Bigger Than The League: Is An Injured Brodie Smith Still Critical To The AUDL?

In an anonymous column for Ultiworld, a die-hard AUDL insider offers his take on tough marketing decisions facing the league: Do you rely on the popularity of your biggest name, or do you focus on the players delivering the most on the field?

What are 90,521,813 Youtube video views worth? When you’re a blooming professional sports league, what does 789,435 Youtube channel subscribers mean to you? The answer is everything. If the American Ultimate Disc League reached those statistical numbers by the end of their 2015 season they would consider it a wild success, probably a miracle. But that’s not their YouTube channel. That pinnacle of Ultimate viewership and reach belongs to Brodie Smith.

Doubt that the league still wants to use Brodie for as much marketing as it can?  Check out this post on their Facebook wall just last week1 –85,000 impressions is pretty impressive for a play that occurred years ago:



Brodie spent his college years winning a pair of national championships at the University of Florida. After leaving college he found his accurate arm and trick shot ability lended well to internet video popularity. By the fall of 2011, his Speed Boat Catch video had already been featured all across the entirety of the ESPN network: its channels, shows, and website. That was the same year he joined the Indianapolis AlleyCats in the newly created American Ultimate Disc League.

At this point, Brodie was already an Ultimate superstar. At the start of the 2012 season, he was healthy and piling up assists for the AlleyCats. While known for having a sniper accurate arm that could put a disc anywhere on the field, he was also known at the time for having a “me first” attitude as well. With a very inexperienced coach and owners looking to please the league’s biggest name, the team went as Brodie went. Even when he was hurt during the season and the AlleyCats entered the first ever AUDL Championship Game, he was hobbling out to only handle on offensive points. With his busted knee he could barely move, let alone cut or turn around and play defense.

After losing the championship that season, Brodie followed his friend and league work horse, Jonathan “Goose” Helton, to Chicago to play for the Wildfire, the new AUDL franchise in the city. In the next two seasons, Brodie continued to struggle with injuries. But the health of his trick shot videos and online following flourished. Soon it became very apparent to both the Wildfire and the AUDL that Brodie Smith was literally bigger than the league. And when a player is bigger than they league, he gets to dictate a great deal of things others don’t.

Chicago, known for playing with what is essentially an all Machine (Chicago’s successful club team) roster, found itself at the whim of the league’s career leader in assists. Players would routinely not know if Brodie was suiting up for the coming game or if he would be in India, Australia or Brazil filming more trick shot videos. When Brodie was around he was typically taking part in more of a mentor/coach role with the team. But regardless of where he was geographically, he continued to push the AUDL online to his followers on Twitter, Vine, and Instagram.

There’s a different standard for someone who is more popular than the entire league. The AUDL has 0.4 per cent the amount of Youtube views as Brodie does and they know it. Brodie has essentially turned himself into an Ultimate network. Through Brodie, the league can reach exponentially more people than it ever could through any of its other channels. More importantly, through him the AUDL can reach both ultimate fans and non-fans alike, something vital to the growth of a new league.

While both Brodie and the league continue to grow, no league has ever so much hinged its marketing efforts around one player. Some questions remain on the table for the future: At what point does the league find itself big enough to work alongside Brodie and not in his shadow? Will the signing of a new marketing firm further push Brodie to the forefront as the league’s poster boy or will the AUDL find itself compelled to raise up a stable of its own home grown stars?  Will a healthy Brodie be able to deliver clutch AUDL performances, like he did with club team Johnny Bravo during their championship run earlier this year?

It’s yet to be known if this coming 2015 season will feature Brodie on an AUDL field playing meaningful, competitive points for the Wildfire.  But with league commissioner Steve Gordon as Chicago owner, you can guarantee that no matter where Brodie is, there will be plenty of AUDL and Wildfire snapshots on his Instagram reaching his two hundred and forty six thousand followers. Regardless of what happens on the field the AUDL’s biggest concern is growing the league. When its only listed sponsor is a disc manufacturer, having a player who landed himself a car sponsorship with Subaru is good for business.

**Editor’s note: This piece is published anonymously; it represents the personal opinions of an AUDL insider**

  1. An even more recent post about a 2014 AUDL magazine preview on Facebook further shows how much AUDL marketing depends on Brodie [This has been edited to correct the year]  

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