Kevin Minderhout, the founder of the NexGen tour and the NGN network, has had a busy year. In January, he was on the road, pitching his proposed league to elite club teams around the country. Then, he filmed the Stanford Invite and Easterns during the College season. During that time, he was preparing for the summer’s NexGen tour, which ran from June 18 to July 16. He left immediately to film the U23 World Championships in Toronto the following week.
I spoke to him while he was in an airport, heading to Colorado for a tournament with Rhino, the Portland team of which he is now a captain.
Now he has returned to the Pacific Northwest to put on the West Coast Cup, one of his more ambitious events, this weekend. It is a five-team, round-robin tournament featuring both “normal” tournament play as well as evening games with paid admission.
The idea — one which came out of his discussions with the elite club teams over the winter — is to see if a new type of tournament structure can work. With video package sales and paid admission to exciting games in Seattle, an ultimate hotbed, Minderhout originally envisioned this as a proof of concept for his wider league vision.
“Yea, this is very much the test version of that,” he told Ultiworld. “It was very much possible because of the higher level club teams being interested and communicating with me.”
Since the decision to host the tournament, though, the aims have changed somewhat. “The goal is to not lose money,” he said. “That’s the first goal.”
Because of his extremely busy 2013, Minderhout says he’s been a bit “spread too thin” and unable to dedicate the marketing and resources to make this tournament a “really great event.” Still, it matches up some of the world’s best ultimate teams in a stadium environment — will it sell itself?
“For now, the West Coast Cup is an opportunity to experiment and see what happens,” he said.
Minderhout will take the results from this weekend and, after the club season, take a long look at his company.
“I need to sit down and look at the goals of NexGen, my personal goals, and what I think the market is,” he said. “It’s a much different market it is now than it was when we started in 2011.”
He has already decided to cancel the NexGen tour next year, which saw declining revenue and attendance this year. Even more important than that, he said, was avoiding the substantial risk he took on while driving 15 young men around the country on a bus. In the event of an accident or really any kind of problem, his company would be liable.
Further, the landscape of ultimate has changed significantly. When the NexGen tour began, there were no outlets for fan-friendly ultimate, outside of the occasional showcase game at a forward-looking tournament. Suddenly, many of the NexGen cities also contain one — or even two — professional teams from the MLU or AUDL. The market went from thin to saturated very suddenly.
Minderhout recognizes that and says that it is time for a pivot. “I don’t know what the plan is, but there’s a plan for something different,” he said.
He might end up working for the pro leagues — he did contract work for the MLU this season on the West Coast.
“I’m not ruling out doing more work for anybody else or talking about expanded work with either of those leagues,” he said. “I’ll definitely be talking to them. I know they’re going to be starting up right away…so that conversation is going to have to come sooner rather than later.”
He also suggested he would consider a return to covering USA Ultimate events, despite the rocky relationship the two organization have had since Minderhout announced his league that would have absorbed the majority of the Triple Crown Tour’s top teams.
“If I came with an offer that was attractive to them, I don’t think either party is going to say ‘no’ based on our past year’s relationship…,” he said. “It’s not to the point where we wouldn’t do something that made sense for both of us.”
For now, all options are on the table. As Minderhout said in a candid ‘Ask Me Anything’ on Reddit yesterday, “NGN must find ways to expand coverage without having it subsidized by top events, create attractive new top events like the West Coast Cup, go out of business or something else entirely.”