Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Outlook into the 2014 Season

It has already been said that the 2014 season of the MLU will include no new expansion teams (see Expansion into the 2014 Season and Beyond). However, after the success of the inaugural season and the off-season drama in the past couple of months, the MLU will be back and better than ever.  

If there is one thing I would bet on for the 2014 season, it would be that the Boston Whitecaps will not go undefeated again this season. Last year the games remained close with eventually Boston getting the upper end when the time ran out, its not like Boston dominated the Eastern Conference. Teams have now had a year together to practice and develop chemistry that the Whitecaps may have been a little fortunate to have at the beginning of the season. Getting to the top and being the best is hard, staying up there is even harder. Despite that all being said I predict the East will be more competitive this year but in the end Boston will once again win the conference.

Boston Whitecaps
Signings from 2013 season: Jon Hirschberger, Alex Simmons, Brandon Malecek, Teddy Browar-Jarus, Jack Hatchett, Seth Reinhardt, Danny Clark, Jeff Graham, Josh Markette, Jake Taylor, Brian Zid, Shaun Doherty, Terry Roth, Alex Cooper, Miles Montgomery-Butler, and Eric Stevens

New York Rumble

Signings from 2013 season: Chris Mazur (2013 MVP), Robbie Gillies, Joe Anderson, Ben Faust, Jon Cox, Markian Kuzmowcyz, Dan Heijmen, Austin Raymond, Ignacio Yz, Andrew Bosco, Jake Herman, Lucas Murphy, and Milo Snyder 

Other Signings: Isaac Saul (Pitt Ultimate), Sean Murray (Philly Spinners), Dave Vuckovich (PoNY Ultimate), Jack Marsh (AUDL New York Rumble), Adrian Banerji (Ironside), Quinn Hunziker, Matt Hennessy (PoNY Ultimate), Matt Wilson

Philadelphia Spinners
Signings from 2013 season: Nick Hirannet, David Baer, Trey Katzenbach, Art Shull, Dustin Damiano, Leon Chou, Dan Furfari, Patrick Diviney, Jack Casey, Matt Glazer, Michael Panna, Matt Paparone, Michael Baer, Patrick Lindsey, Jonah Wisch, Nick Mathison,  Frederik Brasz, Justin Carter

Other Signings: Jake Rainwater (2012 Philly Spinner), David Brandolph (2012 Philly Spinner), Trent Dillion (Pitt Ultimate), Patrick Earles (Pitt Ultimate), Aaron Watson (Pitt Ultimate), Marcus Ranii-Dropcho (Pitt Ultimate), Max Thorne (Pitt Ultimate), Matt Esser (AUDL Philadelphia Phoenix), Alex Peters (AMP Ultimate)

Washington DC Current
Signings from 2013 season: Alan Kolick, Daniel Kantor, Sean Keegan, Tom Doi, Calvin Oung, Jeff Wodatch, David Cranston, Markham Shofner, Brian Marshall, Delrico Johnson, Bobby Gordon, Brent Bellinger, Nate Castine, Eric Miner, Robert Dulabon, Matt Gordon, Collier "Chip" Cobb, and Erik Salmi

Other Signings: Peter Prial (Boston Whitecaps), Cody Johnston (William & Mary Ultimate)

The Western Conference is more up in the air than the East. Last season both the San Francisco Dogfish and the Seattle Rainmakers led the conference with 8-2 records. However since this is the second season once again the chemistry will be better among the teams, so the gap from first place to last place won't be as large. The Dogfish also will head into the 2014 season losing one of their top players, Beau Kittredge, to the AUDL which will force me to give the nod to the Rainmakers to win the conference with tough competition from the Vancouver Nighthawks and San Francisco.

Portland Stags
Signings from 2013 Season: Timmy Perston, Cody Bjorklund, Chris Hancock, Eli Friedman, Ben Lohre, Ben McGinn, Jeremy Norden, Grant Cole, Raphy Hayes, Vinh Bui, Chris Beach-Rehner, Eli Blackman, Breeze Strout, Adrian King, and John Thornton

Other Signings: Mark Burton (Seattle Rainmakers), Dan Suppnick (Rhino Ultimate)

San Francisco Dogfish

Signings from 2013 Season: Evan Boucher, Sam Adamson, Drew Kim, Adam Farren, Tyler Grant, Jordan Jeffery, Mac Taylor, Gary Dixon, and James Pollard

Other Signings: Chris Hart (Boost Ultimate)

Seattle Rainmakers

Signings from 2013 Season: Ben Beehner, Danny Trytiak, Bryson Uhrig-Fox, Matty Zemel, Sam Harkness, Mario O'Brien, Matthew Sewell, Adam Simon (2013 West MVP), Elliot Trotter

Other Signings: Khalif El-Salaam (Portland Stags), Eddie Feeley (Sockeye)

Vancouver Nighthawks

Signings from 2013 Season: Matthew Berezan, Kevin Underhill, Andre Gailits, Andy Collins, Mark Leduc, Kirk Savage, Keane Knapp, Nick Menzies, Joel Bellevance, Allan Cowan, Alex Davis, Bobo Eyrich, Morgan Hibbert, Aaron Loach, and Jordan Tessarolo 

Other Signings: Takuya Saito (Japan)

By 2014 season's end there will be yet another MLU champion crowned, will it be the current champions the Boston Whitecaps, will the San Francisco Dogfish get revenge and make it back to the championship, or will a different team step up into the spotlight and take home the trophy?

