ESPN will be broadcasting live from the USA College Championships, the U.S. Open and the US National Championships to more than 83 million households across America, having just signed a multi-year deal with USA Ultimate. USAU head honcho Tom Crawford had this to say:
“The strategy we’ve discussed with ESPN will serve both the traditional television viewer as well as our young and tech-savvy membership base with multiple convenient and accessible viewing options, this approach allows us to achieve our goal of creating large-scale visibility for the sport, while satisfying the growing demand for live and on-demand content from both ultimate fans and sports fans in general. Together, ESPN and USA Ultimate have some interesting and dynamic production ideas, so we’re eager to showcase our athletic and entertaining sport.”
Could this be the breakthrough the sport has been waiting for? For years, thousands of ultimate players have had pipe dreams of full coverage being broadcast in the public domain, on television sets to capture the interest of channel-flickers, with such a professional appearance that they can do nothing but give it the respect it deserves. However, a number of times over the years it has seemed like a big breakthrough has come, only for nothing really to come of it – whether it’s the infrastructure which is not mature or self-sustaining enough to deal with a huge influx of new players (as the UKU asks: if a member of the public wanted to start Ultimate from scratch in your town, what opportunities are open to them?), or the big wigs pull the plug or simply decide against broadcasting / publishing the material they have… how excited should we get about this ESPN / USA Ultimate deal?
When the big names like ESPN get involved, it means NexGen Network, Ultivillage, Push Pass and so on will no longer have any rights to film and distribute footage from the events they have provided you coverage with for years, and will have no hope of re-securing a contract. If ESPN have made this deal to simply ensure no other networks profit from getting to Ultimate before they do, and then decide not to release much of what they have filmed, will that leave us right back where we started, or will the USA governing body take a huge decision to say ‘enough is enough’ to a big name, like they did to Wham-O several decades ago when a seemingly sweet deal turned sour? One would hope ESPN have no ulterior motives – they have been broadcasting Ultimate in their ‘top 10 plays’ lists for a while now, and to commit to professional live broadcasts requires a great deal of investment.
What’s the next step? Perhaps Sky Sports see what ESPN has done, realise it could be the next big thing, and start talks with the UKU or the EFDF about a multi-year deal. This could bring people of all ages out of their homes anywhere in the UK or Europe, and into parks playing Ultimate. What about spectators – if avid watchers wished to take it to the next level and travel to a live event, would it not burst their balloon to discover there has been practically zero consideration towards spectators made so far in the UK?
What if someone who saw Ultimate on TV tried to start playing competitively here? They may get in touch with their local team, who, if Britdisc posts are anything to go by, are probably ‘pushing for an A-Tour spot this season’, and find that path leads nowhere as the team isn’t even thinking about recruiting beginners in the summer.
This deal certainly has the potential to be a very big thing in America, and will send epic reverberations out throughout the globe shortly afterwards, but currently in Europe we are not coming close to being prepared for it’s impact. Kevin Costner once had a voice in his head that said “If you build it, they will come…” Well, unless grass roots ultimate shapes up very soon, they will be coming and it won’t be built yet. What happens then?
Original article on USA Ultimate.org