January 7, 2013 by Jon Mansfield in Opinion with 15 comments
This week, the competition for elite men’s club ultimate between USA Ultimate and NexGen will reach a head. And while they attempt to sway teams one way or the other, it’s important to remember that each organization has the same goal: to create a more marketable and competitive product for fans and investors both inside and outside of the ultimate community.
If their goals are the same, does it not seem prudent to form a partnership and combine resources? While Kevin Minderhout, the founder of NexGen, has hinted that a partnership is a possibility, USAU has been vocal about their disapproval of Minderhout’s entire idea. Indeed, it would seem unlikely that if NexGen takes their elite talent that USAU would want to partner up with them, but what other choice would they have in order to increase revenue and exposure for the sport?
At best, the Triple Crown Tour is an imperfect, quasi-professional system that only partially addresses the issues that come with marketing ultimate. The main obstacle for USAU is that they are not only responsible for the very top teams, but also every team (and division) underneath that tier. It is hard for them to increase revenue and capital investment when they continue to maintain an amateur status with their system. Investors look for specific markets and stability within each team when looking for profitable opportunities. The TCT attempts to stratify the very best teams while still trying to appease teams that see themselves as close to or one day in that very top tier. With such potential for team turnover and instability, will companies choose to sponsor the Triple Crown?
The NexGen proposal helps eliminate this instability by choosing only 18 of the best club teams, not only by talent level but also by their marketing viability and sustainability. USAU is already aiming at making contracts with national broadcasters, without even proving the system is worthy of investment. This would give them very little sway come negotiations, and expansive broadcasting would not be seen for a long time. To avoid this, the NexGen league is determined to first appeal to their local markets — the ultimate community surrounding each team. And as more of these communities buy into the league, coupled with overall growth within each community, a much stronger product for investors will emerge, showing that with growth the league has the potential to flourish. By only focusing on elite men’s ultimate, NexGen is able to streamline its approach to establishing a successful league, without having to also cater to other divisions and levels of competition.
It is already being seen through the dissatisfaction with the TCT that USA Ultimate may be stretched past its means, which is unsurprising: What other governing body of a sport controls all aspects of that sport, from semi-professional leagues to youth development? USAU is asking a lot of themselves, and a partnership with NexGen would alleviate the task of growing ultimate in every area. NexGen is a proven commodity in terms of marketing ultimate. Allowing them to take on the task of establishing a professional league allows USAU to keep doing what they’ve been so successful at — growing and governing the sport on an amateur level.
For NexGen, a partnership with USA Ultimate will allow the league to stay in contact with the entire ultimate community without any divisiveness, as well as give them access to the experienced workforce and resources of USAU. And with USA Ultimate controlling the amateur ranks of the sport, whether at the college or club level, there is a ready-made feeder system for the NexGen league. This, along with the deliberate selection of the 18 teams, will virtually eliminate any instability in terms of team turnover. Of course, the more successful the pro league is, the more exposure and growth USA Ultimate will experience. It will also provide a blueprint for a future Women’s pro division when the time comes.
Whether it is hubris or misdirected paternal affection, USA Ultimate should realize that they are not capable of doing everything for the sport. The bulk of their experience is with the purely amateur aspects of the sport, and there they have thrived. But in order to establish ultimate as a marketable sport worth investing in, it is best to have a company that has experience in doing exactly that. This current competition fractures instead of strengthens the ultimate community. By putting aside pride and creating a united front, the sport of ultimate is given the best chance to grow and evolve.