Equity and Diversity FAQ

Q) What is USA Ultimate’s Gender Equity Policy?

On July 3, 2008, The Ultimate Players Association (UPA), now USA Ultimate, adopted the following organizational policy related to gender equity:

In an attempt to strengthen the ultimate community and ensure that the sport of ultimate remains an inclusive and welcoming sport for female athletes, the UPA endorses a policy of gender equity.  The UPA will ensure that UPA coverage and promotion of women's divisions is equal to that of the corresponding men’s division, and encourage outside partners and vendors to achieve gender equity in their coverage of and marketing to Ultimate.  As long as the number of female players lags behind the number of male players, the UPA will implement targeted outreach programs that strive to increase the number of female players.

On January 13, 2013, USA Ultimate added the following addendum:

USA Ultimate, in order to promote and encourage the growth of female play in USA Ultimate competition, recommends the creation of comparable teams of each gender. In situations of unequal opportunity, reasonable accommodations should be made to include female participants.

(Updated: February 8, 2016)

Q) Can you explain the history of this policy? 

The original policy, developed in 2008, was primarily motivated by the inequitable video coverage that existed in ultimate due to third-party entities making production and distribution decisions based on market demand. Ultivillage, who was a video rights holder of USA Ultimate’s national championships at the time, almost exclusively produced and sold content from the open (men’s) division. Understandably, people were disappointed in the relative lack of mixed and women’s coverage on the market. As the business model and relationships with media evolved, the gender equity policy (which was primarily and almost exclusively media focused), formally required USA Ultimate to maintain equitable media coverage of men’s and women’s divisions throughout the internal media platforms it controls, such as USA Ultimate magazine and the organization’s website, among others.

Recognizing that external media companies taking on some level of financial risk in order to acquire the rights to USA Ultimate properties (i.e., Ultivillage, NexGen, Ultiworld, ESPN, etc.) should maintain a high level of control over programming decisions, the policy also called for USA Ultimate to encourage partners like these to strive towards 50/50 coverage. That persistent encouragement has significantly increased the amount of women’s (and mixed) video coverage by providers who have historically expressed little to no interest in covering anything other than men’s ultimate. 

The latter part of the original policy is more aligned with the concept of equity, which requires USA Ultimate to offer girls’- and women’s-specific programs designed to increase their participation in ultimate as long as there are fewer females playing compared to males. 

The final paragraph was added several years later as USA Ultimate learned more about youth development, in particular high school programs. It was added to clarify our support for female-specific playing opportunities. However, in the absence of those opportunities, females should be provided with equal access to play in terms of eligibility on boys’ and mixed teams.

(Updated: February 8, 2016) 

Q) Do you expect this policy to change in the future?

There is a good chance that this policy could eventually serve as the foundation for a more effective, thorough and inclusive policy that addresses equity in general, not just as it relates to gender in ultimate, but also race, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation, disability, income, etc. It could also evolve to focus on programs and services over which USA Ultimate has institutional control, and not independent third parties.

(Updated: February 8, 2016)
 

Q) What is the current gender breakdown of USA Ultimate?

Currently, 30 percent of USA Ultimate’s 53,000+ members are female, and 70 percent are male. 

(Updated: February 8, 2016)

Q) Who is on USA Ultimate’s Equity and Diversity Working Group?

In 2015, the original gender equity task force was created and comprised of board members DeAnna Ball (chair), Val Belmonte, Mary-Clare Brennan, Ness Fajardo and Josh Seamon. On Dec. 31, 2015 Ms. Brennan’s term on the board expired and was removed from the task force.

At the winter 2016 USA Ultimate board of directors meeting, members voted unanimously to elevate the status of the task force to a standing working group and broaden its scope. Renamed the equity and diversity working group, the composition remained the same with the exception of Ms. Brennan, who was replaced by elected elite athlete representative Brian Garcia.

(Updated: March 1, 2016) 

Q) Who do I contact if I have a concern, question or idea related to equity and diversity?

For inquiries related to equity and diversity, please contact working group chair DeAnna Ball at deanna.ball@usaultimate.org or email equity@usaultimate.org 

(Updated: March 1, 2016) 

Q) What is USA Ultimate doing to promote gender equity and stimulate the growth of women’s ultimate?

