By: Jimmy Leppert
Without a doubt, it’s exciting that there are new events and tournaments being announced in the ultimate community. Recently a beach ultimate series presented by BULA, and USA Flatball beginning a college mixed and college alumni championship events were announced. But it begs the question – who’s going to compete in these new events?
In case you missed the news, two new ultimate events have been announced recently. Off of the success of WFDF & Beach Ultimate Lovers Association’s World Championships of Beach Ultimate (WCBU) this past spring in Dubai, BULA has taken the initial steps to bringing an international club season to beach ultimate, called the World Series of Beach Ultimate. Held every two years and starting in 2016, the event would include three mixed divisions, three qualifying tournaments (one in each of Europe, Asia, and the USA), and culminate in a finals tournament featuring the top five finishers from each qualifying tournament. That finals tournament, at least for 2016, will also be held in Dubai. Also new to the ultimate scene, was the USA Flatball organization and their two new events – the first, a college mixed championship tournament; the second, a college alumni championship tournament. Both of the tournaments will be held in the southeast, Virginia and South Carolina respectively, and the organizer also looks to be setting up for membership, team rankings, and letting 3rd parties hosting events in these divisions. A sort of USAU-esque plan for growing the divisions.
I have questions about each of these events. If they’ll be successful (who know’s, best bet is currently on beach), who’s funding the capital to put these events together (both are seeking sponsors), if livestreaming will be apart of each event (both have suggested yes so far), and if the events are planning on drawing large amounts of fans to the events for revenue (assume yes, to help draw sponsors). But my biggest question, and perhaps the most important question, is who will be competing in these events?
For the BULA World Series of Beach Ultimate, filling the event with the best of the best comes down to timing. No doubt they should be able to grab the best teams from Asia at the Boracay Open in April – simply having the Boracay Dragons competing gives them one of the best teams in the world already. Same with Europe, as Italy’s Paganello one month prior in March has consistently drawn the best talent from Europe and around the world – this past year, the finals featured San Francisco Revolver and Great Britain’s UTI. But will they be able to get the best crop of teams from the United States to compete at Wildwood in late July, in the midst of the Triple Crown Tour? This season, Wildwood falls a weekend before the next major Triple Crown Tour event. But with the club season continually being compressed by USAU, it may overlap in the future.
No doubt, even with ‘second-string’ or even ‘third-string’ talent from USA and Canada (assuming ‘first-string’ doesn’t compete or qualify at the European or Asian events), BULA will still be able to put on a world-class event, featuring top teams from Asia, Europe, and elsewhere in the world. But will it be able to bring the same online impressions that BULA is marketing to potential sponsors?
The two events being conducted by USA Flatball face an entirely different set of problems. Tackling the alumni event first, which is slated to be held sometime from early February to early April, it would potentially run into other events that have been populated by alumni teams in the past. Not being held close to a major airport may also hurt the event, but the feeling is that the event would draw teams of alumni that are simply looking to get together for a weekend, and create an experience similar to a Wildwood, Potlatch, etc. just during a different time of year – not an elite event, catering to the best of the best. But from all early indications, USA Flatball does want to cater to the best college men’s and women’s teams, as they start their mixed championship tournament. Early invitations for Oregon to combine Ego and Fugue to form a team have already been extended, and I’d imagine others have as well in order to add a certain prestige to the event.
As was touched on in the gender equity forum at the US Open, filmed by Ultiworld, playing mixed was the only option for some players in college, and that wasn’t always the best situation for all of the players on the team, as teams were forced to compete in the Open division. That doesn’t seem to be the aim of the even though, as evidenced by their reaching out to the two Oregon teams. Instead, it seems the organizers are looking to bring together the best teams possible to compete, film, and play for cash prizes. A good idea in theory, but messing around with college players is a tricky ordeal, starting with the date they chose. September 26th and 27th sits just a weekend before the club championships, so yes a majority of college players that even play club ultimate over the summer, but a large portion of the elite talent in college ultimate plays for a… you guessed it, an elite club team. Money also factors in for college players, especially those that would need to travel via plane, to an event in southern Virginia. The cash prize may help cover it, but winning isn’t a guarantee – especially for a team thrown together for an event like this.
But the biggest hiccup is that the event sits right during the middle of fall ultimate play, when for a large part of the country there are – at most – three good months to give rookie ultimate players outdoor ultimate experience before winter weather and end of semester exams force teams inside. That isn’t very much time, and constraining it already around club ultimate, and the existing college tournaments, doesn’t give much space for this tournament either. I’m not sure I would sacrifice time with rookies, or even developing chemistry with my teammates, for a mixed tournament so early in the development months of the college season.
Ultimately, both of the events are good ideas, with people involved in them that are passionate about the ultimate community, and want to see the sport continue to grow. They think there is a market for part of that growth to include their ideas, and while I’m unsure of them, they obviously believe they will succeed. If each of BULA and USA Flatball can make it past the flaws I’ve pointed out, then no doubt will they have succeeded and become mainstay ultimate events. But part of the flaws I’ve pointed out, help signify a great problem that ultimate is starting to see.
I think all of the opportunities to play that are now available in ultimate, from the slew of WFDF events that includes WCBU, WUCC, WUGC, etc, to USAU’s Triple Crown Tour, the semi-professional leagues, classic tournaments that range from Poultry Days, Lei Out, Potlatch, and more, may start stretching the best talent from the United States and elsewhere thin. That the talent at the top may need to start sitting out some of the ultimate that is offered to them, because it can all be a drain. In only one of those instances is travel and accommodations provided completely, and a (small) salary paid, by the player’s team. Every other instance, a large chunk of the cost is deferred to the individual player. To get to events that are cross-country, or international, players have to take time off of work, missing family outings, and other personal matters. And the wear and tear on bodies, even with the advanced training available to players, takes its toll as well. Some events are going to suffer, and they aren’t going to be able to draw the talent to compete with others, or that is necessary in order to survive.
Think of football, soccer, basketball, or any other sport. When so many elite playing opportunities are out there, certain events or teams or you name it aren’t able to draw the best talent. See: a lot of D1 sports teams, soccer leagues across the world, etc. Of course the odd gem will show up at a school like my alma mater, SUNY Buffalo, but for the most part the school has been relegated to virtual obscurity and mediocrity. I suspect the same will start happening with all of these new opportunities in ultimate.
Once that happens, they will no longer be able to support themselves, will fall by the wayside, and new opportunities will appear in one big cycle.