Is Beach Ultimate’s Future?

by | May 14, 2015, 11:26am 20

This interview appears in Skyd Magazine Vol. 1, Issue 1 – now available on Amazon.

Beach ultimate is the best bet for a successful professional ultimate league.

When I came up with that sentence I thought it sounded like click bait. Then I thought about it for awhile and decided it wasn’t.

Remember: this is about professional ultimate. The important word was italicized for your convenience.

What is the point of professional ultimate? Money. We are in that “wonderful” emerging sport crossroads where technology, accessibility, skilled athletes and exploitation merge at a stoplight. At this point most of the cars at the intersection are powered by love of the game, yet people have begun setting up toll roads to make money on ultimate before any real money actually exists. Successful sports work upon the age old trickle down theory: a few already rich people at the top make more money, then maybe sprinkle some down to the ones actually playing the sport (unless of course you are a college athlete, where all roads lead to exploitation).

As an artist, writer, ultimate player, and creator, I am the last person you should come to for financial advice. Luckily, I know a few rich people, and let me tell you that most of them will not spend money unless their investment can make money. It’s that concept that probably got them rich in the first place. So if you want to build a successful pro franchise it is going to have to make money eventually.

“How do you make league that makes money? was the question I asked to one of these people, someone who plays the real world as if it were Settlers of Catan. The following is what he said. As per usual, the answers have been spiced up with added Beau-ness.

Create good content. Watching Beach Worlds brought upon this article because in general, it was surprisingly pleasant to watch. Things that were good: teams, venue, commentating, coverage. Things that were bad: wind, self officiating. We can’t get rid of the wind, but we can fix the self officiating with the four letter word that causes more anger than a curse word. refs. Once that is taken care of, the good things can be improved upon with a bit of trial and error.

Create good teams. It’’s easier to craft a good team for beach. You need fewer good players and the sand creates a unique playing field that can be an equalizer for the normally dominant American height and athleticism. One of my favorite teams in ultimate right now is the Boracay Dragons. They live, breathe and eat ultimate and their commitment to always becoming better is something I can relate to. They are proof that being small in stature can be overcome by size of heart, training and skill. Their game against the USA in semis was sweet. Although, before you tell me to get a room already, I think their calls towards the end of that semifinal game were worse than eating an ice cream cone dipped in sand. It’s just more proof that when you are so invested in sports, it’s really hard to look at plays objectively.

Side rant: some of the commentators were trying to spin the spirit circle timeout at the end of the game into positive thing. Nope. That’s like a group of grown men taking a break from beating a baby seal to talk about how they are really beating the blubber out of that little seal. They circle up humming hymns about the beauty of petite seals, while a select few really get to go to town on a poor baby seal in the background. After some long minutes of bludgeoning, the select few grow so weary of pummeling, they are forced to leave the unrecognizable carcass and invite the rest of the group back to join them on a harmonic stroll through nature. Of course, within a few minutes, they stumble upon another young seal named Tiny Travel, the clubs come unsheathed and the bludgeoning begins. Don’t tell me I should enjoy a bunch of adults standing around discussing the utter destruction of a poor baby seal. I love baby seals.

Smaller field is a better field. Tighter windows. Better action. Easier to film. Closer to the fans. Heckling is heard by all players, resulting in terrible decisions and lifelong humiliation.

Less players. I am not good with names, and less names means less failure for me. It also puts a bigger role on every player. I reckon you could get away with 10 players on a team. 6 teams is enough for a trial league. That’s 60 good players needed. And most importantly, it means less people you have to pay.

Star power. With the small field, a good thrower can hit the endzone from anywhere, and a good receiver can make a scoring cut from anywhere. Slowness in sand enables infinite layouts with a smaller risk of injury. The stars will more likely put their body on the line, and a body horizontal is always a treat for the human eye, due to our nonstop determination to fly.

Incorporate the old people. Old people who want to keep playing ultimate can extend their careers by making the switch to sand. Because of the sand, wiliness, body position and skill play a much larger role. Old people are also more likely to have money and power and love the idea of beating young whippersnappers at anything they can. Note: as a masters-eligible player I am now eligible to talk trash about old people.

Sex appeal means sponsors. ultimate players seem to hate the idea of being objectified. I don’t. If it was up to me, mens beach ultimate would be played colored shorts, just enough to differentiate between teams. Pecs, abs and sand sticking on sweat would be enough for us to get a deal with Abercrombie. I think a beach volleyball-type outfit for women would meet the required level of hotness to get American Apparel on board.

There you have it. If anybody takes this idea and makes a super successful thing called Cash Cow Beach League I will probably play for you and collect all spilt milk, as long as the spilt milk looks like a dead president.

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  • Bryce Markel

    I completely forgot Beau is now eligible for masters.

  • guest

    I’m too distracted by the quality of the writing to comment on the content.

  • Kyle

    To get people investing in a sport who know nothing about the sport (i.e. – the majority of sponsors), you’ve got to have a hook, and beach ultimate is a punchline to the uninitiated. And whether you like it or not, the uninitiated are the people who matter. If you’re trying to convince them ultimate writ large is worth investing in, you can say, “Did you see SportsCenter this week?” If you then turn the discussion to beach, you’ll get a laugh and a raised eyebrow. Even as an ultimate fan and player, I would not spend money to watch beach ultimate – the quality of play (largely because of the wind/slow pace) is just too low. Furthermore, if beach were the only professional league, there would be less incentive for younger players to start playing and for college players to take the game seriously. Maybe the current formats (MLU/AUDL/USAU) are not the most marketable, but they are, in my estimation, orders of magnitude ahead of beach.