*= Team has not announced 2014 Roster

League Competition with the AUDL

As Major League Ultimate has completed its very first season, the American Ultimate Disc League (AUDL) has completed its second. Naturally these two leagues are becoming a sort of rivals with each other, with both trying to bring ultimate to where it has never been before.
Not many people know that the MLU actually stemmed from the AUDL. In 2012 the AUDL held its very first season, with two conferences, four teams each, very similar to what the MLU has. One of the teams, the Philadelphia Spinners won the inaugural championship in their first season in the league, which would turn out to be their last season. The leaders of the Spinners had some sort of a falling out with the front office of the AUDL and did not agree with the way the league was being run and what direction it was heading. The Spinners then decided to create their own league, the MLU.

After a full season of both leagues competing in their own way, it has started to become clear the vision of both of the AUDL and the MLU.  The AUDL are forcing the teams to be run independently, sell their own gear, create their own sponsors, etc. It is running a business that allows for if it does not work in one city, they can allow another team to join in another. On the other hand the MLU is supporting all of its teams and not allowing, if it ever got to the point, for one of the teams to fold.  The league has created partnerships for the entire league, keeps the pay consistent for every team/ player, and is very conservative when it comes to taking risks as a whole company.

Right now the AUDL has expanded to 17 teams across three divisions for the 2014 season, while the MLU has decided to keep the league at eight for the next couple of years. Both leagues respect their players jobs outside of ultimate, understanding that neither league is at the point to pay their athletes a full living wage. For instance I spoke with DC Current captain, Daniel Kantor, whom is a mechanical and aerospace engineer for a small defense contractor. If there was ever a scheduling conflict with his job, his coaches would "understand that [they] have jobs outside of the Current and are pretty receptive to that." 

Both the AUDL and the MLU are bringing professional ultimate to world of sports. Only time will tell to see which league will have more success. Maybe 10 years on down the line there will be a merger similar to the one between the NFL and the AFL, maybe the two leagues can grow and coexist like they are doing now. However both want to see each other succeed, because that is good for ultimate.

Expansion into the 2014 Season and Beyond

After the initial success of the very first season of the MLU, fans and prospective ultimate players began to discuss the possibility of expansion. Due to the MLU's major competition being the AUDL, often times the leagues are compared to each other (see League Competition with the AUDL blog).  In this being the AUDL's third upcoming season, they have expanded to 17 teams throughout the United States and Canada after also starting with an initial eight teams. There are plenty of cities that would love to raise a team, on the East Coast, the West Coast, and even in the Midwest, and after the success of the inaugural season many are wondering where to next.

The current criteria for certain locations to foster an MLU franchise, according to the MLU's website, are based on the following:
1. Metro Population
2. Ability to support multiple sports franchises
3. Relative distance to other conference teams
4. Strong local ultimate community and youth ultimate programs

Currently the MLU is content with the eight team, two conference league they have right now. Their focus for the next couple of seasons will be to expand their fan base in the eight current cities they have now before they try and move into different areas of the country. The league is more concerned with creating a professional league and having a foundation for it before trying to grow it into something bigger. It is confirmed for the 2014 season that there will be no new teams entering the league. In fact it is not expected for new cities to be slated to join the MLU until 2017, in which hopefully the new Central Division will be added. Also the league hopes to add an additional team in each conference, one in New Jersey and one in San Jose, but also neither of these teams are expected to join until at least the 2017 season.

So sorry to all potential players not in the Northeast or Northwest corners of the county, no new teams will be added to the league in the next couple of years. However your time will come and new franchises in new cities will be established.

(Below is a picture from the MLU's website for potential expansion loctaions)

Even though there will be no expansion for the next three years, in an email interview I had with the commissioner Jeff Snader, he said that "[the league] is slated for cross-conference play in 2015." So who knows maybe these cross-conference games will take place in a neutral location, like Denver or Chicago, or maybe they will simply give the both conferences a look into the different teams in the league. One thing is for sure, big things are coming for Major League Ultimate.

Growing The MLU Brand

October 15th, 2012, the day that the Major League Ultimate website launched.   One of the advantages that the MLU has that the other main sports leagues did not, is that the MLU was founded in a world with the Internet.  The Internet has allowed the MLU to gain more nationwide recognition in its very first season than any other sport has. It has allowed fans of ultimate to follow the sport even when they are not in an area where there is a team and also given new audiences a chance to see other teams perform.

