What Worked and What Needed Work: The AUDL Week 1

I spent the last few days writing about the AUDL.  After opening day, I wanted to provide you with my first impression.  Please note that I was only able to watch one game, so my perspective is limited.  I watched the Columbus Cranes play the Indianapolis Alley Cats.  I’ll probably be watching the second game later this week, as it just recently became available to order.

Overall, I was very happy with what I saw on opening day.  The league met most of my expectations, and it even managed to exceed a few.  I think this season is going to be a lot of fun to watch.  That doesn’t mean there weren’t some big areas for improvement, and to be fair, my expectations were low for some things.  When I consider all the good and the bad though, it was a good day for professional ultimate.

There are really two general areas I considered in coming to this conclusion: the actual game itself and the other non-game related factors like the support crew, technology, etcetera.

The game itself was really interesting.  The overall experience felt more fluid and moved at a little faster pace than USA Ultimate events.  I think the officials can take a lot of credit for that.  There were a couple times when calls took a minute to make, but those pauses were few.  Interestingly, these glitches felt like an interruption.  That may sound like a bad thing, but I don’t think it was.

What I’m really trying to say is that aside from a couple hiccups, the game really seemed to flow, even through calls, and it made the whole spectator experience much more enjoyable.  That made the rare times the officials affected the game’s pacing noticeable.

As the officials get better and keep the game constantly moving, I suspect the AUDL games will be more fun for spectators to watch than USA Ultimate games, and I love watching USA Ultimate games.  I have watched literally hundreds of USA Ultimate games.  It is simply that the AUDL game doesn’t bog down for every single call, which makes the spectator experience more enjoyable.

I was pretty happy to note that the players also did a pretty solid job.  I won’t pretend the players are all the best the U.S. has to offer.  I don’t need that though.  Sure, the game wasn’t as clean and controlled as a top tier club game.  The players made some poor throwing decisions, dropped a number of discs, and sometimes fell out of rhythm.  Still, there was a lot of really good ultimate on the field.  The game was packed full of gutsy layouts, aggressive throws, and big air.  The game actually had a lot of similarities in my mind to the Nexgen vs. Revolver game that I attended last fall, which is pretty high praise if you are familiar with those teams.  The bottom line for me is that it was still very entertaining, even if it wasn’t polished.

The rules also didn’t really seem to have a negative effect on the game.  I wrote an earlier post about the rules and concluded that players would still be playing basically the same game of ultimate under AUDL rules as they were under USA Ultimate rules.  For the most part, I think this was true.  The only big difference I saw was that play was more aggressive on defense, as players were less likely to get whistled for every minor infraction.  All in all, I was really pleased with the game.

Things off the field were a different story.  I streamed the game.  I’m glad I did, and I’ll do it again.  Still, the production quality and overall technical feel of the game was pretty poor.  The stream for instance was initially very choppy and often cut out.  The game took place in the wind and rain.  I’m sure that had an effect on the production, and the quality got better as the game went on.  The stream was still considerably less fluid than the play on the field and my experience suffered for it.

I tried to go back and watch some of the game, since I missed portions due to the inconsistent feed, and I discovered another problem; viewers are only licensed one view of a game.  Paying for a live stream or even a replay shouldn’t grant you permanent access to the game, but I figured I’d at least be able to go back and view it for a little while.

At a $10 price point per game, especially in today’s world of DVRs, TiVo, and Youtube, it is a little hard to justify paying to watch the season without being able to replay the broadcast.  What kills me is that the decision to limit views isn’t even logical.  Right now, the best thing for the AUDL is more people watching and re-watching the games.  The league needs exposure.  They need early adopters to evangelize the AUDL.  It is hard to do that when product access is restricted.  After all, it’s not like ESPN is going to be replaying highlights for people that want to see them.