    • Morrison Luke Smith

      It was beach that brought volleyball to America, so there is precedent. “If you then turn the discussion to beach, you’ll get a laugh and a raised eyebrow. ” Has that happened to you? It has not to me. As an aside, I’m not really sure there is a persistent revenue stream or true equity growth available for semi-pro at this point, but it’s gotten a few more clip-of-weeks posted on the deuce.

    • Tyler

      With no professional leagues as of 4 years ago, there was still plenty of incentive for younger players to start playing and for college players to take the game seriously. I was there, it was fun, and I had plenty of incentives to take my college team seriously, none of which had to do with playing “pro” (or even club) after I graduated. I don’t think a beach professional league would change that, just like I don’t think there would be any significant drop off in youth or college participation if the current pro league’s ceased to exist. Nothing for or against them, I just don’t think they’re huge factors in bringing new players into the sport just yet.

      I do love beach though, and really hope to see the USAU beach division develop even further.

    • doodle02

      Soooo, you’ve never played a good beach tourny huh? The play is different, sure, but no less quality: Wind is no more or less a factor than it is on grass, and the “slow pace” is offset by continuous layouts.

  • Daniel A. Powers

    As a >50 year old player who played last 2 beach worlds (2011 t.USA and Currier Island this worlds) I agree with the old comment. So easy on body, diving again is fun and doesn’t hurt! Decisions on throws and accuracy critical, but fun with small field, angles and beach wind.

    Refs, yes for sure. I can talk for an hour on team sweeden, they hate baby seals.

    Shirts off for GM division? Well I heard a term last night that “dad-bod” is now in, so I guess even that division will have shirt off appeal!

    Great article, thanks.

  • Kyle Weisbrod

    Another consideration: as far as the olympics go, lowering the number of athletes required/team makes getting ultimate in much more likely. I’m not sure a pro league makes sense (seems like venues would be tougher to find, particularly in non-coastal locations) but I do think putting increased focused on beach ultimate makes sense if making the sport higher profile is a goal people really want.

  • Peter McCarthy

    If making the sport higher profile is the goal…pro leagues should put forth the effort to present the sport on ultimate fields. I’m under the impression 75% or more of the pro-league games are played on fields lined for football. If you can’t present the sport on properly lined fields…you shouldn’t be involved.

    • Bill Bourret

      The problem is there are very few, if any, ultimate fields with stadium seating and the market is not rich enough yet to build a stadium. Moreover, lots of city sports teams will play their games in a football stadium — not necessarily because they can’t afford to go elsewhere, but because those locations are usually central to the city, easily recognizable, and well designed with parking, bathrooms, concessions, etc.

      • Peter McCarthy

        How many of the AUDL/MLU games are using more than 20% of the seating in the chosen venues?

        • Bill Bourret

          Not many, but I don’t think it matters. Building ultimate stadiums for a few thousand people is still very expensive. And what happens if ultimate explodes and several more thousand people want to come watch? While I’m sure it’s an ideal long-term plan, it’s not feasible at this point or for several years imo.

    • Peter McCarthy

      Period.

  • Bill Bourret

    How do you aim to solve the problem of national distribution? The smaller, more concentrated nature of beach ultimate would likely mean it could not viably be watched in a stadium environment. Stadiums are great for watching 11v11, or even 7v7, but a 4v4 or 5v5 game would not be enjoyable to watch from the nosebleeds. (Not to mention there’s a sheer lack of sand-based stadiums in the US.) Thus beach ultimate would likely be played on a, well, beach, thus limiting it to coastal cities. I could foresee a really popular regional pro beach league, spanning the east and west coasts and perhaps the gulf coast, but if it’s limited to coastal cities, how would it gain traction in inland regions like the midwest?

  • K West

    Playing on sand is like playing ultimate in a bad dream, of course, unless you’re old like me. Beach ultimate looks more like recreational beach fun, field ultimate looks more like sport. I think both are great but should be accepted on a different level going forward. Like NFL as compared to football on a beach.

  • Wolfgang Maehr

    Besides the beach accessibility I think the overall reasoning makes sense.

    However, the overall premise that we want Ultimate to be professional and Olympic has never really debated. Especially as such a push will increase the motivation to cheat, which would require refs and abolishes SOTG.

    This desire to be pro seems to stem more from our feeling of inferiority and lack of confidence as athletes, looking for external validation than from the love of the sport that we originally got attracted to: the comradeship and open-mindedness of the Ultimate community.

  • Matt Heibel

    lots of discussion about venue, but the AVP tour (pro beach volleyball) plays all over the country, inland cities included (they have an event in Cleveland, for example). While a beach ulti field is no doubt bigger than a beach volleyball court, there is loads of space outside of that beach vball court. It would probably not take too much effort to turn those already existing venues into solid beach ultimate arenas. Having just played at beach worlds, I had this same discussion about beach being the way forward for ultimate (in terms of the olympics, not pro leagues, but the concepts are similar). Cool to see one of our sport leaders come out with this article.

  • Tim Morrill

    Great thoughts Beau! We made this video to express how we feel about 1. Beach Nationals , 2. WCBU 2015 & 3. The future of beach ultimate … Enjoy & lets us know what you think! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=76-eMVXo-6M

  • Jub

    http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/words/less-or-fewer

    Ok, now that I have that pet peeve out of the way, I think the idea has a lot of merit. As someone who played at the last Beach Worlds, it was a lot more accessible as a fan and the sand was a good equalizer.

    “You need fewer good players and the sand creates a unique playing field that can be an equalizer for the normally dominant American height and athleticism.”

    The idea that the country that won 6 out of 7 Gold wouldn’t dominate, however, does seem a bit shaky. But since that is where the sports money is, perhaps that isn’t a bad thing.

  • George Kraemer

    Let’s use good English, shall we? It’s _fewer_ players, not less…