AUDL Buzzer Beater: Setting the Stage for 2024 Season

Teams are gearing up to take down the New York Empire

The DC Breeze will open the 2024 AUDL season against the Salt Lake Shred. Photo: AUDL.

Tryouts are underway in AUDL cities across the continent, and with the turn of the year it’s time to start thinking about the upcoming season. While there hasn’t been as much player movement (yet) as we’ve seen in years past, there is still plenty of news on the men’s semi-pro front as we head toward the 2024 AUDL season. Below I’ll catch you up on all of the headlines you may have missed during the offseason.

2024 Schedule and Venues Coming Soon

As a few teams are still sorting out details with their new venues, the league is several weeks from being able to release the full 2024 schedule. But we do know that the season will start and end in Utah. The DC Breeze will fly west to open the season in late April against the Salt Lake Shred, and Championship Weekend will be held at Zions Bank Stadium from August 23-24. There will be no expansion or contraction in the league this season; all 24 teams from 2023 are returning.

Though there are no new teams, several teams are moving to new venues. The Chicago Union are expected to play at Martin Stadium, the lakeside home to Northwestern University’s soccer and lacrosse teams. The gusting winds coming off of Lake Michigan (which sits maybe 30 yards from the edge of the playing field) could become a significant home field advantage for the Union. In the West, the Los Angeles Aviators are planning a move to the Orange County Great Park of Irvine, Orange County SC’s 5,000 seat venue located close to the I-5 freeway south of Los Angeles. After bouncing around between Culver City, Pasadena, Inglewood, and Santa Barbara, the Aviators are hoping this stadium will provide a special fan experience given the professional amenities attached. Additionally, the Philadelphia Phoenix are set to move back to the South Philadelphia Super Site after spending 2023 at a high school stadium in North Philadelphia.

“Venue has become a really important focus for us from a league standpoint,” said Ryan Pierce, the AUDL’s Senior Director of Product Marketing and Communications. “We know that you can only do so much if you have a small venue or one that can’t handle a lot of the fan attractions that we want to drive.”

The AUDL is Cutting the Cord

The AUDL is opting out of its deal with Fox Sports and will commit to streaming every game online. For the last few seasons, the cable sports network FS2 aired the AUDL Game of the Week, and those games were not available on AUDL.TV, the league’s streaming service, until 30 days after they aired. Following fan feedback, the league this season will shift to a model that has every single game available live on AUDL.TV as well as a hand selected group that will be free to stream elsewhere. The league is considering streaming on YouTube, Twitch, and/or TikTok. Those free games are expected to be the best games of the season including many of the interdivisional matchups. “We felt, given the some of the restrictions that the national broadcast put us on, that we weren’t able to properly showcase our biggest games,” Pierce said, “especially when some subscribers of AUDL.TV, for example, said, ‘You know, I’m not even able to get the game of the week.’” The league was also disappointed in the lack of opportunities for live games on Fox Sports’ cable channels as it will now work to make live games more accessible to fans.

The league is also building out AUDL.TV to provide more than just live games and replays. In November, the league published an instructional video series designed for beginner ultimate players. Atlanta Hustle players Matt Smith and Justin Burnett star in the videos alongside former Hustle coach Miranda Roth Knowles. The videos feature skill-building and game-playing tutorials, and additional videos are expected to be added in the future.

New Game Disc Opens New Possibilities

I reported a few weeks ago that the AUDL was taking over production of the Aria Uno disc, and that it will become the game disc for the AUDL this season. While I initially speculated that the acquisition was meant as a money-making endeavor, the league is also interested in the disc as an innovative asset.

“It really wasn’t a monetary play, because the discs themselves are pretty much the same cost as UltraStars,” Pierce told me. “We just felt like there was an opportunity to innovate in this space.” For this season, the AUDL game discs are going to be identical to the Aria Uno that has been on the market for several years, but in the future the league is considering adjustments. For example, they could try to put a chip in the disc to get quantitative data. Right now, the AUDL’s statistics are entered manually. With information coming from the disc, some statistics could become more accurate–such as distance measurements. Such a chip could also provide data that ultimate has never seen before such as throwing speed, rotational force, and release angle.

