Discord Debates: Ultibucks

Could a USAU digital currency actually work?

A volunteer updates scores at the 2018 World Ultimate Club Championships. Photo credit: Kevin Leclaire -- UltiPhotos.com
A volunteer updates scores at the 2018 World Ultimate Club Championships. Photo credit: Kevin Leclaire — UltiPhotos.com

We at Ultiworld are always up for a good-natured debate, which these days takes place in our Discord server, where all of our contributors and Full and Plus subscribers have a chance to weigh in and share their thoughts. Now, we’ve decided to pull back the curtain on some of those debates as a bonus for all readers. What follows is a lightly edited version of a few recent internal discussions about creating an alternate payment option for volunteers. 

If you’re wondering what Ultibucks are, stop and read this first. Otherwise, read on for a conversation about Ultibucks from the Ultiworld Discord.

Keith Raynor (Senior Editor)

Shout out to Ari Jackson for the initial idea, which can be heard on Deep Look: Radical Rethinking of Ultimate from Feb 25 2021.

Does anybody know of relevant examples of this implementation in other areas? I imagine you can find some small scale examples in classrooms. Credit card loyalty programs also have some parallels.

Ari Jackson (Subscriber)

Credit card loyalty and airline miles have parallels, but not the underlying backstop that I think would be necessary. You don’t have to redeem airline miles in order to book a flight.

Steve Sullivan (Executive Editor)

Should Ultibucks accrue to individuals or teams? I can see some pros and cons either way.

Ari

Has to be individual IMO.

Keith

Is this necessarily an either/or?

Charlie Eisenhood (Editor-in-Chief)

Should you be able to directly purchase Ultibucks?

You would create a fixed exchange rate with USD if so. So you’d need to think about how valuations would work in relation to earning Ultibucks via volunteering, coaching, etc.

Keith

This might require non-transferability.

Ari

What do you mean?

The way I initially envisioned it (doesn’t have to work this way though) is that player fees at Nationals become $90 + 10 UB. Up to each individual to figure out how to acquire those 10 UB. USAU just must make sure they issue many more UB than they require for Nationals, otherwise there is no way to pay for your Nationals fee.

In other words, USAU must run a healthy UB deficit.

Keith

And the benefit for USAU is that UB can encourage behaviors that benefit the organization in various ways, both by benefitting local and greater ultimate communities and directly benefitting USAU’s efforts.

Steve

Curious to means test a little. If we use Ari’s example straight up — Nationals bid fee is $90 +10 UB — what is an (or several) appropriate example of the volume of work equivalent to 10 UB. is it two days of volunteering at a tournament? Is it coaching a youth team for a season? Running a single four hour clinic? Serving on a local disc org board? Is it about the hours put in or is there a sliding scale based on the community need/jobs people don’t want to do?

Keith

Basically if wealthy individuals could just skip all of the community-building activities for them and their friends, it could lead to real problems. But non-transferability would be rendered irrelevant since cash is easily transferable.

Ari

This is a feature, not a bug. If wealthy individuals would subsidize volunteer activities that are currently unpaid and/or unfilled, that is a win for everyone.

That balance [of work required for an Ultibuck] would need to be worked out, fine tuned over time, and constantly adjusted. It should be a combo of hours/effort and need IMO.

Ben M (Subscriber)

Yeah you just have to put some kind of wage rate on person hours for the various activities, and change those based on supply and demand.

Things like coaching and observing probably should earn more UB per hour than…being on a local disc org board? I’m not sure what the somewhat lesser volunteer activities might be.

Chris Ginet (Subscriber)

A follow-up to this. Would being on a local board for a non-USAU affiliate organization earn you Ulti-bucks?

Just something to consider when many large local orgs are not currently affiliate organizations.

Charlie

$20 = 1 Ultibuck?

Chris

If we’re using Ari’s example of $90 + 10UB, then $20 per UB seems reasonable. I would personally prefer more UB required and have the exchange rate be lower.

Charlie

I think you want people who want to pay out to have to actually pay. If you do 90/10, but Ultibucks are only $10 a pop, there’s little incentive to volunteer, etc. $10 Ultibucks is easy math.

Alex Rubin (Senior Staff Writer)

I mean the amount is dependent on what we use it for. So if it costs 10 UB to play at Nationals, I can spend $200 or I can volunteer for a weekend (I made this part up based on what I’d like to be paid for a weekend of volunteering), so therefore volunteering for a weekend is 10 UB?

How does that compare to coaching a youth team for a season? That would get me like 200 UB and I can sell the extra?

We can make the scale whatever we want, but I think the total amount we want any one person to have should be considered.

Charlie

I think there should be fixed Ultibuck rewards for doing certain things — say, coaching youth season gets you 50 UB. But if you aren’t otherwise paid you should earn more UB.

