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USA Ultimate Says NexGen League Would Have “Major Negative Impact” On Sport

by in Featured, News with 16 Comments

The logo of USA Ultimate, the sport's national governing body.USA Ultimate, as of last week, has been actively working to deter elite men’s teams from joining NexGen founder Kevin Minderhout’s proposed league, according to an email sent from Will Deaver, USAU’s Managing Director of Competition and Athlete Programs, to teams. Deaver confirmed that today in an interview with Ultiworld.

Deaver said that Minderhout’s league would have a “major negative impact” on competitive opportunities for teams in all divisions as well as on the schedule of both the regular season and postseason. He also mentioned a concern about the “viability and stability” of the proposed league.

This email, sent privately to teams last Friday and forwarded to Ultiworld by a reader, is the first public communication from USA Ultimate about the NexGen league.

Here is the full text of the email:

Men’s Team Contacts,

It is our understanding that Kevin Minderhout is pitching to your team the idea of a new men’s league for the 2013 summer and fall competitive season. This league would be in direct conflict with both the USA Ultimate regular season (including the Triple Crown Tour) and the USA Ultimate post season (Championship Series including Nationals). Based on a review of Kevin’s proposal, teams that would participate in his league could not participate in ours. We have concerns about the major negative impact the initiation of this new league would have on both national and international competitive opportunities for participating players and teams (this year and beyond), on the schedule of existing regular season and post season tournaments, and on the playing opportunities of other teams in the men’s division and other gender divisions. We are also concerned about the negative implications this league would have for USA Ultimate’s planned use of resources to improve the top level of competition in the sport, and to use that level of play to increase visibility for the sport, to drive both interest and growth. Further, we have major concerns about both the viability and stability of the new league, and the negative impact of instability on teams as well as the sport.

USA Ultimate has a long history of working with innovative thinkers about how to grow and develop the sport. Exceptions of course exist, specifically in cases where there is direct conflict with the organization’s programs and goals. We understand why some of the ideas being presented in the league proposal might be interesting to teams. We have enjoyed working with Kevin and NexGen over the past couple of years. As a matter of fact, we’ve been a significant source of revenue for his production company.  It is a shame, given our previously positive working relationship, that Kevin did not come to USA Ultimate to discuss his ideas, or at least notify us of his intentions in order to fully assess their potential impacts. We do not know how seriously teams are taking the choice that’s being presented, but we assume that given Kevin’s road trip that he is taking it seriously. We know that January 1 is the deadline by which he is asking for commitments from teams, which presumably is before he will be able to present a specific schedule of dates and venues for league events. As we have communicated a number of times, we will be announcing Triple Crown Tour event dates and locations by the end of January. After providing that information to teams, we will follow up to get commitments from them for the 2013 season.

I’ve known many of you for years, and to those of you I don’t know, please understand that I do know what it is like to lead top club teams on and off the field. If for some reason your team is considering this new league, I’d highly recommend that you contact me before making a commitment, to discuss the implications for your team, other teams, events, and the sport.  We believe that many of the impacts will be negative. USA Ultimate is working hard to set the stage for an incredible 2013 season, with a substantial commitment of financial resources, staff, and community support throughout the country. Goals for the upcoming season will be met sooner and with more success if we can continue to focus on them.

Look forward to hearing back from any of you with any questions, thoughts, or concerns.

Thanks very much, Will

In an interview with Ultiworld this afternoon, Deaver explained why USA Ultimate is staunchly against Minderhout’s proposal, which came as a total surprise. “If you take the top 16-18 teams out of the Triple Crown Tour – and therefore out of both the regular season and the series –that goes away,” he said. “We now don’t have that component of our programs…We’d have to evaluate whether or not we would even do the Triple Crown Tour.”

“I think it extends beyond that to be bad for the sport,” he said. “Because a lot of what we’re trying to do – while it’s certainly set up to serve the players in those events and provide a good experience for them – it’s also designed to do a lot more than that. And that’s where the investment in broadcasting comes in…If you take out that top tier of competition on the men’s side, it inhibits our ability to do things like increase visibility for the sport, promote the sport, attract sponsors, and really just drive all of our programs forward.”

USA Ultimate believes that making the sport more popular requires much greater visibility, which can only come through more exposure of the highest levels of the sport. They continue to stress that they will soon be announcing broadcast partners for “2013 and beyond.” Deaver believes that wide distribution is critical to the growth of the sport.