The league began floating the idea of a new disc as far back as the end of the 2023 season. A group of players were involved in the process, and Pierce said that the league would not have moved forward with the transition to a new disc without that group’s approval.

It is possible that the league will release signature discs for individual players as well, though that may not happen before the season. Further down the road, the league may experiment as well with using different materials or making discs that are more suitable for adverse weather conditions such as severe rain or wind.

Youth Initiatives Expand

The AUDL announced in December that the Professional Ultimate Academy, the league’s weeklong overnight camp for experienced high school players, is returning after a successful pilot camp in 2023. In addition to the camp at Davenport University, the league will offer a second camp on Whidbey Island just north of Seattle in conjunction with the Seattle Cascades and the Western Ultimate League’s Seattle Tempest.

“Our first Academy exceeded expectations,” said AUDL Director of Youth Engagement and Player Relations Matt Smith in the AUDL’s announcement of the 2024 Academies. “It was a no-brainer to go back because there was such a demand for it,” Pierce added. Pierce also cited the benefit of playing at Davenport given the school’s commitment to their own ultimate team which offers scholarship programs in the D-III men’s and D-III women’s division. During last summer’s camp, smoke from Canadian wildfires made the air quality unsafe, and the school was able to provide indoor space for the AUDL to continue to run its programming in a safe manner.

Seattle Ultimate (making up the AUDL’s Cascades and the WUL’s Tempest) have run youth camps for several years including an overnight camp. This year’s version is expected to draw participants from the Seattle area and beyond.

“The niche that we’re trying to hit, because we know so many teams do youth well, and we want to give them the space to do that, is really for those advanced kids that are looking to take their game to a professional or near professional level,” Pierce said. “So that’s why it’s for the older ages 15 to 18…those that really want to commit more to ultimate. And that’s where we feel like we can really come into play.”

As part of the league’s general commitment to growing the game, local teams are reaching out to entities like schools and parks districts to offer programming. The AUDL’s influence is not just limited to the United States too. Two years ago, the AUDL signed a deal with EuroSport India to broadcast its games. This year, Pierce estimates that over half of the Indian states have ultimate as a recognized, organized sport in their athletic system.

AUDL 24? Video Game Closer Than Ever to Release

Since its announcement in October 2020, fans have been eagerly awaiting the release of the AUDL’s video game. The league released access to its closed beta in the fall of 2022, hinting that the game could be released more broadly soon after. However, in June 2023, the entire process hit a snag and a new development team came in and decided to start over in Unreal 5, a new and advanced game engine.

“2024 is the year I think,” Pierce said. “There were two major changes that happened. One was finally realizing the need that we needed to bring this completely in house and have developers that were solely working on the game…The second was the release of Unreal 5 was really critical to how we saw the game, especially when we stacked it against other other sports games.”

To pull back the curtain, the original development team (pre-June 2023) were contracted by a third party and were not working solely on the AUDL game; they were pulled between different projects. Liam Pritchard, one of the developers, expressed interest in working on the AUDL game full time and became the lead designer, building out an in-house team. When Unreal 5 was released, the team decided to rewrite the game to help it feel closer to the newer games that were released. While there was good artwork and AI in the original version, it was not as comparable to other sports games as the team desired. Rather than put out a sub-par product just to get to market sooner, the team decided to make the best game it could. Though fans who purchased the 2022 beta are surely disappointed that it has taken so long to put out a playable game, the league expects to have something testable soon and a great game out on the market by the end of the calendar year.

  1. Alex Rubin
    Alex Rubin

    Alex Rubin started writing for Ultiworld in 2018. He is a graduate of Northwestern University where he played for four years. After a stint in Los Angeles coaching high school and college teams, they moved to Chicago to experience real seasons and eat deep dish pizza. You can reach Alex through e-mail ([email protected]) or Twitter (@arubes14).

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