Today, a new Australian professional mixed Ultimate league has been announced. Named the Australian Ultimate League (AUL), the project aims to build our sport locally, with a strong gender equality focus, by providing a more marketable product to promote to sponsors and draw fans from outside the Ultimate community.
The AUL will feature all-star teams from every Australian state and territory except the Northern Territory and Tasmania. Games will be played with only six active players on the field, three men and three women, as opposed to the traditional seven.
Two coaches and two ‘marquee players’ have already been selected from each participating state. They will work together to draw four men and women together to form the base of each team. There will then be an open draft for all players (link to draft application here), which will be completed in early May. The draft aims to allow players outside of the major cities a chance at being selected.
The league will run over one weekend (August 18/19) in Melbourne, with games recorded and released online, round by round, in the subsequent weeks. The top two teams will then fly to Sydney to play in the finals for the AUL Cup. Players and participants will be asked to keep the results a secret, holding to our ‘Spirit of the Game’ mentality, to ensure a more suspenseful experience for fans.
We sat down to chat about the project with Matt Hill, who has been working alongside Melbourne athletes Brendan Ashcroft and Cat Phillips to bring the league to life. Hill has previously coached Ellipsis, the Crocs (Australian World Games team) and the Dingoes (Australian Open Team), as well as a host of other Australian rep teams, so he has a deep knowledge of the local community and market.
“The AUDL boycott discussion around gender equality definitely played a role in bringing this project into focus,” said Matt Hill, co-founder of the AUL. “We saw a lot of comments floating around the internet about why we couldn’t start up a professional league locally, with all the values held so dear by the Ultimate community.
“There are also many people dissatisfied with the level of competitive mixed Ultimate in Australia at the moment. Also, having just come off an amazing World Games campaign, Brendo, Cat and I all craved more of the same - high level mixed Ultimate, with fewer teams and tighter rosters, to ensure quality throughout.
“Personally, I’ve been involved in growing the sport for years and I think we’ve lacked a professional product to promote to the non-ultimate community. The AUL will be something that we can use to do that; to give school kids heroes to look up to and aspire to be.”
With a suite of mixed Ultimate experiences, both high and low level, already available to players, Hill was quick to explain how the AUL model would differ from the traditional tournament setting, or even existing professional Ultimate leagues like the American Ultimate Disc League (AUDL).
“The issue with weekend tournaments is that they’re all done and dusted in one weekend,” continued Hill when asked about the AUL format, “so if you want to market the event or hype it up, you can kind of build up to it, but it’s done so quickly that there’s no time to draw out a story. While the majority of the AUL will be over one weekend, we plan on drip feeding the games one-by-one, with player stats and professional commentary/speculation to create a complete experience for fans.”
While the AUL touts itself as a ‘professional’ Ultimate league, player payment may be a few years down the track.
“Player payment could happen this season, if everything goes really well”, said Hill. “We hope to be able to cover costs and give players a little bit at the end. However, at the current time, we’re aiming to cover costs. Worst case scenario, costs are shared between the players and it will be cheaper than a normal tournament. Within three years we hope to be playing players and coaches for their participation.
“This is a huge project, and we will need all the help we can get to make it a success. If you’d like to get involved please let us know via our volunteer page on the AUL website.”
With a strong gender equality focus but also a strong need for funding, the AUL does not have any policy in place to filter sponsors based on their company values/history.
“We’ll definitely look into the sponsors and see whether their ideals fit with our league. Initially, we want to be looking at local sponsors, stepping out of that Ultimate world and going more local for teams in each city.”
The announcement comes just as the United Ultimate League (UUL), a project with similar traits and goals, failed to get the funding required to get off the ground. Hill recognises the shortcomings of other similar leagues and is currently aiming for a smaller, more achievable series, with scope to scale in future years based on initial success.
“We’re trying to set realistic goals and make sure that the end product is good. We’re conscious that we don’t want to fly too close to the sun and will just try to let the community grow the event naturally.”
Finally, as a Sydney-based publication, we at IOU were perplexed with the colour coordination of the purple-themed, Sydney Suns. Surely we should be yellow? Is this the biggest failing of the AUL to date?
“The colours were randomly given out the teams,” laughed Hill, “then knowing the colours, the captains figured out the team names. They were initially trying to be called the Sydney Squid, which was already a team name and we wanted to avoid existing team names.”
We retract our previous outrage, and count ourselves lucky.