“There’s a big difference between saying there’s going to be some individual games streamed online to a few thousand Frisbee addicts who are already hooked on the sport versus saying that we’re going to get in partnership with a national broadcaster and actually expose the sport to people who don’t see it and who don’t know what it is,” he explained. “That’s the kind of stuff we’re doing and that we have the capacity to do that’s not baked into a plan like the NexGen plan.”

But Minderhout’s plan is being carefully considered by the teams he is traveling the country to meet with this month. That’s an indication of the fact that they are not entirely happy with the TCT. Many, as has been well-documented, are unhappy about the increased traveling costs and more rigid season. USA Ultimate has been talking with teams extensively in the past weeks about the Triple Crown.

“We’re always listening,” said Deaver. “That’s something we continue to tell teams and we’ll not ever stop telling teams. We want that dialogue, we want that feedback and communication. Where it’s possible to make changes, we are definitely willing to consider it.

“But it’s important for teams to understand that in order to get a lot of this stuff done, there’s a point in the season and during the planning process where you need to make decisions and move forward and review at a later time after you’ve gone through it.”

USAU want teams to give them that chance — to go through a season and adjust next year if things aren’t perfect. They have no interest in partnering with NexGen, a suggestion floated by influential pundit Lou Burruss this week.

“What is it exactly about NexGen?” said Deaver. “Do we need to hire another person? Because that’s all that’s really being offered through NexGen: there’s a person dedicated to this and the format looks a little different. This is what we’re set up to do. I mean, we have staff that can run high-level events and manage a competitive season. And we’ve got resources to do that, a whole lot more resources than NexGen would have.”

Deaver said that the entire NexGen concept is “incredibly risky,” and that they would not feel comfortable “letting [teams] go to some unknown quantity.”

“The devil is in the details,” said Deaver. “It’s easy to provide alternatives that are not fleshed out because it becomes tricky when you start to put things into place.”

The details of Minderhout’s league are still evolving. Some aspects had changed between when he first delivered the proposal to teams three weeks ago and when Ultiworld spoke to him a week later. Teams are still quiet about their positions and are talking amongst each other before making any public statements.

Minderhout has asked teams to make a decision about whether or not to adopt his proposal by the end of the month.

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About Charlie Eisenhood

Charlie Eisenhood is the editor-in-chief of Ultiworld. You can reach him by email (charlie@ultiworld.com) or on Twitter (@ceisenhood).

View all posts by Charlie Eisenhood →

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  • sr

    It sounds like when USAU says “Nexgen league is bad for ultimate” they mean “Nexgen league is bad for the triple crown tour.” But if the TCT is meant to promote the highest level of the sport and so is Nexgen then USAU’s case against Nexgen league isn’t really valid at all. If they really think the TCT will do more for elite ultimate that Nexgen tour will that’s one thing, but at the same time it’s apparent to a lot of the community that the quality of play at the top has outgrown what USAU is able to provide for the top teams. It really is too bad for all parties involved that USAU seems totally unwilling to partner with an outside league that has a better vision for elite mens ultimate.

  • Space Tank

    “It is a shame, given our previously positive working relationship, that
    Kevin did not come to USA Ultimate to discuss his ideas, or at least
    notify us of his intentions in order to fully assess their potential
    impacts.”

    Did you discuss with Kevin what you told the captains in Florida?

    That you planned to hook up with an established TV presence as soon as possible?

    • Adam

      Kevin and NexGen are used for video production even when major networks are used (like CBS Sports Network at College) so NexGen only gains with USA Ultimate’s additional TV presence.

      • Question

        I thought that was no longer the case. Was there mention of USAU no longer using NexGen is these productions? Could be wrong, clarification?

    • Adam

      Kevin and NexGen are still used for video production even when working with the major networks (like CBS Sports Network for the College Championships) so NexGen stands to gain with USAU’s expanded TV presence.

  • http://perrydavid.tumblr.com Perry-David van Dillen

    So much drama in Ultimate recently…

    • Sherri Rose

      i greatly wish i could understand all of this..
      love Ulti. want 2 understand evry fibre of wat is going on.. but alas, evry fibre of me is… confused. :( could i plz input the knowledge of the ‘Eisenhood’s.. the ‘Minderhout’s.. the ‘Snader’s.. the ‘Korber’s of Ultimate..? :(

  • Snide

    I hope that this “Men’s Team Contacts,” was put in to protect anonymity. With eighteen teams, it seems like USAU could have sent individual emails.

