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Despite West Coast Cup On Horizon, NexGen’s Future Is Uncertain

by in News with 9 Comments

NexGen logo.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.”

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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).

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  • Jon

    Booooooo to canceling the tour

  • Josh

    I’m not covinced about the market saturation point:
    1) The tour can & did visit a lot of markets without a pro team.
    2) A pro team is a VERY different product than the best college players in a showcase against an elite club team.
    ** In other words, someone with capacity needs to take up the mantle of the NexGen tour plan, a proven concept that can easily begin to increase its revenue while decreasing costs. These players are adults who can legally sign waivers to indemnify the organizing entity from unreasonable liability.

    • Bill Bourret

      Seriously, I’ll be damned if the market for NGT is actually drying up, especially after such a short time. Just because MLU or AUDL play games occasionally in the same cities as one of the NGT games doesn’t necessarily mean that the market is saturated. I can’t be the only guy who’d happily go see a MLU game and a NGT game in the same summer.

      NGT is a very unique concept with several powerful marketing aspects. Best of the best battling the best of the rest. It just needs to figure out how to make revenue more efficiently.

    • FD88

      While I agree with you on both points, but the 2nd one is where it gets difficult. Here in Madison the NexGen game was scheduled in the same stadium as the Radicals games. If you go back and look at the Madison NG game you can see that there are very few people in the crowd, and most of them are club players who understand the difference between semi-pro and club ultimate. It also didn’t help that the game was scheduled at the same time as summer league, which is a fairly large group of people who would have gone to the game (4000+ people, but this obviously couldn’t be helped due to the Tour’s schedule).

  • craig johnson

    If you want the NexGen tour to be sustainable, you have to consider cutting the costs of live streaming and going straight to VOD. The tour being streamed to homes will lead people to stay at home to watch the games, instead of going to the venue live. Pro sports used to blackout markets that didnt sell out the game, in order to make people go to the game. The tour is better than any of the pro leagues and fans would be discouraged if it discontinued in 2014. Reconsider the costs of the tour in its most simple form and make it happen!

    • manlyman

      I seriously doubt Kevin has not considered this. It sounds like he has explored the space of possibilities very well. I also doubt that the live stream cuts into the ticket sales much, if at all.

  • manlyman

    Look, I’m with everyone else in that I love NGT and this news saddens me greatly. But realistically, how could it continue? Although Kevin didn’t give specific financial information for the tour, he did clearly show that NGN as a whole is not sustainable in its current state. The guy is putting in crazy hours, has tons of volunteer help, and he lives off less than 20K a year, with no health insurance. In addition, Kevin said that the national/international tournaments were the biggest money makers, not the tour. I concede that it is possible that NGT just needs to be restructured. Perhaps Kevin is wasting a large amount of cash or is not tapping into a large amount of potential revenue. But this seems unlikely to me. If the tour happens again, I doubt it will be because someone sees it as a financially sound investment. It will be because someone like Kevin (or a group of someones) will put in their own sweat and blood to keep it going. In a dream world, maybe USAU could support it, although then of course they would need to make it a mixed tour, or add an additional women’s tour, and personally I don’t have an interest in that.

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