USA Ultimate administers many programs and supports a variety of gender equity initiatives designed to increase and enhance opportunities for girls and women. This support comes in the form of programs, financial and human resources, and in some cases, rules and policies that make ultimate more accessible for girls and women to play. USA Ultimate has also committed to various efforts aimed at creating more open dialogue about the subject in the community, as well as educational opportunities. Some of the more notable ones include:

The Girls’ Ultimate Movement (GUM): USA Ultimate administers and funds this girls’-specific outreach program designed to increase participation in the sport of ultimate. Via this initiative, USA Ultimate collaborates with America’s most passionate, dedicated and well-respected leaders to generate new and innovative ideas for programming, infrastructure and policy that facilitate growth in the girls’ division.

Girl-focused volunteer structure: USA Ultimate recently restructured its national, regional and local outreach volunteer structure to include a dedicated and special emphasis on increasing girls’ participation. This robust network of volunteers includes a girls’ national outreach director, four girls’ regional outreach directors and girls’ state outreach coordinators. Via its GUM program, USA Ultimate’s volunteer structure also includes a GUM chair and four national-level volunteers focused on specific areas – curriculum, media, data analysis and pilot programs. 

Girls’ team grant program: USA Ultimate offers a special financial grant program specifically designed to support the formation of new girls’ teams.

Women’s coaching rebate: In order to get more women involved in the sport of ultimate – specifically in leadership roles – USA Ultimate provides rebates for the cost of coaching certification for female coaches or for coaches of women’s (or mixed) teams.

Currently, all of USA Ultimate’s competition programs and structures are designed to have the same opportunities available with regards to events (qualifiers to championships) and national teams, which means that a higher percentage of female members are able to participate in these programs relative to their male counterparts.   

Eligibility rules: For some divisions, USA Ultimate has different eligibility rules designed to make it easier for women to participate. (For example, allowing girls and women to play in the boys’/men’s division and allowing more flexibility for girls at different high schools to compete on the same team.) 

Open forums: Beginning in July of 2015, USA Ultimate began hosting biannual open forums – one in person at the U.S. Open Championships and Convention and a second one via teleconference in the fall – in order to provide better communication between the community, gender equity task force and headquarters staff about equity-related issues and concerns.

Gender equity retreat: In November 2015, USA Ultimate leadership and the gender equity task force organized a weekend-long retreat with Janet Judge, one of the nation’s leading experts on equity in sports and the co-author of the NCAA Manual on Gender Equity. The exercise, which included an open forum call with the ultimate community, gave USA Ultimate the opportunity to discuss the landscape of gender equity in ultimate with an independent third party and learn from one of the nation’s best and most respected authorities on the subject.    

(Updated: February 8, 2016) 

Q) What is the difference between gender equity and gender equality?

In short, equity is intended to result in equality. Equality means offering the exact same thing (programs, resources, etc.) to different groups of people while assuming the outcomes will be the same and/or provide the same opportunities for everyone, regardless of the varying situations and challenges faced by different groups.

Equity refers to the attempts that are being made to ensure the same outcomes and equal access to opportunities for a variety of groups by taking into account their various barriers and making an effort to even out those challenges with programs, resources, etc., that can help level the playing field. 

USA Ultimate recognizes the disparity in opportunities that exists for men and women, as well as the additional challenges often faced by sportswomen in our society. As a result, we have created several programs specifically designed to drive female participation in ultimate. Because those programs do not have an identical counterpart for men, equity was (and still is) the appropriate word to use to describe USA Ultimate’s efforts to increase the number of women playing ultimate.

(Updated: February 8, 2016)

Q) Is the general direction of ultimate shifting towards gender-separated play?

No. While some numbers may suggest a slight decline in mixed division participation, others indicate the opposite. For example, in the last several years, participation numbers in mixed club ultimate have increased slightly, or remained relatively flat (2011: 4,732; 2012: 4,713; 2013: 4,953; 2014: 4,945). The most recent data – 4,945 mixed players in the club division in 2014 – is a decrease of only eight players relative to the previous high in 2013). 

Additionally, the number of registered mixed teams playing in USA Ultimate’s club division has also remained relatively flat in recent years (2011: 210, 2012: 201, 2013: 206, 2014: 214).

