USAU Board President Responds To Tiina Booth Column

An ESPN cameraman at the 2013 Club Championships.
Photo by Kevin Leclaire — UltiPhotos.com

This article was written by Mike Payne, the President of the Board of Directors at USA Ultimate.

I’d like to thank Tiina for surfacing two important and serious topics in her article last week.

My perspective as USA Ultimate Board President on each of the two main topics are below. These have been reviewed and approved by the Board and USAU staff leadership.

Topic #1: USA Ultimate’s Proposal Process

Tiina’s article appropriately highlighted a gap in process that occurred when the ‘Gender Equity Ombudsgroup’ Proposal was submitted by Peri Kurshan on 1/14 for the January 1/24-25 Board meeting.

That gap was a mistake that I made while attempting to follow USA Ultimate’s Proposal Process, and I apologize for the error.

Specifically, I prematurely placed the proposal on the agenda for the Board meeting. What I should have done was forward the proposal to the Marketing & Communications Working Group (as allowed for in Step 2 of the Process), which is the group that deals on a regular basis with ensuring compliance with our Gender Equity Policy (described in page 9 of the minutes of the January 2013 Board meeting), in the areas of focus of the submitted proposal – game coverage. I was not aware that this step (submission of the proposal to the appropriate Working Group) had been described in detail to Peri as the process that would be followed by USA Ultimate’s CEO Tom Crawford in mid-December.

The role of this Working Group, in this situation, is to evaluate the proposal for factual accuracy and relevance (i.e., determining if existing processes can adequately address the issue surfaced by the proposal rather than creating something new and perhaps redundant/complicating).

When I realized that I had made a procedural mistake, I emailed Peri on 1/24 to inform her of that error. It is unfortunate that this communication came so close to the Board meeting itself, but such an error is no reason to avoid due process. So, I informed Peri that the Board would not vote on the proposal at the meeting, and instead the review process that Tom described to her in December would be undertaken. Since 1/24, Mary-Clare Brennan (Chair of the Marketing & Communications Working Group) and I have been in consistent contact with Peri about the proposal and its status.

As described in “Next Steps” at the end of this article, we have proposed that USA Ultimate leadership jump on the phone with the proposal’s authors to discuss the concerns underlying the proposal, as well as potential solutions.

To be clear, at no time has anyone at USA Ultimate tried to ‘bury’ this proposal. Exactly the opposite – the fact that we have asked for a real-time discussion with the proposal’s authors as part of our review process, should act as a clear signal that we are taking the proposal (and most importantly the concerns that led to its submission) very seriously.

USA Ultimate is committed to fairness and due process, and again I apologize that a procedural error was made. However, I believe we are ‘back on track’ with providing due process for this important proposal, and I’m excited to work with the proposal’s authors to address their concerns in the best way possible.

Topic #2: USA Ultimate Game Coverage Gender Equity

Tiina’s article, and the proposal itself, describe concerns about USA Ultimate’s efforts to uphold gender equity in media coverage of USA Ultimate games.

To be honest, we are quite proud of our record in working towards gender equity in this area. The official numbers, as they relate to broadcast, are as follows for 20141:

 NexGenESPNTotal
Women20727
Men20929

I recognize that the numbers are not equal, and I wish they were. I will continue to push our organization to try and make them that way in the future. However, given the initial preferences our media partners, I am indeed proud of what we accomplished in 2014.

I want to be very clear – media companies, large and small, that are interested in broadcasting ultimate make it very difficult to achieve full gender equity because they prefer to broadcast men’s games. USA Ultimate has less leverage than many people think. With external media partners like NexGen and Ultiworld, our influence was fairly strong, and as a result we have achieved equitable results with 2013-2014 totals slightly in favor of the women’s division. (In 2014, NexGen aired 20 men’s games and 20 women’s games, while in 2013, Ultiworld aired 13 women’s games and 12 men’s games).

With ESPN, who has been a tremendous partner and a critical component to the number one goal in our Strategic Plan, USA Ultimate does not have the same level of influence. This is not for lack of trying – our marketing and communications staff has deep experience negotiating these deals at large organizations like USA Cycling and the U.S. Olympic Committee, and they have, and will continue, to encourage coverage of all our divisions (as called for by the policy).

However, ESPN, or any other network, will insist on full creative control over what it puts on its network, whether we like it or not. It literally came down to a walk-away discussion and we chose to have ultimate on ESPN with modestly uneven numbers, rather than miss the ESPN opportunity entirely. In the past two years we tried hard to ‘make up the difference’ with our endemic media partners, both of whom started off with a strong preference towards men (which is not surprising since they are trying to sell subscriptions and/or advertising, and men’s ultimate games currently attract on average 51% more viewers than women’s games). As mentioned above, we were successful in negotiating with Ultiworld in 2013 to achieve a 13/12 women’s/men’s split, and with NexGen in 2014 to achieve a 20/20 split.

It is important to note that in the USA Ultimate magazine and other channels over which USA Ultimate has full control, we have had fully equal gender coverage.

Again, I would love to see a completely equal split on TV/streaming, and I will continue to push us in this direction per the Gender Equity Policy. However, given the headwinds we have faced from media partners in the past two years, I am proud of what we’ve accomplished thus far.

Next Steps

While we are proud of our performance regarding gender equity, we understand that there are some prominent members of our community with concerns in this area. We want to more clearly understand these concerns and believe that we can continue to take steps to improve gender equity in ultimate even more (we have several projects outside the media space that are aimed at equity, including the GUM effort and more.)

It is very important to me that, beyond the miscommunication that occurred around procedural handling of the proposal, we respond quickly and transparently to the authors of the proposal and work closely with them to address their concerns. And, if their concerns belie broader concerns in the community, it is important that we communicate with those constituents as well.

That is why we have proposed a near-term conference call between USA Ultimate and the proposal’s authors. Our goals on that call are to:

1. Educate on what USA Ultimate has been doing, broadly, to promote gender equity. Lots of things have been done that may not be apparent, and we can improve communication of this work.

2. Discuss and better understand the concerns that the proposal authors have. After reviewing the proposal, the Marketing & Communications Working Group has a bunch of clarifying questions.

3. Brainstorm (together) the best way to address those concerns. Based on our review thus far, we believe that there may be many options for continuing to improve USA Ultimate’s gender equity work. It is very important to me that we collaborate real-time, with the authors of the proposal to figure out which option(s) are best. The idea of the ombudsgroup is one option among many that we will consider and discuss (though upon first review we are mildly concerned that this proposed group has many redundant responsibilities as compared to the Marketing & Communications Working Group as well as the Competition Working Group). And, I think we may brainstorm our way to other great ideas as well.

In conclusion, I am really looking forward to the conference call with the authors of the proposal – it will be a great chance to get a bunch of Ultimate’s leaders together, and work together real-time to figure out how to continue to improve our sport.


  1. These numbers do not account for Mixed, with 5 total games 

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