  • S

    “What is it exactly about NexGen?” said Deaver.

    NexGen’s league proposal has a few very attractive things that TCT does not: venues, video access of games, regional matchups, more robust season / actual league, reduced games per day, control of league by top teams.

    Temporarily setting aside concerns about the feasibility of the league (which I think are valid for discussion), Will never addresses what is superior about the TCT to the NexGen League in terms experiences for current elite players or ultimate fan experience.

    This is one of the things I find frustrating about USAU/TCT – sponsorship, player growth, and USAU control is prioritized over the wants of existing elite players and fans for the current season.

    He avoids (one of) the heart(s) of the discussion – why are teams / elite fans frustrated by the TCT and (at least somewhat) attracted to the NexGen league, and instead focuses straight away to the negative implications of the league.

    Other thoughts

    “Based on a review of Kevin’s proposal, teams that would participate in his league could not participate in ours. We have concerns about the major negative impact the initiation of this new league would have on both national and international competitive opportunities for participating players and teams (this year and beyond)” – Starting with the stick, eh? Punishment I suppose is one way to motivate teams towards the TCT, but fails to address concerns.

    Also, I don’t think it is a settled question that broadcasting on CBS alt games is going to increase player growth more than 81 streamed games. Is average Joe/Jane going to see ultimate on in the bar maybe 1/2 days a year when a game isn’t on and be attracted to go play or are more people going to play by video being shared by existing players with friends / getting on ESPN with highlight plays / etc. ? USAU seems hellbent on these CBS deals which certainly fail to serve the existing community as well as live streams and archived HD footage – under the (assumption) that the CBS deal is going to grow the sport long term at a significantly higher rate than NexGen video. It may be true but I don’t believe the question is fully decided.

    Lastly, I think the most likely scenario is that USAU stays dominant and in control of the elite level of the sport. I think it would be an emotional move to stop working with Kevin because of this – if the NGL fails to materialize, it is really a no harm to the USAU scenario where good discussion has taken place and will maybe improve the TCT/USAU elite team strategy. Teams and players have loved the results of the partnership and surely want it to continue – to do so would be to misrepresent the will of the players. Kiss and make up afterwards is all I suppose I’m saying, make him lick the boots if you have to, but you better not end the relationship!

  • Translation

    This email is laughable and seems a bit insulting. As USAU has shown, they
    really want you to simply believe them that the TCT is the best thing
    for ultimate and it’s what the players want. While, this may in fact be
    true, it doesn’t seem that way. You can basically smell the
    desperation that deaver put into this email.

    Over and over again, he says that it will have a negative impact on
    ultimate, and as someone previously commented on, does not really back
    that statement up. Essentially saying, take our word for it, this is
    bad.

    “We are also concerned about the negative implications this league would
    have for USA Ultimate’s planned use of resources to improve the top
    level of competition in the sport, and to use that level of play to
    increase visibility for the sport, to drive both interest and growth.”

    Translation: Your division (mens) is the one that we really need to make
    our project (TCT) succeed and we are going to be really angry if you
    decide to play the sport you love in a way that you find to be a better
    use of your hard earned money and better application of the long hours
    you spend practicing and training.

    “USA Ultimate has a long history of working with innovative thinkers
    about how to grow and develop the sport. Exceptions of course exist,
    specifically in cases where there is direct conflict with the
    organization’s programs and goals.”

    Translation: USAU will happily work with people who will be a drone for
    us and mindlessly spout the company line. Or, if you have already
    started a successful ultimate venture and would like to partner with us,
    we want full control and jurisdiction, regardless of current
    relationship to the USAU. (Without Limits)

    “We understand why some of the ideas being presented in the league
    proposal might be interesting to teams.” (Do they really understand,
    though?)

    Translation: We (USAU) are just now figuring out that despite the fact
    we had blindly convinced ourselves that the TCT was perfect, it may not
    be.

    “It is a shame, given our previously positive working relationship, that
    Kevin did not come to USA Ultimate to discuss his ideas, or at least
    notify us of his intentions in order to fully assess their potential
    impacts.” You can hear deaver’s heart breaking :-(

    Translation: We shed a tear when Kevin didn’t give us fair warning about
    his plan so we would have had some time to come up with a way to stop
    this before it even got started (League X) because this is something
    that we are now really worried about and don’t know how to address
    because we are scared of “losing control” of all ultimate. (Meant to be
    one long, drawn-out sentence)

    Also, no shit he doesn’t want to work with you. He has seen how you
    treat ideas and how you react to “threats” to their (in my opinion)
    perceived control of ultimate.

