January 13, 2014 by Charlie Eisenhood in Interview, Other with 2 comments
On Friday afternoon, I participated in a Reddit “Ask Me Anything,” where users could ask my any variety of questions and I would answer them. Here are the best questions and answers from Ultiworld’s AMA.
There are more questions and context in the full AMA, which I encourage you to check out. Feel free to leave follow-up questions there or in the comments on this post.
There has been some light editing for clarity.
Is the video store profitable? I always scroll past the plug for newly available videos at the top of the site home page, but I can never bring myself to pay the $4. There is plenty of video footage available elsewhere, and the games Ultiworld offers often aren’t always the most exciting or resourceful (e.g. Steel City Showdown). With that said, Ultiworld/Spin do provide a higher quality production (camera angles, etc.), which definitely sets these videos a little apart.
[quote]It’s a mixed bag. Some tournaments we definitely turn a profit; others are more break even (especially lower-level college tournaments). In a lot of ways, we see video as a great service for teams as opposed to some sort of cash cow. There are plenty of people who are never going to buy a $4 video of, say, a sloppy fall college game. But the players on those teams and, in some cases, in those regions LOVE access to quality video. I would say only 30-40% of our video is geared for wide spectator consumption. A lot of it is used for scouting and teaching. We’re glad we can offer that.[/quote]
I’m curious about how many people are paying for the single-game videos. I’m sure tournament packs are more popular, but still not worth it in my opinion. Which leads me to my next question: would you consider a subscription option for users that would allow a reader/viewer to pay a monthly/annual rate and have access to all of the videos Ultiworld posts?
[quote]Yes, definitely. It is on our list of concepts for 2014. We are considering making a premium content package (monthly subscrip.) that could include different tiers including exclusive content and scouting, full access to video archives, group chats with editors/reporters, etc.[/quote]
Is Ultiworld your guys’ day job, or do you have different jobs as well?
[quote]It is my full time job, but I’m the only full timer. I also tutor in New York and Westchester to pay the bills since I haven’t yet taken a paycheck![/quote]
Are you going to be covering championship footage now that Nexgen has been announced to come back? Does this mean you’ve been kicked out completely or will you be covering games that don’t get covered by ESPN/Nexgen? I’m sure Mixed would like the love.
[quote]Not sure yet. We are still in discussions with USA Ultimate. We are certainly not kicked out, but the economics get much, much trickier when we are placed under a lot of restrictions due to NexGen’s priority.
Our hope is that we can work out a mutually beneficial plan — there are plenty of good games to go around.
Regarding Mixed, the biggest challenge is that, in general, Mixed gets far less interest from players outside of the division. Filming games is a very expensive and time-intensive process for us — many people are involved and are, therefore, removed from doing reporting. The cost/benefit has to be there. Not sure it is with Mixed.[/quote]
Any thoughts about adding an ombudsman to the payroll?
[quote]Wow, an ombudsman! Haven’t considered it before. With our limited budget (please see my High Release post), I’m not sure it would be the BEST use of resources. That’s not to say we don’t deserve some criticism sometimes, but commenters do such a good job of keeping us in line. I got reamed for my post about the AUDL and USAU tweets yesterday. Don’t need an ombudsman to tell me I overreached there.[/quote]
You have come up with some creative and some visually effective ways of quantifying the game of ultimate (e.g. comparison scoring charts, the variety of individual metrics for NexGen players). Which, in your opinion, is the most telling stat, and what does it tell us about a player that we can’t glean from watching him or her play?
[quote]From Sean Childers, Statistics Editor: Good and tough question. The easy place to start is what we think are the least telling: goals, assists, and completion percentage. As Lepler mentioned on some of the Danny Clark scores in the Ironside game, anyone can end up catching the goal when 6 other players did more of the work to get them there. Completion percentage, we use that, but it’s very noisy and unstable. So while “she completed 60% of her passes that game; he completed 100% of his passes” — that might be very descriptive of the game but very poor indicators of the quality of the players. That stat bounces around a lot game per game, more than I think people would believe or want to believe from just watching.
There’s also a bit of a tension between descriptive and predictive stats generally. I think usage rate is very telling descriptively — it tells you who dominated the disc. But the team with the highest usage player isn’t favored in any sense of the word, just like in basketball, where some teams share the ball more than others.
Expected contribution is good and maybe most telling offensive stat; we did stats for PoNY and Riot over the course of the season and we also did other big teams at big tournaments. The players in the top of EC are generally who you’d expect. But most teams already have a good idea who their top players are (Jack Marsh being #1 in EC doesn’t exactly tell you something you couldn’t glean from watching). So the more interesting question is how valid is that stat down the roster, where it’s much more difficult to know who is the 10th best player and the 15th best player and the 20th best player on your team. To be honest I’m not sure we are 100% there yet but it definitely puts out some interesting results. On a pure defensive basis, I think we may still prefer the Ultiworld D rating to defensive EC and find that more telling.
I would say a lot of the interesting EC results tend to be yardage surprises. You might be surprised to find out how widely yardage is distributed across a team. Yes you have deep play threats, that’s obvious, but you might watch a game and see someone get 10 touches and then have no idea that that person really netted under one or two yards per touch. And very few teams actually attempt to play offense by gaining one or two yards at a time.[/quote]
If you had to choose, who will be around in 10 years: AUDL or MLU?
[quote]10 year time frame…hmm.
