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New Mixed Gender Professional League Eying 2019 Start

The 6v6 league will compete with the AUDL.

One year after the dissolution of Major League Ultimate, a new semi-professional ultimate league is on the horizon.

The United Ultimate League — the brainchild of Savage Apparel Company founder Todd Curran — is set to begin competition in April 2019, pending a successful Kickstarter that will launch next month.

The UUL will feature six-on-six mixed gender competition with a 3:3 male:female ratio, played on a slightly smaller than regulation field under the USA Ultimate ruleset, including the use of self-officiation with observers.

“I wanted to create a league that showcases the best of the sport of ultimate,” said Curran in a statement. “The UUL is set to do just that. With a focus on gender equity, Spirit of the Game, and community outreach, the UUL will put ultimate’s best foot forward in the professional realm.”

The first season is set to feature two divisions of four teams each: the North Division and South Division. The North Division will host the Boston Whalers, New York Kraken, Philadelphia Pride, and Washington Generals. The South Division will host the Carolina Cutlass, Nashville Tristars, Atlanta Hounds, and Florida Gulls.

The season is short: teams will compete against each divisional opponent just once during the regular season to set seeding for the playoffs, which will include every team. Every Saturday during the season (the 2019 schedule is already announced), one city will host two games: a 5 PM contest between two out-of-town teams and a 7 PM showcase between the home team and a divisional opponent. The North and South Divisions will alternate weeks of competition, with the South teams playing in odd-numbered weeks and the North teams on the evens. Every game night will also feature a youth clinic.

“It’s a lot easier to get 500 fans to come out to one event than it is to get them to come out to six to ten events over the summer,” said Curran.

Weeks 7 and 8 will be Divisional playoff rounds (and will be hosted by Atlanta and Philadelphia, which will not play a home regular season game). The four quarterfinalist winners will advance to the Championship, to be held in Richmond, Virginia, on June 29, 2019, with semifinals at 3 and 5 PM and the final at 7 PM.

United Ultimate League North and South Division teams.

Game Format

While the details are not yet finalized, the UUL is planning to play timed games with a running clock counting upwards like in soccer. Curran said that it is like the games will be either 60 or 90 minutes, with the possibility of the observers adding time (as in soccer) to account for stoppages and injuries.

“We’re going to change it to make it easier for spectators to watch and to stay on schedule,” he said.

The field is planned to be around 35 yards by 90 yards, smaller than the standard 40 by 110 yard field used during USA Ultimate competition. Curran said his experience running USA Flatball — a now-defunct tournament organization that featured mostly college-based six-on-six mixed competition — helped him determine that this format can work at a higher level.

Trying it with USA Flatball definitely showed that [six-on-six] was possible and doesn’t affect the game in a negative way,” said Curran. “I think it affects it in a positive way with more gender equal play.”

The league has already been approved for USA Ultimate sanctioning, which will provide event insurance and require players to be USAU members. USAU has approved the rule modifications. Any future rule changes would need to be approved as well.

Teams will roster 24 players (12 men and 12 women), but only 18 (9/9) will be eligible to play on game days.

Financing

The league will be launching a Kickstarter on February 1st, seeking to raise at least $50,000 to fund the first season. If the Kickstarter doesn’t reach the target, the league won’t move forward.

“If we don’t get the money, it’s not what the community is looking for,” said Curran.

The Kickstarter will also feature higher targets for stretch goals, including the possibility of more divisions as soon as 2019. The UUL is already thinking about four team divisions in the Midwest, South Central, Southwest, and Northwest.

For now, the UUL is focused on keeping costs under control. Team locations were selected “with driving distances in mind” and the small number of games will keep travel costs down. Player compensation may depend on the level of funding received from the Kickstarter.

The goal for year one is to make a ‘no pay to play’ league,'” said Curran. “Uniforms will be paid for; travel costs will be paid for.” 

Players will be able to earn money based on jersey sales: a percentage of every replica jersey sold will go to the player, and an additional percentage will go to a broader ‘player pool’ that will pay out to every player in the league.

Curran hopes to generate revenue through traditional sports league channels: ticket sales, apparel sales (his company, Savage, is the league’s official partner), and sponsorship.

The league and its teams will be centrally operated (100% of the equity is owned by Curran).

Competition With The AUDL

UUL team jerseys.

Given that the UUL season will run from mid-April to late June, the league will directly compete with the AUDL both for player talent and fans.

“I created the UUL independently of the AUDL,” said Curran. “I looked at USA Ultimate and their schedule, what opportunities there were, and what the community has been discussing over these past few years.”

Curran did say that he is open to discussing scheduling with the AUDL to try to avoid conflicting home games in shared cities (New York, Philadelphia, Washington DC, Nashville, Atlanta, and Raleigh).

“This is an exciting time for ultimate,” AUDL Commissioner Steve Gordon told Ultiworld. “Like everyone, we are interested in seeing how the market responds to a mixed format.”

The AUDL is currently facing criticism over its lack of female representation, and a boycott of the league has grown in scope since being announced last month.

Notably, the UUL has no plans for livestreaming, instead focusing on developing their game day experience. That’s in contrast to the AUDL, which has only increased the amount of live games available to online viewers in recent years. The UUL will film their games, per Curran, and then edit it down to a condensed version, with some player interviews and other elements of the event like the youth clinic.

No Ultrastar?

The UUL has already announced that they plan to use the new Aria disc for games, eschewing the stalwart Discraft Ultrastar.

“Their goals are in line with the UUL,” said Curran. “So we were able to come up with a package that I felt benefited the league and benefited Aria in a positive light. So we’re going to be using their disc.”

The MLU was heavily criticized for using the Innova Pulsar during its launch. The Aria, though, has been more warmly welcomed as a competitor to the Ultrastar, perhaps due to a greater sense of its organic development within the existing ultimate community.

Aria Tweet

Long-Term Vision

Curran spoke at length about the “community-driven” nature of the UUL. He wants the league to be supported by local disc organizations and players. The league plans to establish a board before the opening pull (April 20th, 2019) goes up. There will be a players’ association helmed by both a male and female representative that will set on the board.

They’re going to help make a lot of policy in season one,” he said.

The league has already reached out to stakeholders in cities where it hopes to operate teams and has talked with players about what they would want to see from a mixed professional league.

Curran has big goals.

“I would love to see ultimate in the Olympics playing the 6v6 style of play,” said Curran. “I think that this is the way it’s going to be in the Olympics.”

Correction: An earlier version of this article suggested that the UUL would not focus on providing game video. That was misleading. The article has been corrected to further contextualize the league’s plan for its video product.

  1. Charlie Eisenhood

    Charlie Eisenhood is the editor-in-chief of Ultiworld. You can reach him by email (charlie@ultiworld.com) or on Twitter (@ceisenhood).

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