August 14, 2012 by Charlie Eisenhood in Featured, News with 3 comments
As the lawsuit between the American Ultimate Disc League and its Connecticut and Rhode Island franchises continues to wind through the courts with no end in sight, the owners of the contested New York Empire franchise are slowly working to prepare for the 2013 season.
Jesse Stein, who purchased the franchise from the league in December 2011, told Ultiworld, “We’re ramping up slowly to be basically ready to go at the beginning of next year and that’s when we’ll really start focusing on marketing…We’re moving forward as if our territory is not at risk.”
It is not clear just how at risk it could actually be. Because of the 100-mile non-compete radius around the Connecticut Constitution’s territory, which, depending on how you draw it, covers most or all of New York City, the legal questions are murky.
Stein feels confident that he will be able to play. “As far as licensing the New York territory, I don’t think that was ever an issue. The issue was this non-compete radius,” he said. “And at the end of the day if that’s enforced we’ll work around it. We’re currently incorporated and operating outside of that radius. It would just be an inconvenience for us if it were enforced.”
Because the franchise is operating in Brooklyn, it may be possible, even with a Constitution court victory, for the New York team to legally play. Ultiworld’s legal analyst described the various scenarios in detail in July.
But with a large chunk of Connecticut’s players and fans coming from the New York metro area, could the Constitution and the Empire coexist? “Yea I don’t see why not,” said Stein. “I think at the end of the day, to create these local rivalries and limit the travel expense to each team, I think it will benefit everyone involved.”
Cullen Shaw, the General Manager and part-owner of the New York team, added, “There’s a lot of really good ultimate players up here. I’d like to see both teams with a really great roster and a big fan base.”
Both owners were neutral in their assessment of the legal situation. Stein said he could see both the league’s and the Constitution’s perspective. But the tumultuous start didn’t bother him. “It’s the first year, I don’t think anyone expected it to be perfect and to start off exactly how it’s going to end up,” he said. “Considering the new markets that are coming into the league, I think it’s going to be a much better product.”
He did say that he was “disappointed that [the dispute] was made public,” as it “may have caused harm to the league and the other owners.”
For now, though, Stein and Shaw are focused on finding a suitable game venue and starting to plan for the team’s tryout and combine, which could happen as early as October.
The question for many teams, including New York, is: what kind of players will tryout? This season, the sport’s top players mostly sat out. “I don’t know how much high level New York club players will come on board…,” said Shaw. “I’ve talked to them a little bit about it.”
Regardless, both owners are excited. Stein said he expects some positive changes, including “a lot more league-wide sponsorship and marketing” in the second season. He said that Josh Moore, the President of the AUDL, is “doing a really great job.”
Stein, like most current owners, was not heavily involved in the Ultimate community before getting involved with the AUDL, though he did play casually in college. A self-described “big sports fan,” his day job is at a realty investment company. He saw an advertisement for the league and thought it would be a fun opportunity.
Shaw, who bought a stake in the team well after Stein bought the rights from the league, is an active member of the New York Ultimate scene. He runs UltimateRec, one of the recreational leagues in the city.