Photo by Kevin Leclaire – Ultiphotos.com
As one of the founders of Major League Ultimate, Executive Vice President Nic Darling has been involved in every step of the league’s journey. There is perhaps no better source of information on all things MLU, and with that in mind, we are happy to present our weekly series – #AskNic.
Each week, Nic will answer a question posed to him from fans across the league’s social media platforms. This week’s question is particularly appropriate as team’s continue to announce their 2016 rosters:
Club ultimate is obviously a hugely important part of the sport’s landscape. For years it has been the primary place to play the game and the arena in which the best have proven themselves. It remains the home of some of the best competition and it is where players develop the skills and ultimate intelligence that we as a league celebrate.
Over the years we have had relationships with club teams in many of our cities and these have been very beneficial. However, we have made a conscious effort to assure that the MLU team maintains its own unique identity and purpose. In the early days there was some discussion about trying to bring club teams into the league as full teams, essentially offering the MLU as another platform for those teams to compete, but we quickly realized that this wasn’t the ideal situation for our league or for the players.
There are several key reasons we maintain a healthy separation between ourselves and existing club ultimate teams.
- Brand Control: Club teams already have their own identities and culture and they should have the freedom to change and explore that identity as they please. Those teams are funded out of the players pockets and they should reflect the players’ choices in the look and feel of the team and in how the team presents itself online and on the field. MLU teams are subject to stricter guidelines and requirements based on relationships with sponsors, investors, media outlets and fans. It would be difficult and unfair to impose those requirements on a player-focused club team paid for by its members because those controls couldn’t end when the MLU season ends.
- Player Opportunity: Many of the best players play on the most recognizable club teams in each city, but not all of them. Some top players choose to play on other club teams. Some may even have stopped playing club or are still in college. This could be because of the high cost of top level club competition, the time commitment required or simply personal preference. We didn’t want an MLU team to be a club team because we wanted to assure that the door was open to players regardless of their club affiliation.
- Strategy and Tactics: The MLU game is different from the club game and it requires a strategic approach that may not have direct application on the club field. We worried that club teams brought into the MLU might use the pro season to work on strategy for the club season and that this would be detrimental to the team’s performance and to the evolution of the pro game. After all, the components of MLU competition are still relatively new and we really wanted coaches and players interested in exploring those components and pushing the development of strategy and tactics in the context of the MLU game. In the end, we think this separation is good for both the MLU and the club teams where these players will spend their fall. Players are able to diversify their development and build capabilities that they might not have the opportunity to touch with their club. Club teams are also given the opportunity to learn more about their own players as they play in a different system.
- Future Conflicts: We anticipated a future where the extension of the MLU season might start to conflict with players ability to play for their club teams. This would be a distant future where player compensation would make the sacrifice of the beloved club series acceptable. However, that future would be a bigger issue if the club team were also an MLU team. Unfortunately, this future seems to be coming upon us rather quicker than we anticipated as the club season seems to be moving back toward ours. We will continue to work to accommodate club players as best we can, but I think we will all be happy that we didn’t build in additional conflict by bringing club teams into the MLU.
We still enjoy working closely with club teams when we can. There are definite benefits in terms of player development, building training programs, growing coaching resources and scouting young talent, and we will look for more ways to create a cooperative environment wherever we can. MLU teams are not club teams and club teams are not MLU teams, but we are all working on making ultimate bigger and better and there are plenty of places where that work can be collaborative.