Each week in the regular season the MLU would broadcast at least one of the weekend's games online on Youtube.  It was broadcast for free so anyone could see it and enjoy it to introduce the sport, in a interview with DC Current captain Daniel Kantor, he mentioned that fans are commenting "how great it is to see professional ultimate, and it is hard to really grasp how crazy that is".  Some weekends the MLU had the opportunity to put on more than one game, one on the East and West coast. On Conference Championship weekend, both of the games were streamed free online and the MLU Championship was also free. They allow the replays to be accessed online and are available for anybody.

One of the risks that the MLU took when the league was originally announced was the use of Pulsar discs. Now for years the main company for ultimate players and USA Ultimate was Discraft discs. Discs that were the standard for playing ultimate due to their quality and weight. Now Pulsars are a little bit different, they are created by a disc golf company INNova, and the weight distribution on the disc isn't the same. Its very similar to how Wilson footballs are different than Nike footballs, they are still footballs but are different and are more comfortable to certain people depending on who you ask.  Nathan Slade, first year professional ultimate player for the DC Current, described it best as "the muscle memory being just off" and was simply "different from what [he] was used to" and eventually began to favor the disc. As more and more ultimate players became to grow fond of the new Pulsar discs, the MLU began a partnership with Dicks Sporting Goods and now are making a new standard for discs.

As the league grew throughout the year, its sphere of influence began to spread. Numerous occasions there were plays featured on Sportscenter's Top 10 plays, other portions of the MLU were also seen on SportsNation and other popular shows on ESPN. Towards the end of the season, Comcast would replay games in the nearby areas of local teams but the highlight of the MLU season came when it received national prime time attention from the "Jones and Mosley Show" on Fox Sports 1. The show featured the MLU at its finest giving outsiders a look into the sport and also gave a quick recap of the MLU Championship Game.

Perhaps the most signature partnership for the MLU so far has to be the new deal with the nationally known brand, Puma. For the 2014 season, Puma has designed and will provide jerseys for the players and for teams to sell.  This deal is huge for the ultimate community, giving the sport a national stage but allowing it to keep its identity at the same time. Pictures can be seen at the following link
---> MLU 2014 Team Jerseys Released 

Needless to say the MLU has had a lot of success in building a brand in just it's first season.  As far as a comment from the Commissioner of the MLU, Jeff Snader, on the potential partnerships coming in the next season and beyond he simply stated "[l]ots. You'll just have to wait and see."

2013 MLU Season Recap

A little over a year ago, Major League Ultimate was born.  Two men, Jeff Snader and Nic Darling, created a vision of bringing professional ultimate frisbee to the world of sports.  Now over 400 days later the inaugural season has been completed and a champion has been crowned.

The league is composed of eight teams from eight different cities, with four on the East Coast and four on the West Coast. The four teams that make up the Eastern Conference are the Boston Whitecaps, the DC Current, the New York Rumble, and the Philadelphia Spinners. The Western Conference is composed of the Portland Stags, the San Francisco Dogfish, the Seattle Rainmakers, and the Vancouver Nighthawks.  Each team completed a 10 game regular season playing each team in their conference three times and also their "local rival" another time to add up to 10.  At the end of the regular season, the top two teams in each conference based on their win-loss record played each other for their respective conference championship.  The conference champions then faced each other in the MLU Championship to determine the league champs.

During the regular season, the Boston Whitecaps dominated the league by going undefeated (10-0) in the Eastern Conference and earning a berth in the playoffs. After starting the season 1-4 the DC Current miraculously came back and forced a winner-take-all match up against the New York Rumble in the final game of the MLU regular season. It was a game described by Nathan Slade, a player for the DC Current, as "the most exciting ultimate game that [he] had ever been a part of", in one of the most epic back-and-forth games of the season, the Current came away as victors 22-20 sending them to the Eastern Conference Championship. On the West Coast the conference was dominated by both the San Francisco Dogfish and the Seattle Rainmakers who both finished the season at 8-2, which sent both teams to the playoffs.

Conference Championship weekend went exactly how someone would expect the games would go based on the regular season results. The Boston Whitecaps took care of business against the DC Current 23-15 and the Dogfish and the Rainmakers battled endlessly with major injuries and setbacks until finally San Francisco came out on top 18-17.
This then set up the MLU Championship that was to be take place in the city where the MLU was founded, Philadelphia.  The game was filled with Sportscenter Top 10 highlights that could last for a week, both teams gave it their all trying to claim the very first MLU Championship. The difference however was made with Josh Markette of Boston scoring half of their points leading them to the 20-15 victory over the Dogfish.  In the end the storybook ending was wrote, the Boston Whitecaps ran the table and went undefeated to win the Major League Ultimate Championship. A feat that only one professional sports team in North America has accomplished (the 1972 Miami Dolphins) has now been done in the first season of Major League Ultimate. Only time will tell what is next for the MLU.

Congratulations to the Boston Whitecaps, 2013 MLU Champions!