Stay The Course: Innova Deal Shows Ultimate Players’ Resistance To Change

The Innova Pulsar -- official disc of Major League Ultimate.Yesterday’s news that Major League Ultimate will be exclusively using Innova discs for their league was controversial, to say the least. Everyone seemed to have an opinion, ranging from strong support to disbelief to complete condemnation. Why so much distress?

The obvious answer is that ultimate players are loyal to Discraft, a company that has been making a very high quality disc for a very long time. New players are quickly brought up to speed that Wham-O’s have no place on the Ultimate field and that only the Discraft will do.

The Pulsar has not even been on the radar of ultimate before yesterday (although it is the official disc of Goaltimate and is often used in those games).

I think that answer oversimplifies the issue, however — it is actually more subtle than that. It has more to do with what the deal represents rather than any kind of aversion to Innova (most people have never touched a Pulsar).

Think about it: this is the first time that the MLU has done anything against the established order. They billed themselves from the start as the professional league run by Ultimate players, not outsiders. They signed an apparel deal with Five Ultimate. They shortened the season to accommodate elite club players. They courted and signed recognizable names in the community. And then — they broke that chain. By choosing Innova over Discraft, they upset the natural order of ultimate.

What’s striking about the response is that most people are entirely unaffected by the decision. Only players who willfully choose to try out for and join the MLU will have to play with the Pulsar.

What it comes down to is this: there is a strong resistance to change in ultimate. We’ve seen it time and again. The Triple Crown Tour was too much, too expensive, too restricted. It’s been scaled way back.

The NexGen league idea was a big hit at the start (mostly because it used existing club teams and an existing broadcasting company), but it never gained serious traction due to its design. It would have splintered USA Ultimate’s club division.

The American Ultimate Disc League had huge detractors — and still does — for many reasons (changing the rules, not being run by Ultimate players, the lawsuit, etc.).

But now we see the AUDL being quick to pounce on the MLU’s decision, assuring fans they would never stop using Discraft as their disc supplier. VC Ultimate, the apparel partner of the AUDL, also announced their commitment to Discraft.

Nic Darling, the VP of Major League Ultimate, seemed to recognize that there might be some backlash.

“In the end, our job is to do what’s best for the league and for our players and for our longevity,” said Darling. “And we felt that Innova was the right way to go. We had to, I think as a league, set aside some of the prejudices we held as players and think about what was the best thing for our league. I won’t say that [the question of moving away from Discraft] didn’t arise in our discussions, because it did. But we had to choose the path that was best for our particular league and our particular application.”

Translation: this is just business. And the AUDL response? Also just business.

Get used to it. The professional leagues are not set up to take feedback and be committed to the thousands of ultimate players around the country like USA Ultimate is. They are in business, and will continue to treat it as such.

  1. Charlie Eisenhood
    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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