Here’s another interesting statistic to consider: There are roughly the same number of women playing mixed and women’s in the club division. Currently, 48% of women who play in USA Ultimate’s club division compete for a mixed team. A look at the percentage of women in USA Ultimate’s club division that play mixed vs. women’s since 2007:

2007: 38% vs. 62%
2008: 41% vs. 59%
2009: 44% vs. 56%
2010: 48% vs. 52%
2011: 45% vs. 55%
2012: 49% vs. 51%
2013: 51% vs. 49%
2014: 48% vs. 52%

As recently as 2013 there were more women playing mixed in the club division than women’s.

Anecdotally, mixed ultimate continues to be a unique and attractive characteristic of ultimate. The pinnacle of ultimate – The World Games – continues to feature mixed play exclusively while other major international events like WUGC, WCBU and the U24 World Championships all feature mixed ultimate. At the IOC level, the recent Agenda 2020 reforms call for the inclusion of more mixed gender team sports in the Olympic Games, meaning that as WFDF and USA Ultimate pursue future Olympic inclusion, it will likely be as a mixed gender sport.  

(Updated: February 8, 2016)

Q) Will there ever be a mixed college division or competitive structure?

Yes. In December of 2015, after the annual competition working group meeting with many volunteers in the community, USA Ultimate announced it will begin developing a mixed competitive opportunity for its college division in the fall season. However, it is yet to be determined what format this will take.

A full-blown mixed college division, which plays in a spring championship series and national championships, is currently unlikely. This is something that has been discussed and analyzed by USA Ultimate and key volunteers in the community on a semi-regular basis.

There is some concern that adding a mixed division to the current winter/spring season of men’s and women’s college ultimate would negatively affect team continuity as athletes may switch divisions from year to year in order to play in the division that gives them the best opportunity to be competitive in a given year. With a relatively small pool of athletes to draw from on a college campus, the concern is that this inconsistency in team identity would hamper growth and disrupt organization and recruitment.

The other significant concern is the expected negative impact the introduction of a mixed division would have on the women’s division. Unlike the Triple Crown Tour, which is primarily drawing from experienced ultimate players, the college division currently serves as an introductory playing opportunity for many women. The viability of events, including conference championships, depends on a critical mass of participating teams. Splitting the pool of women (and men) across another division would likely have a negative impact on the viability, quality and accessibility of many college events. Presently, this is too much of a risk for the organization to take. 

An argument could be made that there would be some good opportunities for smaller campuses to implement an ultimate program with a mixed team or that larger campuses could draw in even more players and create new teams if there was a mixed option. However, given our analysis up to this point, we feel it is not worth the risk of negatively impacting an existing system and structure that’s working well and continuing to grow on an annual basis. The introduction of a fall competitive structure provides a good first step towards giving college players an opportunity to play organized mixed ultimate.

(Updated: February 8, 2016) 

Q) What is USA Ultimate doing to ensure a balance in video coverage/streaming between men’s and women’s ultimate?

A lot! Video coverage – and streaming in particular – is an expensive endeavor once you factor in equipment and technology costs, staffing, travel expenses, bandwidth, etc. USA Ultimate is fortunate to have worked with talented and dedicated members of our community, such as NexGen and Ultiworld, to bring an enormous amount of ultimate programming to our athletes and fans around the world over the last several years. However, it’s important to remember that these are small businesses that operate on razor-thin financial margins. Often times they need to make difficult and unpopular programming decisions that allow their companies to have long-term sustainability. It’s no secret that men’s programming attracts significantly more viewers compared to women’s. So for companies that rely on streaming and/or video revenue to remain viable, their preference will generally be to produce and distribute content that yields the most return. (NexGen relied on a subscription model. Ultiworld streams for free, but sells subscriptions to tape-delayed or archived content.) Without USA Ultimate’s continued strong encouragement and requests to produce an equitable amount of men’s and women’s content, it simply would not happen. Previously, NexGen and Ultiworld were not interested in mixed or women’s video – understandably so, given the economics. However, this has changed dramatically as a result of USA Ultimate and its encouragement in the context of the current Gender Equity Policy.