Here’s what I think. By then, there will either be 0 or 1 leagues. If there is one, it is very likely to be a hybrid of the two. Handicapping which league will make it as the “winner” (a la NBA v. ABA) is basically impossible at this point.
Please read this article I wrote about this topic.[/quote]
How big is ultimate to you personally? Have you crossed from “favorite free time activity” to “this is how a make my living and spend my life”? How do you hope to see it grow?
[quote]Well, it’s pretty big. It’s my job. Unfortunately, I play less now than ever before in my life because I”m so frequently out reporting.
I think the multidirectional growth is really great. USAU is doing outstanding stuff at the youth level, the semi-pro leagues are pouring money and effort into expanding the footprint of the sport, and basically everyone involved on the business side has a mutual interest in both participant growth and spectator growth.
Two things are really important: getting more kids playing and getting more sponsors interested.[/quote]
How did Ultiworld start and how much of your staff were you connected to before it began?
[quote]It started through a series of conversations with some friends at NYU. I was really wishing there was a news-focused website for ultimate, but one didn’t exist. I started talking to some ulti player friends about the idea of starting a website.
I went to Abu Dhabi for a year after graduating and continued to work on the concept. I pretty much decided I was going to do something in Winter 2011. I bought the domain ultiworld.com.
When I got back in June of 2012, I was hanging around New York, living in my girlfriend’s apartment, sort of spinning my tires. Then the AUDL lawsuit news broke, and I realized that this was really an opportunity to put up or shut up. I wrote my very first Ultiworld article and published it on my blog.
After it got 1000s of views in 24 hours, I realized, wow, there is a huge demand for this. I spent 48 hours with Wes Cronk (OG commentator and Deep Look analyst) putting together a slapdash WordPress website. We launched the site, and the rest is history.[/quote]
What’s your favorite single player and/or or team highlight reel?
[quote]Favorite player…tough question. Watching Jimmy Mickle dominate at the Club Champs was pretty impressive. I love the way Mark Lloyd has been playing over the last year. I’ve long enjoyed watching my good friend Husayn Carnegie (NYU, Empire) make crazy plays.
On the women’s side, Sandy Jorgenson is such a dominant presence. Lien Hoffman has been great to watch develop into a superstar. Cara Crouch has a good claim for MVP of the club season.[/quote]
What will be your selection process for filming college DI games this regular season? Do you plan on even regional distribution, focusing on high profile teams, or more community voting on the games? Also, will you be filming more, less, or relatively equally to last year?
[quote]Probably a blend of all that. We will be filming a LOT of games this year. Should have primary coverage of QCTU, Florida Warm Up, Easterns, Stanford, Centex (maybe — lots of restrictions there from Longhorn network), Northwest Challenge, New England Open. Streaming from many of these.[/quote]
Who is your pick for breakout college player of the year?
[quote]Breakout college player…Harvard’s Jeremy Nixon had a crazy good fall. Does he count? He’s been good for a while, but was overshadowed by Piers MacNaughton last year.[/quote]
Many people have a favorite tournament to play or a favorite opponent to play against; do you have a favorite tournament to cover or a favorite team to report on/follow?
[quote]I love a great interview. Some of the best: Central Florida coach Andrew Roca, Trey Katzenbach, GOAT coach Shooter Hastie, UNC coach Mike DeNardis. Favorite tourney? Anything out in California![/quote]
One of my favorite developments for the past club seasons is Ultiworld’s tournament previews and tournament roundups. Do you guys plan on expanding on these, and really getting to know more players? Especially with teams that have lower rankings (~15-25) instead of simply basing the out look on previous tournament results?
[quote]Yes. A lot of our first year of reporting is about gaining a knowledge base. We are also always expanding our reporter base. That means we can do better, more in-depth reporting on players and teams. Our college coverage is really going to be good, I think.
Our analysis game is also about to step up big time. We have some very smart people on staff now who can really break down a game. Expect more Grantland/Zach Lowe-esque insight this year.[/quote]
In general, what are the main ways you’re looking at growing and expanding in the next couple of years?
[quote]Continuing to increase our core product: news, tournament reporting, and analysis. We are vastly expanding our columnist base. We are also focusing pretty heavily on monetizing this year. We need to continue to generate ad $s in order to grow. Also, more video![/quote]
Are there/has there been plans to partner with Skyd and create the “ultimate” (sorry) news resource for the community?
[quote]I guess the short answer is no. We think what Skyd does is great and it is good for the community to have access to different perspectives, columnists, and reporting. But, at risk of sounding a lot like the semi-pro leagues, I don’t think our business ideas would mesh together well at this point. We do different things and focus on different goals. Could it happen some day? Sure. Certainly, I wish we had a bustling Seattle bureau.[/quote]
Charlie, what’s your backstory? I’ve read the blurb at the end of your articles, but I imagine there is a bit more to it. How did you fall so far in love with the sport?
[quote]My uncle Adam Ford — long-time Albuquerque/Chicago player — got my interested in the sport from a young age. Didn’t really pick it up seriously until early high school. Went to an ABQ tourney with a bunch of HS friends and got instantly hooked. I started my HS team (which I’m happy to say still exists!) and we had practices, went to the occasional tournament (not much youth action in New Mexico), and had a blast. Got blanked at Western HS Nationals up in Boulder in our first year, but wow that was a fun time.[/quote]