YORKTON - Do you at times wish there was something just a bit different from the regular sports fare of football, hockey, baseball, and basketball?
Well, even if you are moderately curious you might want to check out the American Ultimate Disc League (AUDL).
Action begins later this month in the AUDL with Montreal and Toronto going head-to-head April 30 to start things on this side of the border.
The Ottawa Outlaws, Canada’s third team – at least for now – starts play May 1 versus Montreal.
“I think everybody’s happy to get back to normal,” offered Steve Hall, Commissioner of the AUDL who assumed the position in October of 2018, and is currently serving his first three-year term.
Hall said the pandemic was not an easy thing to deal with for a league that is still finding its place in the sports’ market. He said,”2020 was definitely difficult with all the safety issues.”
And while the major leagues had the resources to establish ‘bubbles’ to allow continued play, it wasn’t feasible for the AUDL.
But, the league was fortunate, said Hall, in the sense they had been playing for seven years.
“We had a lot of video content,” he said.
So they repackaged much of that content, past championship games, key match-ups, and great games, and distributed that content through Fox Sports and online. It worked.
The online numbers in 2020 actually “went up dramatically,” said Hall.
In 2021 the league was back in action, but the three Canadian teams stayed in this country, while the American teams realigned and played without them.
Now, with the border open the Canadian teams are back, which is good news, said Hall.
“It’s extremely important,” he said. “They are an integral part of the East Division.”
This season also sees the arrival of three expansion teams; Portland, Sat Lake City and Denver, bringing the AUDL to 25 franchises.
“And next year, (2023), we expect to add three more,” said Hall, pointing to cities such as Houston and Kansas City as being in the mix.
On the AUDL’s path to 32 Hall said, “I definitely see another Canadian team,” adding Vancouver is a very likely locale. The city had a team in the past, and while it moved south, he said interest remains.
“Vancouver has historically had a strong ultimate community.”
Hall said, the key is finding the right ownership. In the early years of the AUDL owners were often lovers of the game but sometimes without the business experience needed to operate a franchise.
“Now we’re looking for people with a certain profile, deep and broad business experience,” offered Hall.
It’s an overall growth trend that has Hall talking about 32 teams one day, taking ultimate to a bigger audience, albeit one the league must work to attract.
The sport of ultimate is hardly new – it was created in the 1960s – but it isn’t widely known either. It was AUDL that took it pro.
“We turned it into a fan-friendly state,” said Hall. “But, we’ve got to create greater awareness in the broader community.”
So why should people watch ultimate?
“Number one, it’s fast-paced,” said Hall, adding in today’s world people want action, but at the same time the game is packaged nicely, with a usual playing time of a couple of hour, which he said fits nicely “with the way we execute our lives.”
For live games the price is right too, said Hall with a family of four looking at a “family-friendly” cost of about $100.
Ultimately though Hall said it is up to the league to create a sport experience for modern sport viewers.
“We need sparkle and shine,” he said.
To get that sparkle and shine the AUDL is focused on being on the leading edge of new things.
“We’re really embracing data and gaming,” said Hall, adding today’s fans are going to spend time – even at games—on their cellphones either taking selfies or looking for scores and stats. “They look up every once-in-awhile to see what’s going on, on the field.”
So the AUDL will provide that online content, said Hall, including providing options for gaming.
“It’s about enjoying the game in the virtual world,” said Hall.
The AUDL is also working on a video game.
“We’re building a video game,” said Hall, adding he believes they are the first league to undertake that process in-house with partners.
And, AUDL is also going to be offering NFTs (non-fungible tokens).
“Any business has to look at what youth are doing,” said Hall, and there is huge interest in NFTs, he added.
Hall said NFTs are so different from when people collected sports cards.
“We all loved them (the cards). We traded them. We stored them,” he said.
An NFT is similar but with more options possible to enhance the experience of owning it. For example, Hall said imagine owning a Wayne Gretzky card that might also allow a VIP pass to a live event, or to merchandise discounts, or additional online content, or maybe it allows an in video game enhancement to the player. That is what can be possible with an NFT.
“You get something out of owning that card,” he said.
More immediate for the AUDL is a live game-of-the-week on FOX2, in the U.S., with Hall adding they are hoping for a Canadian platform announcement soon.
For Canadian fans there is also AUDL.TV available through subscription at theaudl.com, so fans can watch Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal games live and on demand.