When the AUDL first started in 2012, few predicted that pro ultimate would still be around in 2015. Not only is the AUDL still around, but also the MLU emerged in 2013 and has established itself as a pro ultimate league in its own right. The two leagues are now entering year three of their co-existence.
A merger isn’t likely because the leagues are set up so differently
While much of the ultimate community views a merger as inevitable, such talk is very premature at this point. No such talks are currently in the works, and the leadership behind both leagues is very interested in theirs being the league that succeeds.
The AUDL is run as 26 separate franchises, each using its own approach to draw players and fans. Each team has separate ownership that runs their franchise. There are teams that are very engaged in their local ultimate communities, teams that bring in out of region players, and other teams that don’t commit as many resources to the franchise. The MLU has a much more centralized approach, with league leadership making most decisions. Instead of owners buying a single franchise, the MLU receives financial backing from individuals who invest in the league itself. While differences between AUDL teams can be great, there is very little difference between MLU teams. Their social media is coordinated, they have less variation in their player contracts, and their websites look the same.
Given the different structures of the two leagues not only is a merger unlikely, but failure would look very different for the two leagues. In the AUDL’s case, teams on weaker financial ground can fold without the league really suffering. The MLU provides much more support to struggling franchises, with the successful ones able to help keep the weaker ones afloat.
One league will certainly outlast the other, but don’t count on a cooperative merger happening between these two leagues.
Rosters shaping up thus far/how the league ultimate competition will look
AUDL: So far only a few teams in the AUDL have begun to announce roster spots, but the potential is there for the league to have its best season yet. New franchises in ultimate hotbeds like Atlanta and Raleigh will make their debut this year, with other teams announcing exciting additions to their rosters.
The Vancouver Riptide announced a partnership with club team Furious George, which will help a squad that was always on the cusp of a big upset in 2014 to become a contender in the West. Vancouver will be looking to overtake San Francisco and San Jose, the two teams that were on top of the West in 2014 and figure to be the favorites again in 2015. And while it is unclear what the rest of the roster will look like, by adding Jimmy Mickle, Kurt Gibson, and Josh Ackley the San Diego Growlers are sure to be part of the discussion as well. One team that hasn’t announced any moves out west is Seattle. We don’t yet know what Seattle’s roster will look like this year, but with Sockeye in town and ownership that is very involved in the community there is certainly the potential to contend for a championship as well.
The Midwest has been ruled by Madison and Chicago the last two years. The Radicals have owned the division, and they’ve given no reason to believe that will change in 2015. They have the potential to make up for any potential losses with picking up new players from within Madison, like Colin Camp. Chicago on the other hand may be trending in the wrong direction. They went 14-2 in 2013, and 9-5 in 2014. And early signs indicate that fewer Machine players will suit up for the Wildfire since the two teams will no longer have joint leadership.
In the East, Toronto has been largely unchallenged in the division since they entered the league. Barring a major transfer of talent from the MLU in Philadelphia, New York or DC, that should remain the case this year. The AUDL has the best players, but it seems likely that a lack of parity will remain the case for the league in 2015.
MLU: Despite all the new teams and players in the AUDL this year, the roster questions the MLU is facing are probably bigger. Last year there were a significant numbers of players that moved during the offseason from the MLU to the AUDL. In particular, the San Francisco Dogfish lost a lot of their talent from Revolver, and they went from an 8-2 team that appeared in the finals in 2013 to a last place 2-8 team in 2014. With Furious George moving from the Nighthawks to the Riptide, one wonders whether that same story will repeat this offseason. At this point last year, six MLU teams had announced a total of over 65 players that had re-signed for the 2014 season. Right now, only two MLU teams have announced a total of 15 players that have re-signed for 2015. There is a lot of offseason left but there’s no doubt that the MLU isn’t keeping pace with last year.
With so much uncertainty, the MLU’s competitive picture is very murky. In the West, Portland went 8-2 last season, and since there’s no AUDL team in town they figure to be a force again in 2015. Vancouver may be losing their Furious connection, but they’ll retain former Furious players like Morgan Hibbert and Brendan Wong, which should help draw other talented Vancouver players. No Sockeye player has been publicly signed by either the AUDL or MLU team in Seattle, so that shoe has yet to drop.
Meanwhile, the MLU Eastern Conference figures to be on more solid ground. In the East the DC Current announced ten players that are returning in 2015, and are bringing back Alan Kolick and Markham Shofner as well. The Philadelphia Spinners, in many ways the MLU’s flagship team, had a bit of a bounceback season in 2014. That bounce back may be short lived though, given that it came near the end of the season when they had players from the University of Pittsburgh join the squad. With an AUDL team now in Pittsburgh don’t count on the Spinners bringing in players like Marcus Ranii-Dropcho, Max Thorne, or Trent Dillon back in 2015. Meanwhile, the Boston Whitecaps have made the playoffs the last two seasons and benefit from playing without an AUDL franchise in the same city. Even if the Whitecaps start to experience more turnover Boston is a deep enough ultimate community that the team shouldn’t lose much ground.