In The Zone, An Ultiworld Newsletter [Issue #1]

In The Zone, An Ultiworld Newsletter [Issue #1]
By Charlie Eisenhood • Issue #1 • View online
Good morning and happy new year:
This is the first edition of a new Ultiworld subscriber-only monthly email newsletter, In The Zone, that will focus on off-the-field news in the realms of business, sport development, people and leaders, and more, with inside knowledge and original reporting.
Let’s jump right in.

The Latest
  • Emails went out this morning to players who tried out for the Team USA Under-24 teams and the full rosters are now available from USA Ultimate.
  • USAU announced details from the Club Division Competition Working Group meeting that helps plan the club season.
  • The 2019 College Division regular season officially started over the weekend. The first important tournaments – Florida Winter Classic, Carolina Kickoff, and the Santa Barbara Invite – are coming up later this month.
WFDF Partnerships
In December, the World Flying Disc Federation renewed contracts with both VC Ultimate (apparel) and Discraft (official disc) through 2022. Despite an ostensibly more competitive market, VC only had to outbid two undisclosed competitors whereas Discraft beat out four other companies.
I caught up with VC’s CEO Adriana Withers about the company’s continued international approach.
UW: It seems like the expansion to international events has been a big focus for VC in the last few years. Has the WFDF partnership played out as you expected?
AW: Being the official sponsor and merchandiser of WFDF events has certainly opened our eyes to how amazing the international community is, and made us want to be a bigger part of what’s happening in ultimate around the world. Not only has our WFDF partnership meant traveling to some incredible locations, it has given us a chance to meet players from so many different countries – and it’s allowed us to be inspired by their stories and type of play, as well as their design style. All these have become a big part of the heart and soul of VC. 
That said, it’s not easy – from both an implementation and a cost perspective. We’ve had to set up new companies/affiliates in multiple countries using languages we don’t speak fluently. There’s a seemingly endless number of things that could go wrong at any single event that you have to account for, such as logistics complications, customs delays, and, as with any ultimate tournament, weather. At WUCC 2018, the last two days of the event were essentially cancelled from a merchandising standpoint [after the tournament moved indoors]…that’s 25% of our selling opportunity diminished.
Brexit happened in the middle of WUGC 2016, the biggest event in that contract cycle, and was a massive hit to our bottom line. However, it taught us some really valuable lessons about risk and the complications of international business. Our relationship with WFDF has certainly forced us to become much more sophisticated in our planning, and conservative in our expectations. This is a good thing for the long-term health of VC, so it’s certainly been a worthwhile experience all around.
I was in London for Worlds 2016 when the Brexit referendum passed. Brits were in disbelief. I still remember listening to conversations on the train the morning after the vote. It didn’t affect the tournament much (except, of course, for the immediate precipitous drop in the value of the British pound).
Here are four things Withers said she’s learned since partnering with WFDF for the first time in 2013.
  1. Volunteers make the ultimate world go round.
  2. Running events at the world championship level is much, much harder and more complicated than I could ever have imagined.
  3. The ultimate community is literally the “ultimate community.“ SOTG is alive and well around the world.
  4. Logistics preparation and teamwork makes the dreamwork.
For more from Withers, check out the episode of Sideline Talk, our subscriber-only podcast, I recorded with her:
Sideline Talk: Adriana Withers [Ep. 6]
Discraft Hopes To Harness The Force
2019 is Discraft‘s 40th year in business. While the company’s efforts in disc golf have been more newsworthy lately – particularly when they signed the sport’s biggest name, Paul McBeth, to a four year, seven-figure deal – they are still as active as ever in ultimate, especially as competition continues to heat up from Aria as well as a number of Asian manufacturers like Yikun and X-Com.
Discraft just signed a licensing deal with Disney to market Star Wars products, and they already have a few Star Wars-branded Ultrastars for sale.
“We have only just begun with Star Wars series of UltraStars,” said Pad Timmons, Managing Director of Discraft Ultimate. “Many more characters are presently being sent in for approval and will be released over the year. We hope to have some great promotions with Disney to really work on promoting ultimate to the large fan group Star Wars has.”
You can get a Death Star Ultrastar.
You can get a Death Star Ultrastar.
A cool note: Discraft will donate their millionth disc this year. Keep an eye out for a contest to see who gets lucky number 1,000,000 with a special design.
From Bids To Buds
Ernest Toney.
Ernest Toney.
After four and a half years at USA Ultimate, Ernest Toney, the Manager of Competition and Athlete Programs for the Club Division, has left the organization to work as the Marketing Manager for Marijuana Business Daily, an industry news website based in Denver, where marijuana has been legal for recreational use for five years. Since 2014, Denver alone has had recreational marijuana sales of around $1.5 billion!
I’ll miss Ernest, who I saw and worked with at events throughout the year, but he was gracious enough to answer a few questions (edited for length) as he focuses on being an ultimate player again.
UW: How was your time at USA Ultimate?
ET: It was great, overall. I spent the past five seasons managing and refining ultimate’s largest adult competition programs and events. It was a privilege to work with Will Deaver and my national volunteer teams (National Directors, Player Representatives, Regional and Sectional Coordinators); their dedication to developing our sport isn’t recognized enough.
