When many people hear “Frisbee,” the first thing that comes into their minds is still “that thing you do with a dog on the beach.” Some recognize that ultimate frisbee, or ultimate as it’s commonly known, is actually a rapidly growing sport played in over 80 countries by approximately 7 million men, women, boys, and girls. However, the focus of this article isn’t the people who play ultimate. I’m going to argue that ultimate is the world’s next mainstream sport. Mainstream. Watched by millions, fantasy apps, video games, the whole deal.Ultimate is the world's next mainstream sport. Click To Tweet
As someone who’s been playing ultimate competitively for 5 years now, I’ll be the first to admit that this post is biased. But I also bring the unique perspective of experiencing the evolution of this game over the past few years and learning the bleeding edge trends in digital media at Startup Institute over the past couple of months. And the thing I’ve come to realize from this experience is that ultimate is uniquely positioned to take full advantage of these trends and experience enormous growth over the next 10-20 years. Here are four reasons why:
1. Viral Content
Ultimate is practically designed for the creation of viral content. The long hang time on a disc flying through the air creates the potential for ridiculously incredible plays that would be physically impossible in any other sport. These fast, explosive plays are extremely suitable for being shared as GIFs or videos across both traditional social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter as well as newer ones like Snapchat and Vine. Until having two plays in the Sportscenter Top 10 becomes a regular occurrence, the sport should look to leverage its dynamic content across these and other platforms to maximize growth in the short term.
2. Accessible Live Streaming
ESPN has a multi year deal with the AUDL (one of two competing professional ultimate leagues, the other being the MLU) streaming several of the highest level pro matches each year online. Additionally, all of the USA Triple Crown Tour club tournaments were streamed by Ultiworld last summer, with the kicker being that the stream was 100% free with no additional services needed. As I argue in my post about eSports and the NFL on Twitter, providing an accessible online stream is a tremendously effective way to engage millennial and gen Z audiences.
Periscope is also very suited for Ultimate due to the way the game naturally pauses following every point. One Sunday last month, I was at home eating lunch when I got a Periscope notification that a high level college game at the Stanford Invitational had come down to sudden death point and that they were about to broadcast it live. Many people who have a strong interest in Ultimate just can’t find the time to watch the stream of an entire game. The ability to broadcast to an audience precisely at the critical junctures in a game presents a huge opportunity to get more people to engage with the sport.
3. Passionate Grassroots Community
I want to focus on ultimate as a spectator sport, but discussing its potential for growth is impossible without mentioning the ultimate community. One of the amazing things I have noticed about ultimate and that other players have noticed too is that I can travel to almost any major urban hub in the world, find the local Ultimate team there, and instantly have a new group of friends. This is significant because although ultimate is not mainstream anywhere yet, it has an incredibly strong network that stretches all over the globe. When the sport manages to catch fire in the US, it shouldn’t be long before that fire spreads across this network and to the rest of the world.
4. Push to Bring the Sport to Women
One of the major concerns with the professional ultimate leagues that exist is that while they do a lot to promote the men’s game, they do not do much to promote women in the sport. While major sports like the NFL are currently looking for more ways to tap into the female market after the sport has already grown, ultimate has a fantastic opportunity to simultaneously grow male and female interest in the sport.
Fortunately, significant strides are being made in this area. USA Ultimate is pushing to make the sport more popular among youth in general (more on this in a future post) but in particular, the Girls Ultimate Movement is a community-wide effort to increase girls’ participation in the sport. The 2015 All-Star Tour was designed to showcase elite women’s ultimate across the US and was considered to be a big success, even making an appearance in the Sportscenter Top 10. And one of the reasons that the IOC has strongly been considering ultimate for the Olympics is the appeal of the mixed-gender division in achieving greater gender equity. In short, considering the fact that female viewership of sports has a lot of room to boom in coming years, ultimate has a phenomenal opportunity to maximize female interest at an early stage in its growth.
Is there anything I missed? Let me know in the comments below.
*Image from http://imgur.com/gallery/gbC2O2Q
*Video from http://imgur.com/gallery/65w3u