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 announce our new weekly series – #AskNic.
Each week, Nic will answer a question posed to him from fans across the league’s social media platforms. Our first question is one that we at the MLU get all the time:
Before discussing future expansion plans it might be useful to revisit our reasons for choosing our current locations. After all, we have laid the groundwork for future growth in the research that led us to choose the eight markets in which we currently operate. The criteria for our next locations will be the same as that which informed the placement of the founding teams.
Back in 2012, we evaluated potential locations based on four primary factors:
- Market Size: We wanted our teams in densely populated cities with the kind of demographics we anticipated being most appealing to potential partners and sponsors. Given our focus on the development of these important relationships, a larger potential audience made sense. Reaching that audience is simply a matter of resources, and we knew that the partnerships we developed could offer us access to the money and mechanisms necessary to build that reach. Essentially, we wanted to plan for what we would become rather than find that placing our initial teams in undersized markets rendered us less undesirable to the kinds of businesses we would need to support our ambitious hopes for the future.
- Ultimate Community: However much we looked toward a broader reach in the future, we still knew that the initial core support of this project would be those who already share our passion for the sport. We also knew that the talent necessary to build the on-field product was still pooled in certain areas around the country. So, for the sake of the initial audience, the administrative support on the ground and the quality of the game, we chose cities with strong ultimate communities. We looked for high school, college, club and recreational programs that could provide the base our league needed to succeed and for specific people whose commitment to the game would help us establish a foothold.
- Existing Sports Culture: Contrary to what some might think, it is better to build a fledgling sport in a city crowded with sports teams than it is to introduce a sport to a community unfamiliar with supporting a team or attending games. In short, sports breed sports fans and sports fans attend sporting events. With that in mind, we looked for cities that had a history of supporting their sports teams, and we seek to leverage the passion fans have for their city into support for a new sport.
- Travel Logistics: I have saved the most obvious for last. Travel is an enormous expense for a young league, particularly if that league strives to provide travel correctly. We felt that it was very important, in terms of offering a great experience to our players and protecting our company from unnecessary liability, to provide quality transportation through professional travel companies. This meant that we had to be very cognizant of the cost, and so we chose cities (for the most part) that were geographically convenient. San Francisco is the one city that falls outside of this requirement, but the powerful case it made in the first three criteria led us to accept the high cost of all those flights.
So, where do we go next? Understanding the above criteria and the ways in which they have evolved as we have grown, what does expansion look like?
Internally, we have modeled expansion in several ways. We have considered options that expand the existing Eastern and Western Conferences, adding teams along the coasts. We also have ideas that resurrect our original Central Conference model and others that explore new opportunities to the South. These ideas have become increasingly informed by our corporate and media partners whose position and strategy we would be wise to consider. They have also been influenced by the input of fans, players and potential investors.
And after all that, I’m going to answer the question without really answering it. All of us know the obvious locations that meet the above criteria. We can all list cities that would fit what we look for, and you can be sure that we have researched those cities and built an understanding of the cost/benefit of expanding in each. However, there is a limit to transparency. There is certain information we need to keep close to the vest if only for the sake of having a surprise or two up our sleeves.
What I will say is that our focus on infrastructure is paying off. The central organization of all of the tools needed to build a team provides us with a powerful level of flexibility when it comes to establishing a new market. Our dynamically designed web pages, and the databases that feed them, can grow new arms rapidly. Our content capturing systems (video, social media, writing, statistics) are increasingly scalable. We have reached a point where expansion would support the stability of our brand rather than threaten it.
I expect us to have some more specific strategic plans ready for public announcement in the near future. I also expect these will include some more clear information about the expansion of the MLU. To date much of our growth has happened internally, an exercise in infrastructure development. This growth has been vital to our business but somewhat less than exciting in terms of public announcements.
The question of expansion is a good one, and I’m not surprised by how common it has been (no offense to your originality @GCSUltimate). I know this answer is going to feel somewhat unsatisfactory to some, but hopefully it can at least act as a seed for conversation.
Let’s hear what everyone thinks. Where should we go next? Why should we go there? Who should we work with? Let me know on Twitter at @nicdarling with #AskNic or send us an email at email@example.com.