January 13, 2014 by Charlie Eisenhood in News with 21 comments
As the AUDL expands to the west coast this season, perhaps there is one city that seems notably absent: Portland. Oregon’s largest city has long been home to a thriving ultimate scene and is just hours from Eugene, the home of the University of Oregon, home of the defending women’s college national champions and one of the strongest across-the-board college programs in the country.
Yet the AUDL won’t be there any time soon.
The Portland AUDL franchise and territory rights were sold during the first season of AUDL competition, a tumultuous year for the league that included a lawsuit and, ultimately, an ownership change. But the Portland owner — Nathan Schorsch — decided to switch allegiances and invest in the upstart MLU, led by former Philadelphia Spinners owner Jeff Snader.
“After witnessing the season unfold, and the MLU form, we decided to investigate their model and vision for professional ultimate,” said Schorsch. “There were several reasons why we decided it would be better to go forward with the MLU: one of the biggest ones was the goals of each league. When talking to the leadership of the AUDL, the goal and the focus was always on how much money the owners could make by running a team. With the MLU, the focus was always on promoting the sport of ultimate and how we could give the players and fans the best possible experience. This way of thinking was far more in line with what we wanted to get out of a professional league.”
Schorsch is now an MLU investor and the general manager of the Portland Stags. Since he owns the AUDL franchise in Portland, the league cannot open a team in the city for five years.
The AUDL continues to pursue an aggressive expansion plan. They are opening six new teams this season: five on the west coast and one in Montreal. They hope to have 34 to 36 teams in the league by 2017. But Portland is not on the radar, for now.
“We’re not overly concerned about it,” said AUDL Commissioner Steve Gordon. “We’ll certainly keep our eye on the market.”
Schorsch said that the AUDL’s rapid expansion was one of the things that pushed him away from the league.
“Many of the teams that were part of the first year of the AUDL are no longer in existence, due to numerous factors such as lack of funds by ownership and legal issues,” he said. “The MLU is committed to supporting the teams that we have in place and improving all of them, as we all share in each other’s success…With their rapid expansion, it’s not that big of a deal if three of their teams fold if they get seven new teams rolled out.”
The New Jersey Hammerheads were the first and only casualty of the 2013 season, after the DC Breeze were saved by an influx of cash from a new investor. After the first season, the Rhode Island Rampage, Connecticut Constitution, and Columbus Cranes all folded. Additionally, the Philadelphia Spinners left the league and became the first MLU team.
A lot has changed at the AUDL since that first season, after Rob Lloyd bought the league from founder Josh Moore and successful new teams opened in Toronto and the Midwest. The league is unquestionably on firmer earth now than it was a year ago.
Madison Radicals owner and AUDL bigwig Tim DeByl put the Portland situation into context.
“Obviously this is a touchy situation,” he said. “Certainly we aren’t happy that Jeff [Snader] managed to take one of our expansion owners with him when he formed the MLU. Jeff is a persuasive guy, he gave a great pitch on his way out the door. I know he tried to get some other owners as well. There is no doubt that him leaving the AUDL set back the promise of Pro Ultimate a few years. At the same time, Jeff leaving set into motion a series of events that made the AUDL significantly stronger, and in the end will probably be one of the main reasons that we succeed.”