April 18, 2013 by Craig Stephen in News with 1 comments
TORONTO — On a beautiful, warm and sunny Wednesday, perfect weather for a game of Ultimate, local and national media were in attendance as Toronto’s newest pro sports team, the Rush, held a news conference to introduce the sport, the team, and their plans for 2013 to the city of Toronto.
It’s been one year since Rob Lloyd, his son Mark, and his brother Jim decided to venture into professional ultimate.
Rush chairman Rob Lloyd wasn’t able to attend, but sent a video from Saratoga, California, to share his thoughts on the new club’s future in Toronto. Home to their official uniform supplier, VC Ultimate, and the 2013 World Flying Disc Federation U23 World Championships, Toronto, he explained, is a hotbed for Ultimate activity.
Rob caught the Ulti bug quickly. One year ago, he asked his son Mark, a player for the Toronto club team GOAT, what was new in the world of Ultimate. Mark told him about the American Ultimate Disc League. “In a matter of hours, he had already emailed [former AUDL President] Josh Moore,” said Mark.
But the Lloyd’s focus turned from Toronto towards the league itself. After a tumultuous first season, Rob saw an opportunity to take the league in a better direction. After gathering funding from business associates (he is a high-powered executive at Cisco himself), they bought majority ownership of the AUDL from Moore late last year.
Rob doesn’t focus on the day-to-day operations in Toronto; that falls to the other Lloyds.
Rush CEO Jim Lloyd said they have set a soft target of 1,000 fans or more per game and Mark Brubacher of Sales and Marketing stated they have sold over 300 season tickets so far. Jason Robinson, the general manager of the Toronto Ultimate Club (TUC), added that the Greater Toronto Area has over 10,000 players and over 100 high schools participating in the sport.
TUC, the 3rd largest Ultimate Club in North America, has partnered with the Rush in an effort to promote the sport to high schools, universities, and clubs across the province. Details are forthcoming, but expect to see high school teams showing their skills at half time and two-day long Ultimate camps featuring players from the Rush. Once the season gets rolling, the staff will have some free time to decide how they can be involved when Toronto hosts the WFDF U23 Championships this summer.
Much of the game-day operation will be handled by Rush partner Cosmos Sports, a sports management’s company.
The company is run by Cary Kaplan, originally an Edmonton Oilers employee, then the president of the American Hockey League’s Hamilton Bulldogs and now the president of Brampton’s newest Central Hockey League team.
“We want to change this sport for North America from a participation sport to a spectator sport,” said Kaplan.
Their venue choice, the University of Toronto’s Varsity Stadium, is part of that strategy. Situated in downtown Toronto, the 5,000 seat stadium, with its state of the art turf and large video screen, is easily accessed by the local subway system and open for viewing to thousands of pedestrians on busy Bloor Street.
“We’re gonna have tons of people walking by on game day while we’re playing,” Mark Lloyd told Ultiworld.
The team itself is likely to be one of the best in the AUDL. 14 of its players have experience with GOAT, Toronto’s top men’s club team that made it to the quarterfinals of the North American Club Championships last October. Familiar names include Jeff Lindquist, Adrian Yearwood, and Cam Harris — they will all have a big impact on the field.
The Rush also added some rising stars from around the province. Willem Maessen and Kevin Horgan both check in at 6’6” and will present big matchup problems for opposing teams.
The Rush are Ultiworld’s top-ranked team in the Eastern Conference, but Mark thinks it’s premature to say that. “I don’t think at any point we can call ourselves the team in the East to beat until we’ve actually played in an AUDL game,” he said. Most Eastern Conference teams have coaches or players with AUDL experience in their organizations, a definite advantage heading into the season.
For now, the Rush are focusing on themselves. From the players’ perspective, playing professional Ultimate this year will mean no more sharing long crowded car rides, sleeping in tents and just playing in front of family and friends. Now they will be supplied with a bus for the team, nice hotels, a per diem for each player, and a stadium full of fans.
When asked about Major League Ultimate, the new professional ultimate league competing with the AUDL, Jim Lloyd said that they feel confident that they are doing the right thing to see them through the long haul. He explained that the two leagues have different organizational structures and the key to the AUDL’s success is the cooperation between the owners who meet weekly to talk business.
“The strength of the [AUDL] is contingent upon the weakest link of the league, so we are all in the business to be successful, but we need everyone to be successful in order to have a league that is successful,” he said. “From our perspective, as long as we have an ownership group of these franchises that work closely together, we’ll be fine.”
The Rush recently signed new sponsors include Telus Mobility, Dominos Pizza, and Subway. Telus will be presenting pre-game events and half-time shows, and is also partnering with the Toronto team to present the RUSH Signature Series by UltiCards.
The Toronto Rush take the field for the first time this weekend in Washington, DC, against the Breeze. Their first home game will be May 4 vs. the New Jersey Hammerheads.
Photo by Craig Stephen Photography.