I’m a devoted ultimate player, coach, and mother. I am also part of your potential revenue base—someone who has paid and is still willing to pay her hard-earned money to watch ultimate. I played for more than a decade on Fury, winning national and world championships. Currently, I volunteer my time coaching and working to expand participation in the sport, particularly among girls.
Until now, I have been tracking the emergence of the MLU with a mixture of excitement and apprehension as the sport I love ventures into new territory. I have followed the ensuing debate in the ultimate community as the MLU has taken the controversial steps of adding referees and changing field dimensions. However, after seeing the ad for ‘Fly Girls’ tryouts on your website, I had such a strong reaction that I felt compelled to engage more directly.
Objectifying women is not harmless entertainment. It demeans women in general, and it demeans this sport—our sport—by sending a clear message that there is no room for women in ultimate except as scantily-clad sideline dancers.
Let’s be clear: Putting cheerleaders on the sideline is not selling ultimate, it is selling sex.
I have tried to imagine why you would make this decision. The two lines of reasoning I came up with are that:
You believe this will attract an audience outside the current ultimate community—potential fans who will come for the cheerleaders and stay for the ultimate; or
You believe the Fly Girls will help legitimize this league as “professional” since other American sports leagues have cheer-leading squads.
I believe both these lines of reasoning are inherently flawed and short-sighted. Why? Because even as the MLU attempts to pave a path for professional ultimate, your team is steering a course that is vulgar, and in direct conflict with the culture of the sport and the ethics of the majority of those in the ultimate community.
From a business perspective, you risk alienating a large portion of your potential fan base who would normally be attracted to ultimate (the real sport, not the brand you would be cultivating). With so many ‘pro’ sports competing for eyeballs and ticket sales, the success of the MLU hinges on selling what differentiates ultimate. The growth occurring at the youth level is driven by parents who are want their children to play the sport because of its values. Introducing cheerleaders certainly does not differentiate ultimate. Rather, it degrades the very elements of the sport you should be promoting.
Sustaining a league long-term requires building a fan base that appreciates watching ultimate on its merits—paying customers who are sold on the sport, not sex.
Ben Van Heuvelen recently wrote a thoughtful piece in Skyd Magazine about the future of ultimate titled “What Do We Stand For?” In it he questions how much the culture of ultimate should be compromised in our attempt to make the sport professional. He addresses the “poverty of imagination” in the MLU’s apparent choice to follow the models of the NFL and the NBA rather than paving a new course. Introducing cheerleaders seems like further evidence of his lament.
Washington D.C. Current coach Keven Molderhauer recently talked about what it means to be a professional. He concludes that it is, at its core, about respect. And with that respect, he argues, a professional league can help generate a broader legitimacy for a sport so many of us love.
I know this: The next generation of ultimate players and fans—girls and boys—are watching, and the MLU would do well to represent itself and our sport with integrity. So please, I urge you to show that respect for your team, for the thousands of women who currently play, and for future generations of players and fans by cancelling the Fly Girl tryouts and promoting the sport on its merits. Seize the opportunity to steer professional ultimate on a course that honors the sport and its values—a course that our community can and will support.
In fact, I respectfully suggest you take this one step further: Take the resources you would have put into a cheerleading dance squad and invest them in youth ultimate. You’ll be building a whole new generation of fans that will pay to watch the sport, and who will be there for a lifetime.