There was an interesting turn of events.  Due to problems with the first stream, live watchers were sent an email giving them the opportunity to watch the game again.  I’m glad they made the effort, but you are usually still limited to just one viewing.  I hope the AUDL strongly reconsiders this decision.

Limiting fans’ access to the games they paid to watch just doesn’t make sense to me.  Personally, I’m not sure why they didn’t follow the Nexgen Network’s model and provide access for a number of days after the event.  If online piracy is a concern, the AUDL should know that if people want to pirate stuff, they are going to find a way.  Why punish the people who are actually paying streamers, but I digress….

On top of my issues with the stream, the picture quality was also rather poor.  Somehow, this got better as the game went on.  I’m not sure how or why.  Again, it was raining and the email I received assured me the replay would be better quality, so I’ll let you know.  As of right now, the live video never looked as crisp or clear as productions produced by Nexgen or UltiVillage.  Still, the video was good enough to show most of the action, and I didn’t grow up on HD.  As a result, I was pretty happy.

I feel like I’ve been piling on the negative here for a little bit, so I want to hit on one of the biggest positives of the game from a production standpoint.  The solo announcer for the game was outstanding.  Providing commentary for a whole game alone is tough.  He was really good.  His coverage was actually some of the best live ultimate commentary I’ve heard, and he did it by himself.  When I re-watch the game, I will give you his name, so he can get the props he rightfully deserves.  He did make a couple small errors, and laid on the praises of Brodie Smith a little too thick.  Despite that, it was top notch live coverage.  Kudos!

Unfortunately, the camera crew found a way to be as bad as the announcer was good.  I’m actually looking forward to watching the game again with no stuttering and better quality, but even if the quality is superb the replay likely won’t be.  As far as I could tell, the camera crew didn’t really have much experience filming ultimate games or other things with motion, or maybe they had an off night or are allergic to rain or something.

The zoom was often too tight.  I like a close look at players but only if I can see what is happening.  I routinely missed out on cutting action or only caught the aftermath of a bid because the camera was busy panning to catch up.  Worse still, a few throws to the end zone were missed because the camera didn’t react to the disc.

All of this could have been avoided by using a wider zoom.  Sure, you wouldn’t get great close-ups, but the possibility of close ups only adds production value if you capture all the action.  In this particular game, they didn’t even get a lot of good close up action anyway, so the whole effort was wasted.  My hope is that for future games, the camera crew watches some other game recordings and learns a better way to portray the action.  It astonishes me that there wasn’t more polish in the production.

Wow!   I just looked back over this article, and it is really long and sometimes pretty negative.  I guess it just shows how excited I was for this league to get started.  Obviously, I was frustrated by a lot of technical issues.  In fact, there were even a couple rants that I cut because they got really off topic.  The truth is that the AUDL as a product on opening day was not polished. It was rough.  There were issues, and the whole production felt strapped together at the last minute.

None of that matters for me though.  I didn’t really expect those things to be great initially.  The experience was enjoyable where it mattered.  The game looked like ultimate, and it felt like ultimate.  As a spectator, it possibly even looked and felt better than USA Ultimate offerings.  The action was really entertaining as was the pace.  The implementation of officials kept the game fluid in a way that never happens at high level USA Ultimate events.  The players were impressive even if they weren’t the best I’ve ever seen.  I’m already starting to root for certain standout players.

Most importantly, all of the things I complained about can all easily be improved upon and made better.  The AUDL has a fantastic product – the game of ultimate.  They just have to find a better way to deliver that product to the fans and enhance the spectator experience.  Once that has happened and the AUDL is polished, it really has the potential to shine.

That is what I think, but I want to hear what you think too.  If you saw the games, reply with a comment or send me a message.  Am I being too optimistic or is anyone else amped after week 1?


Off topic – It would also be really cool to hear from people that attended the two games that were not broadcast.  Let me know what you thought of those games.  After all, I got to see a game that went to double overtime/universe point.  I’d love to know if the other games were entertaining without the added drama and tension I got to witness.