What Will People Play in the Ultimate Future? (part 1)

I’ve been thinking a lot about the direction ultimate is going and perhaps more specifically, professional ultimate. I recently watched an interesting panel on the subject. You should check it out if you get a minute. From the discussion in the video, it seems pretty clear to me that ultimate is growing but no one knows what it will grow into as a sport or a culture. It also seems clear that competing interests want the sport to evolve in different directions. It got me thinking about why I want professional ultimate to succeed; why I was so excited about the AUDL last season; and why I am so invested in where the sport goes.

As an older player (and one who has not treated his body well), I probably only have a few years of serious/competitive ultimate left. I find myself looking to the AUDL, the MLU, Nexgen, and/or the USAU -anyone really- to package a product I can be excited about when it is time to hang up my cleats. I know when that day comes I’ll still want the sport to be part of my life even if I can’t play, but I’m a realist. There are no ends to the awesome/amazing things available to do with recreational time these days, so I’ve begun to wonder, “will there be an organization that can capture my attention as a fan when I’m no longer a player?”

Currently, I watch a lot of ultimate because I play a lot of ultimate. I want to improve my game and “watching tape” helps. I also enjoy supporting start ups like Nexgen, the MLU, and the AUDL. I think it is important to show the entrepreneurs involved in these ventures that there is fan base willing to spend money on the sport. However, I don’t think anyone has presented a product yet – we can call it the ultimate product – that I’d be 100% excited to watch each week. If I wasn’t a player I almost certainly wouldn’t be watching the AUDL, the MLU, Nexgen, or the USUA coverage. It seems to me that in order to engage spectators who have never played ultimate the “ultimate product” will need to be at minimum good enough to regularly put me in the seats.

Let’s be fair though. It isn’t that any particular product is bad. It is simply that none of them are quite there yet, so in my next post I’d like to talk a little about each of these entities and try to highlight what I think they are doing right and what I think they are doing wrong. My goal is to hopefully show you what I believe professional ultimate should be in 10 years, and why I’m excited about the possibility. I’d also be really interested to hear what you have to say on the subject. I’m sure there are lots of other perspectives to consider beside an older ex-frisbee player who still wants to be connected to the sport as a fan.