Dan Godbold presents his views on why the WFDF Kickstarter needs to succeed, not just for WUGC but for the sports wider goals.
I’ll put this bluntly to start off with: If the Kickstarter for the WUGC stream fails to raise all it needs, and even raise above that, you can kiss the Olympics goodbye.
Other people have espoused all the good that could come from this fundraiser. I will not be joining them (entirely), as this article will make clear. I believe that this Kickstarter is a risk, that it comes with a chance of failure, and that failure will have an effect.
Ultimate is at a crossroads in its development. We are in the middle and on the verge of some Damn Exciting Things (DETs). WFDF was recognised by the IOC last year, which is definitely a DET. We have two semi-pro leagues in the USA and, even though there are disagreements about how they’re operating, no one can deny that they’re a DET. WFDF has more governing bodies as members, those members are sending more teams in more divisions, and those teams are full of players at a higher level of competitiveness, than there has ever been before, another DET. While the USA still dominates the international scene, other countries are closing the gap, and in response USAU gave us another DET – their national teams are now a super team of the best players from all over instead of the club that happened to win the previous years National Championships. If you’ve bought your spectator tickets for WUGC already you’ll know my current favourite DET – finals day is at Allianz Park, a 10,000 seater stadium that usually hosts the Premiership Rugby club Saracens.
But the biggest DET will always be the Olympics.
We’ve all had the discussion. Someone we know learns that we play Frisbee, and once you get them past the jokes about dogs and the stupid name and the idea that it’s just stoners throwing in a circle, it’s the inevitable next question. “When is it going to be in the Olympics?” Until a few years ago, the answer was always “not for a very long time”. Now, with Agenda 2020, there’s a decent chance the answer could be “2024”. Damn. Exciting. Thing.
Here’s the problem: there is only room for one or two new sports, and there are something like 16 sports fighting for those spots. If we want Ultimate to be in that exclusive group, and get all the potential exposure and glory that comes with it, we have a lot of work ahead.
We have some advantages. Our demographics are great, according to basically everyone who’s been asked. We’re young, we’re overwhelmingly well educated, and with quite a lot of spare cash around. If a company can use Ultimate to hook us in it’s a dream come true. We’re mixed gender, so you can appeal to both men and women without needing two different products or ad campaigns, and Agenda 2020 places a much higher emphasis on gender equality than previously.
As with any amateur athletes, our best players are often desperate for the opportunity to play without having to pay for it themselves; a golden opportunity for sponsors. The IOC is delighted with Spirit of the Game, to the point where it’s not unthinkable that if they could include us in the Olympics in a completely cost and revenue neutral way, they’d do it just for that.
But we wouldn’t be cost neutral – money is our biggest challenge. The Olympics is the pinnacle of sporting achievement, with a long list of noble ideals and values, the majority of which fits well into the ideals Ultimate is based on. It is also a business, run for profit. For Ultimate to be included we have to prove that we will make more money than the other sports, or the money we’re not making (our opportunity cost) is worth it to gain elsewhere. Those other sports might have multinational banks as sponsors, could have TV deals, could feature players who aren’t just semi professionals largely from one continent, but actual professionals from all over the world, earning prize money at tournaments with sponsors and branding of their own. This Kickstarter is our best chance at proving we can compete with this; that we have a passionate fan base of the demographic and spending power that would make sponsors interested.
And right now, we’re failing. We suck at it. As of writing, we’ve not broken $30,000 in over two weeks. We raised $15,000 in less than a week for the World Games. At that rate, this should be funded already. WFDF will be unfailingly polite and thankful for every dollar they get, but I’m not WFDF, so I can say this: This is terrible.
There are a lot of reasons to include Ultimate in the Olympics. It’ll be a lot of work even with this HD footage, and all the exposure the documentaries and TV time will give us. Funding this Kickstarter is no guarantee. But failing to fund it will prove that we don’t have the audience, money, or ability to back up the words we’ve been saying for years. Sponsors will take one look at us, and this failure, and decide it proves any scepticism they had. TV networks will use this failure to brush us off. It will actively set back the cause. It won’t leave us where we were; failing to fund this Kickstarter will actively hurt Ultimate. The progress that USAU, AUDL and MLU have made in getting onto ESPN in the USA? That will suddenly get a lot harder. They might stay the online-only ESPN3, but there’s no way they’ll get promoted to ESPN2 if this fails. It is in both AUDL and MLUs best interests to see this Kickstarter funded even if they don’t gain directly, because they’ll definitely be hurt by its failure. Last year the All-Star Tour blasted past its funding target, helped a lot by promotion from the semi-pro leagues and their players. We likely need to see that same level of support.
Other people have addressed these points and the positive aspects of them, and I largely agree with them. What they’ve left unsaid, or maybe simply ignored, is that dark, negative possibility: failing to fund this Kickstarter will justify every negative opinion TV networks and potential sponsors have of Ultimate Frisbee, and it will take years, maybe decades, to change their minds again. We cannot let this Kickstarter fail.