And then there should be Ultibuck exchanges where you can buy and sell on the market. They would probably trade at 10% discount to direct purchase from USAU.

Chris

I’m not totally sure how this would work, but I love this idea. I was an assistant coach at a private school this past spring and got paid $500 for going to things twice a week for 10 weeks. A friend of mine coached at another school and got paid nothing for a much higher workload.

Ben

I have only coached as a volunteer, but something like ultibucks would definitely address the fact that coaches should be compensated and often it doesn’t make sense to ask college kids to pay more money (if the school isn’t paying the coach) to fund a coach salary.

Chris

Mine was at the high school level, but I agree with the sentiment.

Tanner Jurek (Social Media Coordinator)

Who is going to create the infrastructure for this?

Ben

It would have to be USAU or USAU adjacent right? (Obviously they could subcontract it)

Ari

Personally, I think the buyout for Nationals should be fairly equivalent to the cost of the airfare. So $300-500. If the $10 = 1 UB is useful, then $90 + 30-50 UB would be the right amount.

I think you want to really encourage people to volunteer, but make the buyouts high enough that they are meaningful $$.

Sean Parker (Subscriber)

Gonna be real awkward when a team of super busy college students with no local tournaments or youth scene is standing at the gates of Nationals looking at their coach with a big stash of UB from the season.

Maybe it will incentivize them to start those things, but that’s not always practical.

Steve

Where else aside from Nationals would you be required to spend Ultibucks?

Charlie

Regionals, USA National Team tryouts. You should be able to spend them to get annual memberships.

Ben

Isn’t the idea that USAU would/could/should accept Ultibucks as a form of payment instead of/in addition to USD for any situation where people would be paying USAU for something? (Or a USAU affiliate/delegate, like Regionals TD)

So, isn’t it “yes, and” for Nationals, Regionals, membership dues, etc. (Clinics? Merch? Discs?)

Ari

IMO, USAU can accept UB as a form of payment instead of USD in some cases*, but they must require them for enough high demand services to drive demand for the UB currency.

*But they need to be careful not to accept too many UB in place of USD to significantly impact their operating budget. They still have to pay their employees, facilities, and pretty much everything in USD.

Ben

All good points, i retract my pie in the sky notions to the more grounded and brutal reality that is required for the success of Ultibucks.

Abochkod (Subscriber)

It seems like there would be a lot of people who earn Ultibucks (or at least do things that would earn Ultibucks) and have nothing to do with them. Like my college coach would presumably earn bucks for coaching but then would not spend them on anything. If they are easy enough to sell maybe that would happen but it seems like most likely they would just sit unused. I don’t know that this is a problem but I imagine a lot of the work that Ultibucks are meant to incentivize would still be uncompensated.

Charlie

Yep. I think membership could be bought with Ultibucks at exorbitant UB prices. Lets USAU burn off excess UB in the system. Could be good to reward super volunteers/coaches with a “free” membership.

Bulb (Subscriber)

I say we let super volunteers redeem massive stockpiles for the ultimate equivalent of an Indulgence. 100K UB and you get to override an observer in a championship game.

Charlie

I know you’re joking but actually there should be sweet bonuses like an all-expenses-paid trip to Nationals.

Alex

If one earns UB for volunteering for local orgs, presumably one could also spend them on a local league perhaps? For example, if I volunteer through the local LA disc org to coach YCC, I could spend my UB on winter league signups. That way it’s worth something even if I don’t play club. If it must be USAU, one could also spend UB on Nationals spectator fees perhaps.

Ari

They should sell them to players who qualify for Nationals and haven’t earned enough UB through volunteering.

A local org could accept UB as payment, just as they could accept gold, US treasuries, or any other fungible asset as payment. In the end though, they are going to want to redeem them back to USD to pay their expenses.

This is different from USAU accepting UB, since USAU is the entity that creates UB. When USAU redeems UB, they don’t redeem them for anything, they simply remove them from circulation.

Alex

Or a local org could use their UB to pay USAU for insurance or whatever dues they have.

Bulb

If they’re a USAU affiliate, sure. Not all local orgs are affiliates though.

Pnut (Subscriber)

When can I trade UB on coin base?

Ari Jackson

I think [a local organization paying USAU with UB] misses the point. UB are worthless to USAU, they can create them out of nothing. They are valuable to USAU in that they provision services that are currently not happening at full scale (e.g. observing, stat collection, coaching).

Ari Jackson

Sounds like DG needs some Ultibucks.

Fish Tweet

Ben

Not sure if this is useful but I learned of a volunteer position within the observer corps that does get a free membership as part of the position (regional observer coordinator). Maybe this is a sign that USAU will be open to Ultibucks if spun correctly, but the valuation is probably off somewhat from these discussions, I think, based on the time it would take to become qualified for and then do that volunteer job.

