AUDL Set for Expansion: Sign of Good Times?
By: Ryan Saba
Recently, the AUDL has released a slew of new expansion teams slated for the 2013 season and beyond. Among those teams: the Jacksonville Cannons, the Toronto Rush, the New Jersey Hammerheads, and the Windy City Wildfire (with more teams being released almost every week). Judging by the AUDL map here, we can also expect teams from Madison, Minneapolis, New York, Boston, and Washington D.C. to be announced in the near future. This round of expansion will double the size of the AUDL from 8 to 16 teams, making it a seemingly more legitimate organization than it has been this year (not a knock on the AUDL, but nevertheless true). Given all the hype surrounding the AUDL and these newly released expansion teams, it has to make you wonder: Is the AUDL really THAT successful? Read on for our best guess at an answer.
Any league looking for legitimacy needs to expand. Expanding from 8 to 16 teams is huge for the AUDL, and may solidify its status as a legitimate sports league and not just a failed startup. That being said, is the AUDL bringing in enough revenue to warrant expansion? We know the interest is there, but are people actually attending games and buying merchandise, or are people simply keeping up to date with the scores and stats of AUDL teams and not spending any money supporting them? Judging from what I’ve seen, it looks like the results vary on a team by team basis. Judging exclusively by ticket price, quality of online store, number of sponsorships, and team record, here are my personal rankings for most successful AUDL teams:
1. Philadelphia Spinners ($14), good store, seven sponsorships, 9-1 record.
2. Indianapolis Alleycats ($9), good store, seven sponsorships, 7-5 record.
3. Connecticut Constitution ($9), great store, two sponsorships, 8-3 record.
4. Detroit Mechanix ($20), good store, seven sponsorships, 4-8 record.
5. BlueGrass Revolution ($12), good store, one sponsorship, 6-5 record.
6. Columbus Cranes ($8), decent store, two sponsorships, 5-6 record.
7. Rhode Island Rampage ($11), no store, no sponsorships, 5-6 record.
8. Buffalo Hunters ($6), no store, no sponsorships, 0-10 record.
Looking at these rankings, I divided the league into three sections: the good (Philadelphia, Indianapolis, Connecticut), the decent (Detroit, BlueGrass, Columbus), and the bad (Rhode Island, Buffalo). It seems as though quality of store and number of sponsorships are both indicative of team success; the teams with a solid amount of sponsorships are in the top half of the league, while the teams with little to no sponsorships are in the bottom half (with the exception of the Alleycats and the Cranes). Quality of Store is completely subjective, but it seems as though the successful teams took time to put out quality merchandise that people will want, whereas the unsuccessful teams either have no store or little offerings in their respective online stores. There is also no clear regional predictor for success; 2/3 of the top teams are on the East Coast; however, both of the awful teams are also on the East Coast. The Midwest makes up all of the medium quality teams with the exception of the Alleycats, who I deemed a top team (losing Brodie Smith early in the season was a huge loss for them, yet they still seem to be doing well).
(Note: The date above is current as of 6/26/12. Quality of store is my own opinion and number of sponsorships is based on the number of sponsors I saw upon visiting each team’s website)
If my rankings are in the least bit accurate, there are three truly successful teams in the AUDL with solid revenue from tickets and merchandise. The middle three teams may or may not be doing well; however, we have no way of knowing for certain. As for the bottom two teams, there is no way they are earning any significant revenue and chances are likely that they will cease to exist in the future.
According to an article on abcnews.com, individuals can start a franchise for “as little as $2,500”, and player revenue can be based off of either stipends or, in the case of Brodie Smith, revenue sharing. I’m going to make a very rough assumption that the average AUDL team needs to sell about 4,000 tickets per season to break even, which translates to 500 tickets per home game. Merchandise and pay per view sales can be counted on top of these numbers as well. In all honesty, I can only see the top three teams in the league bringing in over 500 people per game (the Mechanix might if their tickets didn’t cost $20). From personal experience and from talking to others, it seems as though the top tier teams are bringing in around 600-700 fans per game, while mid to lower tier teams are bringing in less than 300 fans per game.
Judging by these numbers and seeing how half of the teams in the AUDL probably aren’t making profits (and if they are, they’re probably not significant), what is motivating the expansion of the league? It would be one thing if most of the teams in the league were making profits, but to go into the league with a 50/50 shot is not worth it, in my opinion. Taking a premature look at the expansion teams, I would already predict that the New Jersey, New York, and Washington D.C. teams will be the least successful of the group. Madison, Minneapolis, Boston, Toronto, and Chicago are all major ultimate hotbeds, whereas the other cities really are not huge areas of ultimate interest. I realize $2,500 is a relatively small startup cost, but once travel, advertising, merchandise, and other costs are factored in, I believe it would cost around $40,000 to run an AUDL team for one season. In addition to these costs, players have to be paid as well. I know no one is quitting their day job to play professional ultimate, but after a few years, you have to wonder if the players will keep taking so much time out of their lives for little to no pay.
As I said earlier, expansion is a necessity for any legitimate professional league. In order for the AUDL to become more popular amongst non-ultimate players, it needs to become bigger. That being said, I don’t know if the incentives are there for prospective owners to join the league. Perhaps the new owners have financial information that we are not exposed to that indicates profits are being earned in the league, or, if not, have reliable data on their prospective fanbases that indicate that a profit could be made. If more teams join the league and fall by the wayside, like the Hunters or the Rampage, it could spell trouble, and perhaps even failure, for the entire league. Having even six successful teams out of sixteen is not good enough for a professional league of any sort. It is my hope that, in the long run, I am dead wrong and that the expansion of the AUDL is successful and allows it to become a more legitimate professional league. A league that the sport of ultimate desperately needs.
Readers, what are your thoughts on the AUDL's expansion?
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