Thursday, April 12, 2012

Can Ultimate Compete?

There has not been much promotion about the AUDL this week leading up to the opening pull (Saturday, April 14), so this article is getting tossed around like a Frisbee in a zone offense. Whether you like it or not, the AUDL is competing against the coveted Club Ultimate series offered by USA Ultimate. As we know, this "new Ultimate" (NüLTIMATE?) will definitely be different from "our" Ultimate.

Disc-y Business [Slate. 4.11.12]
Is America ready for professional Ultimate Frisbee?

Get ready, America. At 3 p.m. this Saturday, pro sports in this country will change forever when the Rhode Island Rampage take on the Connecticut Constitution. Yes, we are just a few days away from the dawn of professional Ultimate Frisbee.

When the formation of the American Ultimate Disc League was first announced, I thought it was a joke. Everything from the X in the name of the Detroit Mechanix to the location of the championship game-Pontiac, Michigan's 80,000-seat Silverdome-felt wrong. But the league's press releases, announcing the locations of the eight teams and the 15-week regular season, made it clear that the AUDL wasn’t joking around.

It’s not totally crazy for Ultimate to go pro. In 2010, 4.7 million Americans played the sport at least once—almost triple the number who played a game of lacrosse, a sport with three professional leagues. More than 1.5 million people play Ultimate at least 13 times a year, and those devotees tend to spend money on the sport. There are at least eight companies that specialize in Ultimate apparel, mainly sweat-wicking jerseys and trucker hats.

I am among the horde of men and women who played competitive Ultimate in college. I woke up for 6 a.m. practices and shelled out thousands of dollars for rental cars and cross-continent flights. I own Ultimate DVDs and stacks of 175-gram Discraft Ultimate discs. Like most Ultimate players, I consider it a serious sport filled with serious athletes. The trouble is, no one else does.

Despite 40 years of history, and more participants in America than fast-pitch softball and ice hockey combined, it’s impossible to find a news story that treats Ultimate as anything but a curiosity. Every piece of Ultimate journalism must include both a detailed explanation of how the game is played and a testimonial from either the writer or the subject that it’s not just for shoeless hippies anymore. Since I've already offered my testimonial, here's my explanation of game play: Ultimate is like football, but without contact or refs. Also, the ball is a Frisbee...

Despite Josh Moore's predictions of an Ultimate empire that stretches from coast to coast, it's only fair to set the bar low for the AUDL. This is, after all, the first season of a new league featuring an oft-mocked sport. For Smith, expansion is less important than avoiding extinction. "The goal is to just complete the season," says Ultimate’s best-known player. "If that occurs, I think it's a success."

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