Tony Leonardo (Subscriber)

So from a historical perspective, the way to get USAU to adopt something or take on a forward-thinking project is to actually go out and do it. Recent examples are Rico’s scholarships, AGE UP and GUM, if I recall. In the distant past, the Callahan Rules which brought with it the modern observer system, games to 15, a tighter time management system, the Callahan Award and the Callahan goal all came from outside and existed for several years before being brought in/adopted by USAU as a whole.

Charlie

Unfortunately, I don’t think Ultibucks happens without USAU.

Ben

If there were a wealthy benefactor, could they independently finance the conceptual underpinnings of Ultibucks? They create some kind of ledger to give people that agreed to volunteer payment for their time volunteered? Maybe if that person’s name was Charlie we would name it Chuckybucks?

Ari

It likely doesn’t work if you don’t require payment in UB for something desirable (playing at Nationals or in the series). Otherwise, there is no value in acquiring or trading UB.

Steve

Is an Ultiworld subscription something desirable? Could we issue Ultibucks for services to the sport that could be redeemable for subscription tiers? Not saying we could/will, just curious if that’s a way people might be interested in spending accumulated Ultibucks.

Ari

I think that would drive a small demand for UB, but probably not enough to sustain it — and Ultiworld would be taking a financial hit in order to subsidize it, unless the subscription prices are current $$ + UB. But I’d guess that doing that would just crater the subscriber numbers.

Orion Burt (Director of Technology)

Something I’ve long thought is that local disc orgs should require volunteer hours (or Ultibucks) in exchange for field permits for club team practice times. This is coming from NYC experience where most teams already use field times reserved by local disc org rather than dealing with the parks department themselves, not sure how that works elsewhere. Depending on how strong the need is for volunteer hours, that requirement could be on top of or subsidize or replace the hourly field fee.

Sam Echevarria (Contributor)

Ultibucks to ensure your summer league team gets priority reg? I could see that being super successful in Madison for example. A town like Madison or Seattle could probably make a run at UB use.

Tony

We have a lot of tech/engineer people in the sport and some that work in blockchain technology, not sure how easy or difficult it would be to spin up a model or build the chain?

Ari

There is no reason this has to be blockchain. It can be, but it isn’t necessary. It’s just a ledger, like a banking checking account. It needs to be properly encrypted, but doesn’t need to be Blockchain.

These local towns could do something like [working with summer league teams to give priority registration] to ensure their community needs are met. Would be tough to exchange the currency between different communities though.

Tony

I thought a properly encrypted ledger was… a blockchain? Why wouldn’t UB build on one of the many versatile blockchains already in existence? Heck I bet something like Kadena (in Brooklyn) was partially created by an ultimate player and we don’t even realize it.

Pure speculation of course and I don’t know the underlying technology or if a chain/not chain is better.

Cody Mills (Subscriber)

It would seem to be over-engineering to use blockchain for such a project, but it would probably make it marketable in a weird way.

Steve

BADA has tried this for a few years. Essentially, in order to be able to go through them for field rental, a club team had to commit to participating in some tryout process open to all community members (for top teams, this often meant a single open tryout day for the division that was run by captains of various elite club teams), some percentage of your roster had to help run an event or participate in a league (in order to incentivize signups from people who wanted to play with elite players), and/or do some other kind of community service like hosting a clinic or coaching a youth program. It worked in some ways but didn’t work in other ways.

I think teams that did the most had higher priority for choosing fields/times than teams that did less.

Tanner

Unless Ultibucks is hypothetical, I’m having trouble coming to terms with the same organization that had the worst website in the world for 20 years and is wildly overworked and underpaid being able to create Ultibucks.

Former Subscriber

Would this be implemented at an Ultiworld level or USAU level?

Keith

Most people seem to believe it won’t work without USAU’s heavy involvement.

Tony

Let’s start a DAO. UltiBucks can be UB for the ecosystem. Tournament wins can be a new currency within the system that can be traded for UB. Call it UltiWins or UWI, pronounced Yew-EE.

Michael Aguilar (Contributor)

Shameless self-promotion

Aguilar Tweet

Keith

Charlie and I are reversed.

Conrad Nguyen (Subscriber)

Being able to exchange Ultibucks for money is a fundamental part of why they could work. Otherwise it’s just mandated volunteering in a community that already abuses free labor. Pay what would normally be a volunteer position in Ultibucks, they can then use that for their own bid fees or sell on the free market to a team that hasn’t done enough to earn their own.

Ravi Vasudevan (European Reporter)

Isn’t this just properly paying for labor with extra steps? If Ultibucks are worth real money, why not just pay real money?

