DraftKings bettors got a new sport in their app this summer, and if they didn’t know what to make of it, they should learn. The American Ultimate Disc League (AUDL) is nearing the completion of their tenth season, and their first with an official gaming partner.
Based on their mastery of social media and streaming live-action, the AUDL is well-positioned to evolve into an important professional sports league. The excitement of game action gives Ultimate Disc a chance to become far more popular than it already is.
The 22-team AUDL will finish their season during Championship Weekend in Washington D.C. on September 10-11. This year the AUDL also enjoyed their first full year under a broadcast deal with Fox Sports to televise Ultimate Disc games.
Investments In Technology Have Been Fruitful
One of the first things you notice when you dive into the world of the AUDL is the quality and excitement in their game highlight videos and content on the official website. That was not an accident: the league’s origins gave them a firm foundation for multimedia and data.
According to Tim DeByl, president of Media and Marketing for AUDL, the league was backed by financial supporters from Silicon Valley, an investment in technology from day one that’s been vital to the popularity of the league.
“We built our own stats and highlights and were thinking about how data was going to help the league,” DeByl said in an interview for Gaming Today. “[When we were] approached by broadcast companies and gambling, we were able to embrace it like sports much larger than us. We had an API, and that was helpful in getting together with DraftKings.”
Media Deals With FOX Sports And DraftKings
The AUDL operates from league offices in San Jose, California, and the marketing offices are located in Madison, Wisconsin. When the league entered into a gaming partnership with DraftKings prior to the 2021 season, the arrangement included a deal for DraftKings to stream a “Game of the Week” live every Friday during the regular season on their social channels. The league provides the production and on-air crew for those games, and the result is an impressive broadcast that also spits out a fantastic highlight reel.
In 2020, the league inked a deal with Fox Sports for the broadcasts rights for two years. Fox broadcasts a game of the week on Wednesday on FS1, and also broadcasts Championship Weekend live on FS2.
Some clips from the league have gone viral, earning as many as 2 million views on YouTube or Twitter. The league also provides streaming of games, highlights, and more via AUDL.tv, their own media subscription media channel. AUDL.tv is also available as a Roku app for those who cannot get it in their cable packages. Games can be seen via DraftKings sponsorship on YouTube or Twitch.
According to DeByl, the league also enjoys popularity on Facebook, Twitter, and TikTok, reaching an emerging younger audience that wishes to consume sports content in new ways.
Some players have capitalized on the appeal of Ultimate with tech-savvy fans. Marques Brownlee, who plays for the New York Empire and calls himself “MKBHD,” has nearly 15 million subscribers to his YouTube channel, where he breaks down tech as well as the game of Ultimate. Former star Brodie Smith, who has transitioned to professional disc golf, has more than 2 million subscribers.
High-Flying Disc Play Makes Ultimate Popular
Currently, Ultimate Disc is experiencing much of their popularity in urban areas in the Midwest and on the coasts. The 22 teams are located in 14 states and the District of Columbia. There are three teams in Canada that compete in the Canada Cup division. Teams played a 12-game schedule this season.
The game, which fans call “Ultimate,” is especially thrilling because it lends itself to jaw-dropping plays that can be shared on social media. It’s been compared to soccer but with much more scoring, and the back-and-forth movement of play is reminiscent of basketball, where the defense can quickly transition to offense. Except in Ultimate it happens more often and much quicker.
“Our trajectory [as a league] is really good, where in media, a small clip can do so well. That’s what people are looking for. It serves us well,” says DeByl.
One of the more thrilling plays in Ultimate is when a player tosses the disc a long distance, or what is known as a “huck.” The best players can throw the disc 100 yards, from one end zone to the back of the other. These plays take a long time to unfold: an agonizingly wonderful time for fans.
“The crowd loves it because it takes longer, like six seconds to travel, and that’s different than a Hail Mary in football or big plays [in other] sports,” says DeByl, who also says the league has had highlights included in ESPN’s “Top Ten” segment several times.
Many of the most eye-popping plays on the league’s YouTube channel highlight videos are dramatic catches on a “huck” or defenders denying a play on a long toss. Because the disc hovers for a long time form fans to see, the plays deliver tremendous drama.
With far less physical danger than football, but more scoring and back-and-forth than soccer, AUDL has grown to appeal to many families, because of the affordable ticket prices (typically $10 for regular season). When fans see how far the disc can be thrown, they often want to try it themselves. It’s led to an increase in appreciation for the difficulty in throwing a plastic disc 80-100 yards to a sprinting teammate.
“People really put their bodies on the line,” DeByly says. “We knew we had a sport no one knew about, but could have highlights, so we built on that through Twitter, Youtube, and other viral-heavy platforms.”
College Appeal Fuels Growth Of AUDL
There is no Ultimate Disc Draft (yet). Instead, teams acquire players through the tight-knit network of club teams from college campuses, or from organized amateur teams. The popularity of Ultimate with males aged 18 to 27 is feeding many players into the club teams, and it’s also led to the game filtering down. Some areas now have high school club teams or even junior high club teams playing the sport.
In 2019, Vermont became the first state to make Ultimate Disc a sanctioned high school sport. While the bulk of players are still seeing action on club teams, the appeal of the sport with younger kids may lead to more states following suit. The AUDL employs a youth coordinator who appears at schools to explain the rules of the sport, and to provide discs and education. All 22 teams have also held clinics and camps for kids to be introduced to Ultimate.
Most competitors in the league come from club teams in the same geographical location as their pro team. The roster for the Madison Radicals, for example, consists of mostly young athletes from the Madison area. Players are compensated for their travel, and equipment is supplied, but most athletes are not making a lot of money.
DeByl says the typical player may earn “several hundreds of dollars” in a summer league season, with a few players earning enough to not work the summer. But for most Ultimate Disc players, their passion for the sport and a chance to compete against the top players in the country is their reward. Championship 10 will offer a pool of $25,000 to players on the final four teams.
Championship Weekend Slated for Washington D.C., September 10-11
The tenth Ultimate Disc (AUDL Championship will be held over two days in D.C. at Audi Field. The playoffs are billed as Championship Weekend, and odds will be available via DraftKings. The format is a “Final Four” with three games to determine a champion.
The Chicago Union and the San Diego Growlers have each advanced to Championship Weekend by virtue of wins in divisional playoff rounds. This weekend two more teams will emerge, with the New York Empire and DC Breeze favorites out of the Atlantic division.
Semifinal games will be played on Friday, September 10, at 4:00 PM and 7:00 PM EST, and the championship game will be held on Saturday, September 11, at 7:00 PM EST.
Ultimate Disc Is Looking To The Future
Where is Ultimate headed? A league with an exciting product that still needs to educate the public about their sport, the AUDL is not sitting still. According to DeByl, expansion is on the table, possibly out west, and there are exciting media opportunities too.
The league recently announced that they are collaborating with Firebrand Games on a video game that would be much like the “Madden” products for the NFL. The project will also include gaming company Psycho Hound.
“The sky’s the limit,” DeByly says. “We look to Major League Rugby and think we can compete with them at some point. Ultimate gets viral engagement that many bigger sports can envy. We feel good about our future. We think we have a great product.”