MLU Report Card: Grading The Boston Whitecaps’ 2015 Home Opener

Tiina Booth grades the Boston Whitecaps' season opener.

I watched a lot of ultimate this past weekend, on Twitter and in person. I followed the Maryland games to cheer on two ARHS alums, Eric Biggs and Lucas Denit. I followed the current ARHS boys team at a one-day tournament in Middletown, CT. I checked in on other Regional scores as I sat in a chair at D-III Men’s Regionals and in the stands at the MLU’s Boston Whitecaps’ opener. And I shouted out updates from around the country when I was supposed to be paying attention at Zoodisc’s Sunday scrimmage. A great spring ultimate weekend, second only to the one coming up in a few days.

What a difference a year makes for the Whitecaps. About a year ago, I wrote my first Ultiworld report card on their first game.  I am happy to report that there has been much progress and, of course, there is still room for improvement.

1. Tailgating

We saw about three groups of tailgaters with grills and disc games. The weather was brisk and the parking lot was surprisingly empty about 15 minutes before the pull. I have heard a number of people mention that the location is not ideal and that a lot of fans can’t make it out from the city. I don’t really understand that as I do not know Boston well but I expected more of a party. B-

2. Arrival and Ticketing

So much better than 2013 and 2014! I ordered our two tickets online and used “Sharonultimate” as a code, so they only cost about $12 each. Sharon High School gets a kickback, so I suggest doing that if you can. The ticket taker was friendly and accommodating; the five young women taking tickets only added to the festive atmosphere. A+

Ticket Takers
Ticket Takers

3. Signage at Stadium

Again, so much has improved in this area. The sponsor signs on the far side of the field were readable and anchored. Same was true for the signs along the walkway of the bleachers. A

4. Signage on the Way to the Stadium

None. Last year I wrote this suggestion for improvement, “Having signs on the busy roads outside of the stadium could bring in non-ultimate fans … thousands of cars go by those corners every day.”

I am not going to pretend that I know the cost of doing this or what the regulations are, but I think they are losing a great opportunity to reach more Muggles. I did work in advertising long enough to know that repetition, even the most subtle kind, will eventually attract new consumers. I can imagine parents driving by this busy corner every day and eventually noticing a sign announcing the Whitecaps’ next game.  Then perhaps they watch a clip from Sports Center with their child or get a Groupon via email. The next thing you know they are doing an online search and walking into Hormel Stadium. Between the busy corners and the billboards everywhere, something needs to change. D

5. Announcer and Loud Speaker

Brian Buck has replaced Josh McCarthy as the announcer, although many believe that Josh is irreplaceable. The PA system was working well and, aside from the Star Spangled Banner, I could hear everything that Brian said, including the repeated use of the word, “Touchdown!” Loud Speaker: A Announcer: B+

Clown Mascot

6. Clown and Mascot

This is a new category for 2015. Much of the crowd’s attention was focused on Wild Man (I think that’s his name) and a very talented clown. The balloon hats were spectacular and the new mascot, who was certainly energetic, could easily frighten small children and their parents. Clown: A Mascot: C for creepy.

7. Bathrooms

The innards of Hormel are certainly dated and, last year, the condition of the women’s bathrooms were abysmal. I am happy to report that my critique was taken to heart and someone, or an army of someones, cleaned it up. My deepest appreciation. A+++

8. Uniforms

The Rumble’s really short shorts from 2014 are in the history books. An ambivalent good riddance to them. Both teams looked good, wearing a mix of ultimate and soccer goalie chic. The bright red Coca-Cola across the chests of the Whitecaps was a bit jarring, maybe because of the design. Maybe because it is a fancy sponsor. A

MLU Instagram Picture

9. Food

The food truck is gone and has been replaced by a corner stand below the bleachers. They offer pizza and drinks, from a Coca-Cola cooler, as well as some snacks. They seemed to do a lot of business, although they periodically ran out of pizza, because they had to wait for a delivery. It was stadium pricey ($5 for a water and Kind bar) but that is to be expected. B

10. Ice Cream

None. Again. Now it was too cold for ice cream, but I implore you to find a way to deliver when (if) the weather turns warm. Last year I gave a 0. This year it is an F.

Do not make me give another bad grade in 2016.

11. Contests

Huck-a-Buck was fun, probably because my traveling companion won some shwag. Having the discs sold from the out-of-the-way MLU gear tent cuts down on sales, I think. I would have people working the stands a few minutes before the contest began. Kudos to whoever thought of taping the tickets to the inside of the discs. The t-shirt cannon was limp. He could barely clear the second row. Someone buy that poor machine another Co2 cartridge.

Jeff Graham tossed a disc into the crowd for some other prize, and Terry Roth outjumped the clown on stilts, but it was during the game. Weird. There needs to be some fine-tuning in this area. Something that has the potential to be entertaining can quickly turn distracting. We are there to watch ultimate, right? B-

12. Rules and Refs

So the weirdest rule, which I do not understand, is when the team that just scored is lined up at half field to pull to the other. Someone please explain this in the comments. But I do appreciate that they are trying to do new things with the rules. Refs are fine with me and the game seemed shorter than last year. Have the quarters been shortened or have I just gotten used to the clock? B

13. Levels of Skill and Thrill

I understand that it is early in the season and there are going to be a lot of turns. And I understand that everyone is gunning for a spot on SportsCenter, which is a worthy goal. The level of play and excitement will improve as the season goes on. Average for the two teams: B-

A Thin Crowd

14. Crowd

Feel free to disagree with me, Whitecaps management, but I do not think there were more than 300 people in the stands. Missing were the groups of high school players with the one parent who drove. Not many college players. I know there were a lot of competing ultimate events last weekend but I still was not able to identify any fans who were not somehow connected to a player. C

15. Overall Fan Experience

In spite of the small crowd, the Whitecaps have definitely improved their product. The thank-you gauntlet and high fives at the end of the game still feel authentic. I loved seeing all the parents and families congratulating their players from both teams. It was festive, fun, and felt at times like a real competition.

The Whitecaps are definitely part of the ultimate landscape in New England. I would love to see a game in western Mass between these two teams in 2016. I think that moving the venue around, in spite of all the headaches that entails, could help build the fan base. I personally guarantee that we could get more than 300 bodies at an MLU game in Amherst. Heck, we get close to that when UMass plays ARHS under the lights. Same grade as last year: B+ with a potential for A.

  1. Tiina Booth
    Tiina Booth

    Tiina Booth is the director of the National Ultimate Training Camp and a co-coach of the University of Massachusetts men. She founded the Amherst Invitational in 1992 and co-founded Junior Nationals in 1998. In 2006, she published a book about ultimate with Michael Baccarini, entitled Essential Ultimate. She has coached teams to numerous national and international titles. Her ongoing passion is sports psychology, and she offers clinics to coaches of ultimate and other sports. Tiina will be inducted into the Ultimate Hall of Fame at USAU Club Nationals in October of 2018.

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