Analysis: Triple Crown Tour Will Raise Costs On Top Teams

USA Ultimate’s announcement of the Triple Crown Tour hasn’t been met with great enthusiasm. The plan has its supporters, to be sure, but many are not thrilled about the change. The main critique centers around the concern that top teams will be facing a much greater financial burden due to additional required tournaments in the Pro and Elite Flights.

USA Ultimate, who spent years on the plan, surveyed players and said they made sure to look at the travel costs players faced in the past before releasing the Triple Crown plan, which seeks to mirror what teams were already paying.

However, neither side has released any numbers about what next year will look like, compared to years past. An Ultiworld analysis shows that, on average, teams will pay more than they did this year to travel to tournaments.

Without an exact schedule, it’s impossible to be certain about the costs to each team. But, based on the geographical distribution of teams and current “elite” tournaments, we expect the Pro and Elite tournaments to be split between the coasts, one in the West (Seattle or Bay Area) and one in the East (Washington or Boston). We assume the US Open will return to Boulder this year.

Under those assumptions, here’s what the travel cost changes look like for the top two flights:

Pro Flight

Open

TeamLast Year's Major TournamentsLikely Change In Travel Costs
Doublewide (Austin)US Open, ECC, Labor DayLittle change. Will probably fly East instead of West for one tournament.
Revolver (San Francisco)ECC, Labor DaySizable increase. Will likely need to fly to Colorado and East Coast.
Ironside (Boston)ECC, ChesapeakeIncrease. Will have to add trip to US Open.
Ring of Fire (Raleigh)US Open, Chesapeake, Labor DayNo change.
Machine (Chicago)ECC, Heavyweights, Labor DayModest increase with additional long-distance tournament.
GOAT (Toronto)US Open, ECC, ChesapeakeNo change, possible decrease.
Sockeye (Seattle)ECC, Labor DaySizable increase. Will likely have to add East Coast trip.
Chain Lightning (Atlanta)US Open, Terminus, Chesapeake, Labor DayNo change.

Mixed

TeamLast Year's Major TournamentsChange In Travel Costs
Blackbird (San Francisco)ECC, Labor DaySizable increase with addition of US Open and East Coast trip.
Polar Bears (San Francisco)US Open, ECC, Labor DayIncrease due to East Coast trip.
Drag'N Thrust (Minneapolis)US Open, ChesapeakeIncrease due to additional required tournament.
Mischief (San Francisco)Labor DayLarge increase.
Chad Larson Experience (Ames)US Open, HeavyweightsIncrease, with likely trips to both coasts.
The Ghosts (Boston)Boston Invite, ChesapeakeIncrease, likely two additional flights.
Cosa Nostra (Austin)HeavyweightsIncrease.
Odyssée (Montreal)Boston Invite, US OpenIncrease with trip to West Coast.

Women’s

TeamLast Year's Major TournamentsChange In Travel Costs
Fury (San Francisco)ECC, Labor DaySizable increase, with trip to US Open and East Coast.
Riot (Seattle)US Open, ECC, Labor DayIncrease, trip to East Coast.
Scandal (Washington, D.C.)WCC, US Open, ECC, Chesapeake, VA FusionNo change, possible decrease.
Showdown (Austin)US Open, ECC, Labor DayNo change, likely switching one trip to East Coast.
Molly Brown (Boulder)US Open, Colorado Cup, ECC, Labor DayModest increase, possibly no change due to East Coast trip.
Nemesis (Chicago)WCC, US Open, ECC, Heavyweights, VA FusionNo change, possible decrease.
Capitals (Toronto)NoneLarge increase, but they won't be facing expense of trip to Japan this year.
Ozone (Atlanta)WCC, US Open, ECC, VA FusionNo change.

What stands out right away is the disproportionate impact on West Coast teams, who will pay much more to play next year. In the past, those teams have enjoyed two elite tournaments (Labor Day and ECC) on their side of the country. In fact, just one West Coast team — Boost Mobile — in any Division in the top two Flights traveled to the East Coast for a tournament.

