Watch out for flying discs.
No, not on a college quad. On your television. In a major league soccer stadium. On your game console. Amid your gambling options. Maybe even one day at the Olympics.
Disc golf (not Frisbee golf or “Frolf”, whatever George said on Seinfeld) and Ultimate (not ultimate Frisbee) emerged stronger than before from the pandemic hibernation and found their way onto various US television channels. Most athletes have day jobs, but as each sport progresses, some more people can make a living throwing and catching.
Both sports fall under the umbrella of the World Flying Disc Federation, which is recognized by the IOC and includes some other disciplines such as freestyle. Recognized Sports aren’t exactly an elite sports club poised to jump to the Olympics – don’t expect to see aerial sports or floorball anytime soon – but the WFDF has made a serious effort to get at least one of their disciplines in the 2024 Games and will continue to do so for 2028. After the WFDF missed the Paris program, it posted an amiable “Thank you for thinking of us” message, a sharp contrast to the rather irritable releases from other sports that were missed.
Ultimate is a bit further than the other disciplines of the WFDF. The college game has hundreds of teams, with championships on ESPN’s more distant networks.
Professional Ultimate had quite a few seizures and beginnings. Music boxes and referees are routine in other sports, but they contradict the self-determined tradition of the Ultimate. And many players boycotted the league in a gender equity movement that didn’t work out as many had hoped.
But the AUDL (American Ultimate Disc League) survived the boycott, a rival league, and pandemic that forced the 2020 season to be canceled. The championship weekend, which begins on Friday, will take place at DC United’s Audi Field.
“I reminded the owners that we are not in the ultimate business, we are in the entertainment business,” said AUDL Commissioner Steve Hall.
And that entertainment could soon be more accessible on more platforms. The weekend games will be played on Fox Sports 1 and will conclude a season of weekly reruns of Fox Sports 2’s live broadcasts on the AUDL website. The league also has international deals. The Fox deal expired after this season, and the league has hired the hard-hitting Wasserman Media to look ahead.
When it comes to gender, the Premier Ultimate League features professional players from across the gender spectrum. The league resumed operations even after the pandemic, choosing to go on their own instead of trying to fit into the AUDL.
“They said, ‘We’d like to take the lead,'” Hall said.
The news is not so good in Australia, where a mixed-sex league co-founded by Australian women’s soccer player Cat Phillips rests.
Ultimate, however, is unique in that it already has a thriving club game for men, women, and mixed teams, which means that the USA Ultimate governing body is hosting its own events, some of which offer modest prize pools. The Labor Day weekend Pro Championships had some games online on ESPN3, with replays for ESPN2 later in September. The players overlap between AUDL, PUL and USA Ultimate, resulting in extreme travel for athletes like the DC Breeze players who played an AUDL playoff game in Washington on Friday night and then took a red-eye flight to for the traditional club powerhouse Truck Stop the. to play next afternoon in Colorado.
However, the scheduling conflict does not mean that the organizations are at odds. Without the schedule-ruining scourge of Covid, the AUDL is hoping to end their season before the professional championships each year. USA Ultimate worked with AUDL and PUL in an advisory capacity.
“We communicate with both leagues fairly regularly and often discuss how we can better support one another,” said Andy Lee, managing director of marketing and communications for USA Ultimate. “As we emerge from the pandemic and continue to recover, I am sure that these conversations will become a little more formalized and will continue. Although there is currently no formal relationship with the AUDL, the dialogue is fairly regular and positive. “
One sticking point is the name of the sport. “Ultimate” attracts confused looks from people who are new to the sport and who might immediately think of the Ultimate Fighting Championship, with fists flying instead of flying discs. “Disc Sevens” is a name that was circulated. “Ultimate Frisbee” is still used informally, but since “Frisbee” is just a disc brand, saying “Ultimate Frisbee” is like calling American football “Wilsonball”.
“It’s challenging in many ways,” said Lee. “But since the sport just celebrated its 50th anniversary, the name also has a lot of history behind it. It is also a challenge because there is no obvious substitute. “
Disc golf, on the other hand, is easy to understand. It’s golf played with discs. Instead of holes, disc golf uses baskets with chains that create a satisfying ka-ching when a shot is made. It’s an easily accessible recreational sport, with a directory that now counts 6,678 courses in the United States.
Like Ultimate, disc golf has also found its way onto television. The Disc Golf Pro Tour now has events on the ESPN networks, with the Tour Championship airing on ESPN2 for the second consecutive year in October. Last year’s championship drew 225,000 viewers on ESPN2.
Apart from full broadcasts, both sports have found their way into the highlight shows. ESPN SportsCenter’s daily top 10 list features multiple PDGA clips, from a Paige Pierce hole-in-one escaping a tree to a dramatic moment that hit number 1 on the ESPN countdown: James Conrad’s 247-foot shot on a dogleg right 18th hole to force a playoff in the PDGA Pro World Championship.
The clutch shot and a nice run into the playoff hole earned Conrad a trophy and a little more cash – $ 16,500 instead of the $ 10,000 given to runner-up Paul McBeth, who was aiming for his sixth win at the annual event. And don’t have a guilty conscience for McBeth, who made $ 50,963 in awards this year and, by the way, signed a 10-year $ 10 million advertising deal. (Surprisingly, given the progressive nature of disc sport, there is a wage gap at the World Championships. Catrina Allen made $ 10,000 for her win; Pierce made $ 6,000 by finishing second.)
Ultimate is also suitable for proper highlights, as long throws hang in the air long enough to arouse anticipation for a possible catch or a defensive game. Players also use a variety of creative throws to come up with innovative passes that you can’t really do with a soccer ball or basketball.
You can also set your own highlights. Discgolf has a few video games for mobile (Disc Golf Valley is best for beginners) and has released two releases for PC on Steam in 2020. The AUDL is getting big and aims to use “AUDL” analogous to “Fifa” or “Madden” “to create a symbiotic relationship in which sport and play are mutually reinforcing. The Fifa series added female players a few years ago; the AUDL would like to include women in its game from the start.
The AUDL has another pillar in their strategy of engaging a modern audience – the betting that many major sports are now happy to accept. AUDL partner DraftKings has broadcast games on its YouTube channel and gives tips on the betting lines.
The AUDL expansion is imminent – most likely three teams in the next few months and a few more sometime in 2022. The PUL is also expecting an expansion. By 2030, the AUDL hopes to have an average of 3,000 fans per game and to pay a living wage for up to 10 players per team. And that will be more lucrative than sports that are already part of the Olympics.