ideas from that statement – I’m still planning on re-upping every year from now until my body is completely destroyed. What I mean is that I’ve been engaging in this transaction for years, paying USA Ultimate in what is an implicit statement of my belief that they do what is best for our sport… basically, as the provider of a product, to have that product’s users’ best interests at heart.
That’s the aspect that I’m struggling with today. See, I also support and appreciate everything the AUDL and MLU have done for the sport in their short existence, and USA Ultimate keeps picking these fights, and I’m just not down with their crusade.
Because of the AUDL and MLU (and because baseball is boring as shit), we have ultimate frisbee plays on the SportsCenter Top 10 in the summer. These leagues provide free and high production quality video of their games online. They’ve been the focus of countless articles in mainstream newspapers and magazines. They brought a major apparel supplier, Puma, to the sport. That’s not to say that USA Ultimate hasn’t contributed in these respects – I’m fully aware of the USAU games on ESPN, NexGen Network video coverage of USAU events, Nike Camps, etc – but more to point out how quickly the AUDL and MLU have helped raise the standard.
Don’t underestimate what all this means to the millions of people who don’t already play ultimate. We have professional leagues. We have highlights on SportsCenter. We finally have some of the attention that we all know we deserve. Think of what that means to a father who might otherwise scoff when his daughter asks if she can play ultimate next year instead of soccer. You can debate the rule changes and relative quality of the leagues all you want, but the bottom line is that these leagues are driving positive exposure. They’re driving people to the sport. They’re driving future USA Ultimate members. That’s why I find this fight so baffling.
I have an aunt and uncle who live across the country. They may never be able to take a weekend to watch me play, but I’m sure I can convince them to take my little cousins to a Salt Lake Lions game. That means something to me.
Every person who sees a frisbee highlight on ESPN, that’s one fewer person who will ask you, “Is that the one with the dog?” That should mean something to all of us.
So what the hell is going on here? My best guess – and I could be completely off base – is that this has to do with high end sponsorship. To a sponsor, the division of the sport’s highest levels can’t be appetizing. A sponsor doesn’t want to slap its name on the second-best version of ultimate. I’m sure this is making lives difficult for the people in charge of USAU, the AUDL, and the MLU.
Which brings me back to my original point about adversity. I’m of the opinion that when you come across a competitor, you should get to work and deliver a better product, put your nose to the grindstone and keep your fucking mouth shut.
That’s all I want from USA Ultimate. Enough with the statements and press releases. Get back to work on your damn product.
And do not put words in the mouths of your paying members.
Don’t try to tell me that because the pro leagues are refereed and played on a bigger field and with slightly modified rules, that they’re “confusing” to your audience. We’re the only sport that’s played with a goddamn frisbee. It’s not confusing. This is about something else.
Don’t try to tell me about how the pro leagues are conflicting with the Triple Crown Tour and how you don’t want to make any changes to accommodate a “small number” of pro players. You’re already talking about a small number of TCT players. This has nothing to do with the vast majority of ultimate players. The players, your members, will decide which events are most important, just as they always have. This is about something else.
Don’t try to tell me that this is a battle of gender equality, that the pro leagues (which are open, by the way; I believe both leagues had female tryouts this year) are somehow degrading the growth and exposure of the sport because they don’t showcase mixed and women’s competition. That is nonsense. That has nothing to do with exposure to the sport at large. That has nothing to do with the way USA Ultimate does business or structures its competition. This is about something else.
Don’t try to obstruct the MLU Pro Gear Program, at the direct cost and detriment to a bunch of high school and college kids, because it supposedly “conflicts with your mission.” I fail to see how you could do this with your members’ best interests at heart. This is about something else.
Stop feeding us this nonsense.
This argument isn’t black and white. It’s not a matter of “this is ultimate” and “this is not ultimate.” Like most things, it’s gray. You’re not right and they’re not wrong.
Is the tournament format better than the pro league schedule? For players on a budget, probably. For a curious outsider, probably not. Is self-officiating better than refereeing? At the lower levels where quality refereeing isn’t yet feasible, probably. At the higher levels where everyone’s already mastered taking advantage of certain rules, probably not.
Should we all be playing on bigger fields? I bet the majority of fields I played on in college were already less than 40 yards wide. Should we allow player substitutions during timeouts? I guess if you’re a basketball fan and get off on timeouts and substitutions, I can see how you’d be into that.
When it comes down to it, there’s not a right and wrong, and there don’t have to be winners and losers. The monopoly on ultimate is over and that’s a good thing, because competition breeds progress.
It’s time to decide whether to keep bitching or get to work. And guess what, USAU? I don’t pay you $51.50 a year to bitch.