    ” As we have communicated a number of times, we will be announcing Triple
    Crown Tour event dates and locations by the end of January. After
    providing that information to teams, we will follow up to get
    commitments from them for the 2013 season.”

    Translation: Kevin! Stop it! You are raining on our (my) parade! I told
    you, we are still trying to figure this TCT thing out, as we go, instead
    of having a plan. All these other leagues that also love ultimate keep
    coming up with new ideas and they are implementing them and we don’t
    how to react. Just wait for us to catch up.

    “I’ve known many of you for years, and to those of you I don’t know,
    please understand that I do know what it is like to lead top club teams
    on and off the field.”

    Translation: Come on guys! I thought we were friends!

    ” If for some reason your team is considering this new league, I’d highly
    recommend that you contact me before making a commitment, to discuss
    the implications for your team, other teams, events, and the sport.”

    For some reason?!?!?! Earlier in the email you said you understand why
    teams may be interested in this, and now you have no idea why they’re
    interested?!?!

    Translation: We know this is something teams are seriously considering.
    Call us, we will make more promises that we can’t actually commit to
    meeting and you will have the opportunity to continue to be a part of an
    organization that is slow to react and unwilling to meaningfully
    respond to criticism. Also, take our word for it, you would be
    personally hurting the sport.

    “Goals for the upcoming season will be met sooner and with more success if we can continue to focus on them.”

    Translation: FOR THE LOVE OF GOD WE DON’T KNOW WHAT TO DO (besides
    vindictively threatening possible worlds participation) IF TEAMS COMMIT
    TO THIS LEAGUE.

    “We now don’t have that component of our programs…We’d have to evaluate whether or not we would even do the Triple Crown Tour.”

    That’s the whole point, clown. Teams are saying exactly that. They don’t want your TCT.

    “But it’s important for teams to understand that in order to get a lot
    of this stuff done, there’s a point in the season and during the
    planning process where you need to make decisions and move forward and
    review at a later time after you’ve gone through it.”

    Translation: Guys, you have to let us try this. I swear it will work
    and we can totally look back on this after the season to see if you
    wasted an entire season, not to mention thousands of dollars. Right now
    (at this point in the season and planning process) , we need to know if
    we should start filling in the remaining details of our half-assed plan
    or just scrap it.

    “The devil is in the details,” said Deaver. “It’s easy to provide
    alternatives that are not fleshed out because it becomes tricky when you
    start to put things into place.”

    If only deaver had the awareness to see the irony in that statement.

    There you have it. He makes it seem like this is the “fiscal cliff” of ultimate.

    Well USAU, when the top 18 teams in your most visible and easily
    marketed division are considering leaving your organization, you need to
    adjust. Not just attempt to strong arm teams and individuals or point
    out why NexGen is so very, very bad.

    Regardless of the outcome of the NexGen league, this email will be
    pointed out as an example of how willing USAU is to “communicate and
    work with” the its membership base. To me, this is just an example of
    how scared and out of touch USAU is with its members.

  • Jacob Janin

    The Nexgen league is bad because USAU won’t be in charge of it… Boo hoo Mr. Deaver, boo hoo.

    • anon

      The Nexgen league is bad because it requires missing enough work to play games on Fridays…

      • MMDFA

        I agree. As a pro flight player, I don’t have enough vacation. Now if I’m getting paid WNBA money, then maybe…

  • http://www.facebook.com/bailout.the.lions Ryan Hoffer

    Let’s let one of these pro leagues prove themselves first. Why would USAU want to align themselves with anything that is unproven? They have nothing to gain at this point by getting in bed with a pro league.

  • Pingback: Will NexGen Ever Work With USA Ultimate Again? | Ultiworld

  • Adam

    Deaver’s points are correct when taken in the context of being detrimental to USAU’s plans. The tone of his comments appears as if he believes the club teams are the sole jurisdiction of USAU. If I recall correctly, each of these individuals signs up on a yearly basis to participate in this series and have no obligation to participate or respond.

    If the people who participate in this league put as many hours into their preparation as I think they do, then I would probably go with the plan that affords them the greatest benefit and from what it looks like, that is NexGen.

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