April 10, 2014 by Charlie Eisenhood in News with 25 comments
The American Ultimate Disc League has finalized a contract with ESPN to show games on ESPN3, the media conglomerate’s online-only streaming network, with the possibility of select games being moved onto ESPN or ESPN2 at the network’s discretion.
The two year deal with a third year option includes 18 games in the 2014 and 2015 seasons — 14 regular season games along with a select early round playoff game, both semifinals, and the Championship Game.
“I think I speak for everyone associated with the AUDL when I say that we are extremely excited to partner with ESPN over the coming years,” said AUDL commissioner Steve Gordon in a statement. “The AUDL pioneered professional Ultimate, so partnering with the pioneer and world leader in sports broadcasting seemed like a natural fit.”
After games are streamed on the weekend, they will be published online — likely to the league’s YouTube channel — on Tuesdays. The league hopes that will help mitigate any issues for fans without ESPN3 access, which includes all Canadians.
“Having it live is good, but a lot of people are watching it post anyway,” said Tim DeByl, the Madison Radicals owner and a top league official.
The AUDL is also in discussions with TSN — the top Canadian sports network that is minority owned by ESPN — to air live games featuring the Toronto Rush or the Vancouver Riptide.
Evan Lepler, who last year did color commentary on the USA Ultimate ESPN3 broadcasts, will be the lead play-by-play commentator for the AUDL broadcasts. Megan Tormey and Chuck Kindred, the league’s announcers last year, will share primary color duties from week to week.
Lepler will also return to the booth for USA Ultimate games this year as play-by-play. The AUDL checked with him about any conflicts.
“When we approached Evan Lepler, we asked him to clear it with USA Ultimate,” said DeByl. “And they gave him their full blessing and said they were excited for him.”
The full 2014 streaming schedule has been announced; it includes games from 12 of the 17 teams. Not shown are Cincinnati, Salt Lake, Seattle, Philadelphia, and Detroit.
“What both ESPN and the league believe is that we should pick the best possible matchup every week,” said DeByl. “This is what every sports league does. This is our platform to showcase the best teams.”
San Jose — the early favorite to win the league this year despite coming in as an expansion team — and Madison, a finalist last year, have the most appearances with four. The defending champions, the Toronto Rush, will be shown three times.
The financial details of the contract were not made fully available, but the AUDL is not paying money to ESPN in the deal. “We have opportunities to earn money through advertising,” said DeByl.
It is still likely to be a very expensive undertaking. ESPN demands a high level of production quality, which requires the use of expensive equipment and personnel. Major League Ultimate’s Jeff Snader said in a podcast last week that they had the opportunity to be on ESPN3, but turned it down due to the $15,000-$50,000 per game cost of production.
DeByl declined to comment on specific production costs, but did say that the league believes that, over time, they can reduce the costs as they expand their in-house production team.
The size of the contract is similar to USA Ultimate’s two year deal with ESPN signed last year. USAU broadcast 18 games in 2013.
The AUDL’s opening broadcast on ESPN3 will take place this Saturday at 7 PM Pacific, as the San Jose Spiders host the San Francisco Flame Throwers in their home opener.