It looks unlikely that any team will see reduced travel costs. Most teams will see an increase, particularly in the Mixed Division, who will no longer be able to play just local tournaments.

The concern about teams sending small rosters to long-distance tournaments seems valid. With the lack of flexibility in scheduling for these top teams, players with other commitments or financial trouble may just stay home, which could negatively impact the quality of the games at the Tour events. Indeed, this phenomenon was evident this year as some teams sent just enough players to compete at distant tournaments.

Elite Flight

Open

TeamLast Year's Major TournamentsChange In Travel Costs
Rhino (Portland)ECC, Labor DayLikely increase with trip to East Coast.
Furious George (Vancouver)ECC, Labor DayLikely increase with trip to East Coast.
Madison Club (Madison)Colorado Cup, Heavyweights, Labor DayNo change, possible decrease.
Sub Zero (Minneapolis)ECC, ChesapeakeNo change.
PoNY (New York)ECC, ChesapeakeNo change.
Truck Stop (Washington, D.C.)US Open, Terminus, ECC, ChesapeakeProbable decrease.
Boost Mobile (Palo Alto)So Cal Slammer, Chesapeake, Labor DayNo change.
Johnny Bravo (Boulder)US Open, Colorado Cup, Labor DayProbable increase with trip to East Coast.

Mixed

TeamLast Year's Major TournamentsChange In Travel Costs
Bucket (Atlanta)Terminus, Chesapeake Increase, flight to West.
Slow White (Boston)Boston Invite, US Open, ChesapeakeNo change.
American BBQ (Oakland)Revolution, ECC, Labor DayIncrease, flight to East.
7 Figures (Los Angeles)ECC, Labor DayIncrease, flight to East.
Overhaul (Ann Arbor)US Open, Philly Invite, ChesapeakeNo change.
AMP (Philadelphia)Boston Invite, Philly Invite, Chesapeake, Labor DayNo change.
Mental Toss Flycoons (Missoula)ECCIncrease.
Wild Card (Amherst)Boston Invite, Philly Invite, ChesapeakeIncrease.

Women’s

TeamLast Year's Major TournamentsChange In Travel Costs
Traffic (Vancouver)ECC, Labor DayIncrease, trip to East.
Nightlock (San Francisco)Colorado Cup, ECC, Labor DayModest increase, possibly no change.
Heist (Madison)Colorado Cup, HeavyweightsModest increase.
Brute Squad (Boston)Boston Invite, ECC, VA FusionNo increase, possible decrease.
Phoenix (Raleigh)WCC, US Open, Labor Day, VA FusionDecrease.
Hot Metal (Pittsburgh)WCC, Heavyweights, VA FusionNo change, perhaps small increase.
Underground (Seattle)Colorado Cup, ECC, Labor DayModest increase.
Schwa (Portland)Colorado Cup, Labor DayModest increase.

Because there are just two required tournaments in the Elite Flight, the financial burden is reduced compared to the Pro Flight. Some Elite teams may even see a decrease in their costs. But the Mixed Division still faces across the board increases.

What seems clear is that even if our assumptions about the location of tournaments is wrong, there will be a significant number of teams who face a higher financial burden to play next year. Just requiring West Coast teams to travel anywhere east of the Rockies will significantly impact almost all of them.

It will be interesting to see how teams deal with the new system. Will younger, less affluent players be less likely to play on the best teams? Will teams seek out more sponsorship deals, akin to what Seattle Sockeye has done in years past? Will there be fundraising efforts?

The Triple Crown Tour has great potential to transform the way Ultimate is presented to spectators. But improving the game for spectators by requiring tournaments, creating tiered play, and focusing on enhanced media coverage means giving up some freedoms that players are accustomed to having. That is always going to face some pushback. We will found out soon whether or not players are interested in being a part of this new model.

UPDATE: As pointed out in the comments, the Club Championships may — and probably will — move from Sarasota this year, which could help alleviate costs on teams (particularly those on the West Coast). The US Open also could be outside of Boulder — we assumed for calculation purposes that it would remain there.

Also, a reader emailed noting that Blackbird, Fury, and Revolver all went to Japan for Worlds, which may have limited their travel this year.

  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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