It feels like the Triple Crown Tour and Masters Divisions are in a better place now, and hopefully the membership agrees with that sentiment. I left USAU with an acute understanding of: the business of ultimate, the nuances of sports governance, and the challenges of building a global brand in the current marketplace.   
Was the Colorado Springs move a challenge for you?
Yes, but that’s ok. I believe adapting to change is a necessary sometimes for growth in life, leadership, and business. 
Moving to Colorado Springs was a smart strategic move for USAU, but there were personal challenges. I commuted from Denver for half of my tenure at USAU, prior to moving to Colorado Springs to be closer to the current national office. My wife did the opposite. She commuted to work in Denver from Colorado Springs for the last two years of my tenure. 
My motivation to leave USAU had more to do with putting the needs of my family first. We both had demanding jobs that required travel for days or weeks at a time, and that was becoming more difficult to manage with a toddler (on top of a commute). Additionally, our collective earning potential is greater in the Denver metro area. 
You’ve got a new job in what’s still a very new industry. Was it something you were actively interested in pursuing, or were you just looking for a change?
I’ve been interested in the cannabis industry since legislation passed in Colorado in 2012 to make recreational marijuana legal in the state. Anyone living in the Denver metro area since 2012 has experienced the ancillary effects of that decision – increased traffic, a real estate boom, housing and commercial developments, and too many startups to track. The economic impact of the cannabis industry has been massive in Colorado, and it looks like other states are following in the state’s footsteps.
My wife joined the industry two years ago to work at Marijuana Business Daily – the leading source of financial, legal and other business news for the cannabis industry – so I had the benefit of learning about the industry, while building relationships with leaders at MJBizDaily. The company’s leadership team was also aware of my role and accomplishments at USAU, so when I was presented with an offer to develop new business initiatives to support and expand the company’s global audience, it was easy to make an informed decision. 
There are some, ahem, synergies with ultimate frisbee and marijuana, though for many years the sport has fought against the stereotype. Do you think ultimate should ever consider taking on advertising dollars or sponsorship from the marijuana industry?
Whatever do you mean? But, seriously, this is an interesting question and my answer is “it depends.” 
The decision to take advertising or sponsorship dollars from any entity, regardless of the industry, should not be taken lightly.
This consideration is probably a non-starter in the world of sports governance, for many reasons. Here’s just one example of why it would be a challenge: 
- With the exception of Canada and Uruguay, recreational marijuana is still a federally illegal substance everywhere else in the world.  
- Countries that have national federations in ultimate fall under the jurisdiction of WFDF, which falls under the jurisdiction of the International Olympic Committee. This means adhering to drug policies of those parties and WADA (World Anti-Doping Agency), where marijuana is prohibited in competition. 
- USA Ultimate also falls under the jurisdiction of the United States Olympic Committee, which is also under the IOC’s jurisdiction. This means adhering to the drug policies of those parties and USADA (United States Anti-Doping Agency), where marijuana is prohibited in competition.
- The world of sports governance is conservative on drug policies and athletic competition. For example, some medications that are commonly prescribed by medical professionals are on WADA’s banned substance list, meaning that athletes cannot use those medications during international competition without a Therapeutic Use Exemption. 
- While marijuana is becoming more accepted globally, I don’t expect to see it removed from the WADA or USADA banned substance lists anytime soon.
A company that sells discs, for example, might take an entirely different approach. I suspect there are ways for a disc company to benefit from partnerships with entities in the legal global marijuana industry, and for ultimate to indirectly benefit through that new exposure.  
In general, I believe there are ways where partnerships between the two industries make sense. The marijuana industry, like ultimate, is also shaking antiquated stereotypes.  
As you mentioned, there are some, ahem, synergies. 
Semi-Pro Ultimate Quick Hits
  • Keep an eye out for more details on the Premier Ultimate League, a newly planned non-profit women’s semi-pro league that will build off of last year’s decentralized competition.
  • The AUDL is developing a new 24/7 streaming content channel that will air on Stadium, the league’s media partner. Obviously, there will be a lot of replayed games, but the league is planning to develop some new studio shows to help fill airtime.
  • The early buzz on the host for the AUDL’s All-Star Game? Madison, in June.
  • The Minnesota Wind Chill and Chicago Wildfire played a halftime exhibition at the Minnesota Vikings-Chicago Bears game last week. Full video:
2018 Vikings AUDL Ultimate Frisbee Halftime — FULL VIDEO
2018 Vikings AUDL Ultimate Frisbee Halftime — FULL VIDEO
Interesting Links
We’re Building a New League
Can a New Barnstorming, Player-Centric Lacrosse League Serve as a Template for Other Sports?
Bids, Blocks and Fun: A Weekend at Ultimate Nationals
My YouTube REWIND 2018!
Thanks so much for reading. This is a new format that I’m trying out, so I’d definitely appreciate your feedback on this first issue and what you’d like to see in future ones.
You can reply directly to this email to get in touch with me.
Charlie Eisenhood
Editor and Publisher of Ultiworld
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Charlie Eisenhood
By Charlie Eisenhood

'In The Zone' is a monthly newsletter for Ultiworld subscribers. It focuses on off-the-field news in the realms of business, sport development, people and leaders, and more, with inside knowledge and original reporting from Ultiworld editor Charlie Eisenhood.

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