After over a year and a half of discussions, surveys, and analysis, USA Ultimate released its new six year strategic plan late yesterday. The plan — what USA Ultimate is calling its first “vision and set of core values” — will guide the organization from 2013 to 2018.
“We are very excited to share our plan for the next six years,” said USA Ultimate CEO Tom Crawford. “Getting to this point was an 18-month-long process of listening, listening and more listening, followed by a great deal of analysis, deliberation and strategic thinking. We had some very smart, talented and dedicated colleagues invest a significant amount of time, energy and thought into the development of this plan, and for that we are extremely grateful.”
The plan has six major goals, each of which include a number of somewhat more specific strategies to achieve them. The goals are listed in the order of priority. We will take a look at each in turn.
GOAL 1: Increase The Visibility Of Ultimate
USA Ultimate, explicitly calling this their “top goal,” will implement “ambitious television and broadcast plans, sponsorship activation, [and] emerging media and public relations efforts” to start pushing ultimate out to a much larger audience. They hope to reach “national sports news visibility” while also broadcasting their top events each year (presumably Club Championships, College Championships, and the US Open, with the possibility of some youth events as well).
Mike Payne, USA Ultimate’s Board President, wrote, “By investing in visibility and exposure as a top priority, we are saying to the sports community at large: ‘Here we are, the coolest sport on the planet. Check us out and have your kids give it a try!’” He added that “millions of kids” will be exposed to Ultimate through the new club division restructure to be announced later this month.
Brodie Smith, a player for Austin’s Doublewide who has a huge following on social media, responded to USA Ultimate’s news release with a video blog. He pointed to one of their strategies — “Reach a broad audience via promotions done in collaboration with sponsors and other partners” — and stressed his desire to be involved. “I have been trying to work with USA Ultimate for a very long time…,” he said. “I would love to use the platform that I have, I’ve been blessed with 180,000 people that watch my videos.”
GOAL 2: Grow Youth, College, And League Ultimate
In their previous strategic plan that guided the organization since 2008, growing youth ultimate was USA Ultimate’s first priority. That remains a large focus for the next six years.
Along with developing and sustaining more programs at the youth and college levels, USAU will “vastly increase the number of qualified coaches and observers via training and certification programs.”
An additional focus this year will be on local leagues. They plan to “facilitate…program integration between leagues, other local organizations, and USA Ultimate.” What this will look like is not yet clear. But when we spoke with Crawford about USA Ultimate’s financial position and priorities, one stumbling block was that just 40,000 people are members of USAU, although 100 times that many people play Ultimate in the US. Finding a way to integrate leagues with USAU is a way for them to raise the membership roles in a big way.
GOAL 3: Organize The Highest Quality US Competitive Events
With the American Ultimate Disc League and now Major League Ultimate looking to earn a profit from competitive ultimate, USAU faces more pressure than ever before to achieve this goal. The announcement of the Club Restructuring is the first step here — and its reception will be critical to continued participation from the sport’s top athletes, another of USAU’s strategies.
There is good news for perennial Sectionals and Regionals teams. USAU will “evolve and enforce operational quality standards for all stages of [their] Championship events,” which should make the tournaments leading up to Nationals a much more pleasant experience.
USAU also plans a “world-class marketing and promotional program” to highlight the events and athletes.
GOAL 4: Make Spirit Of The Game Real For Today’s Ultimate Players And Community
With the increasing desire from younger players to have more observers — and even referees — in today’s game, this will be a real challenge for USAU. Spirit of the Game (SOTG) is a far bigger component of the focus of players outside the United States, highlighted recently by Colombia’s National tournament, where SOTG directly affects the seeding of teams.
USAU will “lead a community-wide effort to clarify and communicate how Spirit of the Game applies to behaviors on and off the field,” an important move. Too often, the entire concept of SOTG is lost on players. With the increasingly competitive nature of Ultimate, a rethinking of how to define the term may be necessary.
GOAL 5: Achieve Sustained Excellence Of USA Ultimate Teams In International Competition
The first strategy in this category is to “refine and maintain fair and effective Team USA player and team selection processes at all levels,” which may mean a move towards a true National team, rather than having the Club Champions represent the US.
USAU will also “support gradual progress” towards Pan-American and Olympic participation.
GOAL 6: Govern The Organization To Ensure Stability And Excellence
This is largely a commitment to good financial practices. The most important strategy is that USAU will “diversify and expand [the] revenue base, including a USA Ultimate fundraising program.”
The strategic plan was created in consultation with Rader Consulting, an organization which is, according to Payne, “considered the guru of strategic planning for National Governing Bodies and the Olympic movement in the U.S.”
Here is USA Ultimate’s video released in conjunction with their plan: