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.
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.