Some Thoughts On Sports Illustrated’s AUDL Story

July has not gone smoothly for the American Ultimate Disc League. At the end of a month where it seemed like nothing could go right for the sport’s first professional league, it was nice to see Sports Illustrated take a step back and look at the huge leap our sport has taken.

Bernstein’s article does a great job bringing things into perspective. Regardless of your take on the recent turmoil, it’s hard to ignore what the AUDL’s inaugural season has done for the accessibility and profile of our sport.

Bernstein writes:

[quote]”Our first home game, we had one thousand people come out. Looking up in the stands, everyone was excited, cheering, and pumped to be here, and the place was electric,” [Connecticut Constitution player Chris Mazur] recounts. “I’ve played in front of fans. I’ve played in the national finals a couple years back, down in Sarasota, Fla., and there was probably a couple thousand that were there. This was a different feeling. I didn’t go to sign autographs after that. At the end of these games you know we have high school kids coming out, college kids coming out, and they want to talk about the game, and they want to learn, and we never thought we would be part of this.”

Mazur’s amazement is standard issue throughout the league, where both players and execs alike agree that the AUDL has surpassed any notions they brought into the inaugural season.

“If I had told you two years ago that we were bringing professional ultimate to Detroit, that we were going to play out of the Silverdome, have a mascot, a dance team…you probably would have pegged me as the biggest blowhard in the room,” says [Detroit owner and AUDL VP of Marketing Brent] Steepe. “In the first year, everybody thought that we were an April Fools’ joke coming out of the gate. To say we’ve exceeded expectations would be an understatement.”[/quote]

The original eight franchises have rostered teams of elite players and allowed them compete without being burdened by the significant expenses traditionally associated with high-level Ultimate. Few would argue that the talent level of AUDL teams is on par with Club Open powerhouses like Sockeye or Chain Lightning but it’s not hard to imagine how eliminating the cost factor could change that in years to come.

Even more importantly, the article highlights the splash AUDL franchises have made in their surrounding communities. In the past, you would be hard pressed to find a significant number of spectators at any tournament outside the USA Ultimate College and Club Championships. AUDL teams have captured the attention of local fans and ticket sales have demonstrated consistent attendance levels. Players sign autographs and talk with fans after games, promoting the sport in an unprecedented way.

If there is one thing to take away from the SI piece, it’s that the AUDL is attempting something that will benefit fans and players alike. Growing pains are inevitable and the events of the past few weeks have made that strikingly clear. At the end of the day though, who wouldn’t jump at the chance to represent their hometown or to watch their local team take on a visiting rival? Ultimate is definitely moving in the right direction, let’s just hope the AUDL can keep up.

  1. Wes Cronk
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    Wesley Cronk is the Vice President of Business Development of Ultiworld. Originally from West Palm Beach, Florida, he started playing ultimate in high school and split his college ultimate between the University of Florida and New York University. He has played open club with Vicious Cycle (Gainesville) and Fox Trot Swag Team Unity (New York). He currently lives in Brooklyn, NY. You can reach him by email (wes@ultiworld.com) or on Twitter (@wescronk).

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