I couldn’t watch the Seattle Rainmakers 28-27 win over Vancouver live. The match was in Vancouver and I was in Seattle. These things happen. That said, I got pumped to check out the replay when I saw a Tweet promoting match highlights for an overtime game. Overtime! Highlights! Those are the chocolate and peanut butter of sports! Except in this case it was the nothing and nothing of sports. When I clicked on the link, there was just a photo gallery with a user comment correcting the report, saying that the game had not gone to overtime.
I don’t want this to sound like an attack on the MLU. I assume that whoever is running the social media for teams is overworked and underpaid, and doesn’t need my dilettante voice out here mocking their work. With a young sports league the question of how to allocate resources is real: is it worth leveling up your online video presence when the best (and most valuable) fan experience is live?
More video is obviously better. The part of the ultimate community interested in professionalizing the sport wants big catches and Ds winding up on SportsCenter, and without clean, widely available footage that isn’t going to happen. More broadly, there’s almost an expectation at this point that anything that happens in sports will be available on any platform both live and on replay. Meeting these expectations means that on any given weekend I have HD streaming options for not just the big sports but nascent sports like darts, snooker, and eSports included with my cable. And to be clear, I’ve watched darts. On TV. And not even championship darts. Early round action between players ranked in the low-teens of England. My roommate walked in. It was humiliating.
A less humiliating is example is our ability watch pretty much any soccer match happening in Europe. Due to local blackout rules, it’s much easier to watch many Premier League matches in the US than in England. Availability has done wonders for soccer in the States. But that’s not a fair comparison for ultimate. The Premier League was a popular and mature product being shipped to a new audience. The MLU and AUDL have to both grow the product and figure out how its fans want to see it. To do all that on almost no budget? That’s really, really hard.
Also, if you’ll allow me to hike up my pants and put on an old man hat, I remember being unable to even listen to Seattle Mariners games when I moved to Los Angeles as a kid. I’d have to stay up to watch Baseball Tonight to get a score, and considered myself lucky if I got a highlight package. Did that affect my level of baseball fandom? No. It just turned me into the boxscore scouring weirdo I am today. Getting just a match report for a game is not a problem.
Now, if you’ll allow me to put on my young guy sunglasses, it also doesn’t make sense right now for a young sports league to invest heavily in video infrastructure. That’s expensive, and with apps like Periscope and Meerkat out there, it’s theoretically possible for matches to be streamed for almost nothing. I’m not suggesting the MLU abandon YouTube and push all in on Periscope, but being open and responsive to what’s going to happen in media streaming is a great way for professional ultimate to find an edge.
To be clear, this is a question about how to professionalize a sport. Ultimate is not going anywhere. Too many people play it and love it. It’s too appealing in a world that rightly asks for both increasing gender parity and fewer head injuries. And figuring out how the internet can get people to the live matches is also important. For example, right now the Rainmakers have a Twitter contest to name their mascot:
— Seattle Rainmakers (@SeaRainmakers) June 9, 2015
The only mistake they made here is putting too many good ones on the contest itself. What is going to beat Dwayne “The Drop” Johnson or Wayne Drop? Certainly not Rainy Raindal.
As a quick bonus, when I think about burgeoning professional sports leagues I think of a Kids in the Hall sketch about a fictional snake-based sport called shirling. Have you guys seen this? It’s very funny: