Forget USAU: NexGen Should Partner With One Of The Pro Leagues

The four possible options for semi-professional and professional leagues in Ultimate Frisbee.The following article was written by reader ‘cncventure,’ who left this as a comment on our poll about the future of club ultimate.

Firstly it’s important to recognize that USA Ultimate’s and Professional Ultimate’s interests are not directly aligned.

USAU wants to grow the sport. Pro ultimate leagues (and elite players) want to profit from the sport.

So I don’t think that both ventures will be effectively managed by the same entity, but that is not to say that whatever pro ultimate entity becomes the leading candidate can’t try to “work with” USAU where overlap exists.

So I don’t think NexGen and USAU should collaborate and if anything it might be time that the USAU steps away from elite level ultimate to focus on the other 100,000+ ultimate players. And it seems the top club teams have signaled that that is exactly what they think.

That said, I don’t think NexGen is necessarily the right stakeholder to take over the reigns. From my perspective, NexGen’s new league was created out of desperation.

NexGen, according to their own site, is “an on-line television network focused on live streaming the world’s best ultimate frisbee” (which is exactly how I see them) and its business model is based on having games to film for its network, but NexGen doesn’t own the very product they film — the USAU does (with the exception of the NexGen tour)…

So my sense is the NexGen wants to stay a online TV network and not be in charge of actually running the league and all the logistics that go with that, which is probably why Kevin is still saying he wants to “remain partners with USAU.”

But of course this can’t work in the long run, because USAU wants to take their product to a bigger audience and NexGen can’t provide this for them relative to other TV networks. So it becomes a no brainer for the USAU to opt for the TV networks which of course breaks NexGen’s business model, thus NexGen was always going to get caught in a catch-22 and need to setup this new league.

Now I don’t think this is USAU’s fault — they were just trying their best to do what’s in the best long run interest of the sport and is exactly what they should have done, given that all of the NexGen subscribers are existing ultimate players (whereas 90% of TV viewers would be non-players).

At first glace, it would seem the logical step that clubs opt for the NexGen league. The players keep control/ownership of their clubs, get to keep playing the game with the same rules they have come to love (while the MLU/AUDL change them), they will likely get a major voice in league decisions (unlike the USAU) as well as get the potential to profit substantially if things work out with no major financial downside (which none of the other leagues offers yet).

And of course the benefit for NexGen is obvious – they get exclusive broadcast rights for the league and to stay in business and make more money than ever (if things go well – which I suspect they will).

Yet I can’t help but feel that the clubs’ and NexGen’s pursuit of short term self interests (which is logical) may have created a tragedy of the commons scenario where they’ve ultimately undermined the growth of both the sport and pro ultimate in the long run, despite their best intentions.

Personally I think NexGen’s core competency is filming ultimate. That is what they are good at. That is what they have always been good at and it’s probably what they should stick to.

Running a pro league requires a very different skill set and I’d be very surprised if they’d have the experience/resources to do a better job than ANY of the alternatives, whether the USAU, AUDL, or MLU.

That said, I think those three leagues all have their own deficiencies as well, one of the biggest being the fact that they don’t have good film crews or broadcaster mechanisms that can distribute games online to subscribers (NexGen already has this infrastructure).

So for me NexGen should be looking to collaborate with the MLU or the AUDL — rather than the USAU — and trying to take the top club teams with them (given that ultimately NexGen’s commercial goals are more aligned with the pro leagues since they are looking to make a profit from filming ultimate, not grow the grassroots of the sport).

Personally I thought that NexGen should have been all over the AUDL back in 2011/2012 trying to secure the rights film and distribute their games. They could have locked in a deal for a 50-50 revenue split or something and maybe tried to secure a 2 or 3 year contract with good terms and built up their subscriber database.

Even if they didn’t make money in the first year, they would have built their subscriber base which is what is most important. At the end of the day — whether it’s the USAU, AUDL or MLU — they want a film crew that can get them distribution. Having a large subscriber base gives you leverage when it comes to negotiations.

Plus, if eventually the league NexGen was filming for does want to have their games broadcasted on TV, a substantial NexGen subscriber base and film crews would give them every chance for a TV network preferring to just buy them out or contract out the filming to NexGen rather than establishing their own infrastructure.

As it was, the AUDL contracted out their filming to some different film crew which sucked, and when I tried to watch the first game it didn’t even work! And after being used to NexGen’s quality level of service I decided I wasn’t even going to bother. So the AUDL lost my business.

So that was a missed opportunity for both the AUDL and NexGen.

Now 12 months later, we have three non NexGen leagues running — USAU, AUDL, and MLU. The USAU is looking to secure a TV network, so they are out, but I suspect the AUDL and MLU would struggle to strike such a deal given they are new leagues.

So I would have thought if the AUDL and MLU were looking to build traction within the Ultimate community as serious pro league ventures then they would have loved to have partnered with NexGen as it would have allowed both parties to focus on their core competencies.

A month ago I “thought” if the MLU or AUDL struck a deal with NexGen it would be a death blow for the other pro ultimate league and Triple Crown Tour.

Now with NexGen having the top 18 clubs saying they want to be a part of the NexGen league, we are back to being in a Mexican standoff position.

Instead, in what will be the second year of “pro ultimate,” we now have three pro leagues and the TCT — and they all appear half baked. The only thing that is guaranteed is that at least two of those three pro leagues are going to fail (with their investors losing a lot of money that could of be better spent on the development/promotion of another league) and the inability for collaboration amongst the stakeholders only means that the growth of pro ultimate is going to be slower than it needs to be.

I’m a big fan of competition and the general principles of capitalism…but excessive competition is just wasteful.

  1. Ultiworld

    Ultiworld is the premier news media site dedicated to the sport of ultimate. This article includes the work of a number of our staff or contributors that have been identified within the piece.

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