Maybe I just don’t get what Ultibucks are supposed to be. If they are just a long joke that I’m not actually supposed to take too seriously then I missed that.

If they are something that has actual monetary value then I don’t see who gets to control that rate and how many exist out there. And if they are worth real money that just means I have to keep some of my money tied up in ultibucks to be part of the system? Seems not great.

Don’t think it solves the problem it is trying to solve (not enough money to properly pay for labor in ultimate is the root problem right?)

AJK (Subscriber)

I think the root idea is to directly encourage the ultimate community to support ultimate institutions by volunteering. Make some amount of Ultibucks a requirement for high-level tournaments. If you volunteer you get Ultibucks directly, if you don’t volunteer you can pay into the system directly with USD. The idea being you get more direct involvement and/or cash into the system of developing players and regional tournaments.

I think you could critique the basis of the idea (high-commitment low-reward sport already at club level, then add semi-mandated volunteering on top?), but I think it’s sound in that it is a workable concept for addressing the low-reward volunteer burnout problem ultimate has at a non-Nationals level.

Ravi

Still seems weird. If I can buy/sell my UB for USD, and you are adding UB to tourney fees and memberships, aren’t you just increasing membership and tourney fee costs and paying volunteers with a bunch of unnecessary steps in between?

Bulb

Yes to all of that, but with an asterisk on the word “unnecessary” – no one else has figured out a better way to pay volunteers, and I’d argue it’s absolutely necessary for the sport that we figure that out. This is just one idea that may or may not work, but if it does work, it’s not really relevant whether the in between steps are “necessary” so long as they are sufficient to achieve the final result.

Tim Smith (Subscriber and WAFC Executive Director)

Ultimate’s culture around volunteerism is not sustainable. Especially if we hope to diversify leadership within the sport. Some organizations may be positioned to source funding from third-party sources (grants, large-scale donations) to fund better compensation/incentives, but the short- to intermediate-term financial solution boils down to getting more money from the existing player community to fund better compensation for volunteers, stipend workers, and ideally more full-time organizers across the sport.

But I’d argue that the cultural obstacles are harder to overcome than the financial obstacles – in my judgment, a majority of long-time players/leaders in the community cannot detach themselves from their own volunteer history/contribution and overvaluing that experience and past outcomes when making decisions about how we streamline our growth of capacity/infrastructure now. The operating landscape has changed but the culture is lagging behind. If I’m challenged as an organizer to get governance to value the concept of “paying people for their time/labor,” that makes me skeptical of more creative solutions, but perhaps creative solutions are the way to start breaking down the barriers.

Mei-Lien Converse (Camera Operator)

I feel like summer of 2021 MUFA did something similar. Players or teams that donated money to the youth got jersey color preference, field preference, and early or late game preferences. Pretty cool fundraiser honestly.

Alex

Rico Tweet

Tim

Not sure if “Ultibucks” is the correct parallel for this but I was able to get approval from my Board of Directors to try this new partnership system for 2022. The TL;DR version: WAFC will be giving payments to local club teams for their collective participation & volunteering in WAFC leagues & programs. The hope is to shift the focus of our partnership with local clubs to a service-based relationship and away from a field-access-based relationship (which in the DC region simply isn’t sustainable for infinite reasons).

Hammers (Subscriber)

Tim, I love that you’re really implementing this. Very cool and hope the idea spreads.

Tim

We’ll see how it goes! The 2022 version will largely be about benchmarking but by next year hopefully we’ll know how it’s contributing to volunteering and participation from our local club teams and players.

Just finished cross-checking the submitted rosters of 15 club teams from the DC region against 2022 participation & volunteering in WAFC leagues and events. Out of 537 rostered names submitted (including practice players), 303 (56%) participated in a WAFC event or upcoming event in 2022. Based on the breakdown of participation, captaining & volunteering for WAFC leagues, we’ll be disbursing more than $5,000 in partnership payments to our club teams. The highest disbursement = $810. The average across the 15 teams = $378.

Ari

Meta is reportedly making ‘Zuck Bucks’

Scott Singleton (Subscriber)

Chuck Bucks > Zuck Bucks

MetroBoomin (Subscriber)

Make USAU membership social media. Team with the most followers gets a bid to Nationals. You can donate directly to teams and players via Ultibucks. Add TikTok type video viewer and stories. #legitimacy

AJK

USAU all-star showcase game – fan vote for one player with Ultibucks as the vote.

Keith

Ultibucks is a great idea.

Steve

Ha! We literally heard Pie Wagon chanting Ultibucks at the tournament hotel last night. My guess is that’s Ryan Turner ‘s doing, but couldn’t be sure.

Keith

Yes, make it global.

Ryan Turner (Subscriber)

One of other players came up with it on the spot and I didn’t have the heart to tell her the in-depth discussions that have already occurred on this platform.

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