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

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 a USAU email to teams and an interview today with Ultiworld.

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:

[quote]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[/quote]

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.

  1. Charlie Eisenhood

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

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