Here are some quick examples of streaming/video performance in recent years:

In 2015, USA Ultimate broadcast partners produced and distributed a total of 72 games from the College Championships and the Triple Crown Tour – 32 women’s games, 31 men’s games and 9 mixed games. 

Last year, Ultiworld produced a total of 52 of our games – 25 women’s, 22 men’s and 5 mixed. At the request of USA Ultimate, Ultiworld’s production of more women’s games relative to men’s balanced out the overall total after taking into account fewer women’s games on ESPN.

In 2014, when USA Ultimate partnered with NexGen, they produced a total of 41 games: 20 women’s, 19 men’s and 2 mixed.  

In 2013, NexGen produced 30 games: 13 women’s, 12 men’s and 5 mixed.

As you can see, USA Ultimate has a strong history of working with its supplemental streaming partners to produce a comparable amount of women’s content, despite those external media partners being under no obligation to do so, and it being against their best interests financially. 

(Updated: February 8, 2016)

Q) Why aren’t there more women’s games on ESPN?

Historically, throughout our broadcast agreement with ESPN, the network has produced and distributed 20 games from USA Ultimate events each year, including the College Championships, U.S. Open and National Championships. Each year, this equates to nine men’s games, seven women’s games and four mixed games annually, broken down as follows:

 

Event

Men’s

Women’s

Mixed

College Championships

3

3

N/A

U.S. Open

3

2

2

National Championships

3

2

2


In addition to the live airings, ESPN also produces and airs three programs annually from the College Championships on ESPNU: one that features highlights from the four men’s and women’s semifinals and one each recapping the men’s and women’s championship games.

As an external media entity, ESPN retains 100 percent creative control over what programs they produce and distribute via their television and digital platforms. This is not unlike any other broadcast, print or internet media company who covers the sport of ultimate.

The most important things to broadcasters are ratings and viewership, which directly affects their ability to monetize content and sell advertising. Most often, when faced with a choice, they are going to choose the content that generates the most viewership. And over the course of our relationship with ESPN and the 69 programs they’ve produced since 2013, viewership of men’s games has outperformed that of women’s by an average of 51 percent per game.

Where USA Ultimate may have influence is through the continued encouragement of its broadcast partners, like ESPN, to incorporate as much women’s content as possible into their programming, despite not always aligning with their viewership goals. An example of this is even though mixed programming generates an average of 38 percent more viewers compared to women’s, ESPN sacrifices ratings to air a women’s semifinal in lieu of a second mixed semifinal at the U.S. Open and National Championships, primarily because of USA Ultimate’s encouragement.

Finally, one of the challenges that contributes to the inequitable coverage by ESPN at the U.S. Open and National Championships has to do with game scheduling. To broadcast all six semifinals (two men, two mixed and two women) on the tournament’s penultimate day would require games to begin as early as 6:30 a.m. or as late as 10:30 p.m. and require additional production crews at a prohibitive expense. Or it would require adding a day to the tournament, which adds significant expense to the participants, or a major change in tournament format, which results in less games played by participants – both options that are not viewed as favorable ones. 

Fortunately, since the inception of our relationship with ESPN USA Ultimate has ensured that all six semifinals at these two events are recorded and distributed through supplemental relationships with other video providers. 

(Updated: February 8, 2016) 

Q) Has USA Ultimate thought about putting more resources behind media coverage of mixed and women’s?

Yes. USA Ultimate continually considers and discusses how media coverage of mixed and women’s play could be enhanced, however, resource allocation continues to be a challenge. Considering the significant expense of video production and our limited budgets, currently the only way to do so is to cut other programs, raise membership dues, engage the services of a broadcaster that wants to take on the financial risk of producing content that historically yields no monetary upside, or find a third-party sponsor to underwrite the costs. USA Ultimate remains very sensitive to the cost of participation for its members and is reluctant to raise dues significantly enough to cover these additional costs.  

(Updated: February 8, 2016) 

Q) Will the structure of the National Championships remain the same across all divisions (men’s, mixed and women’s), or will we eventually see differences?

Currently, the structure of our National Championships – including competitive format, dates and location –  is the same for the men’s, mixed and women’s divisions, and there are no plans for that to change. 

However, as the sport of ultimate evolves, USA Ultimate will continue to evaluate the structure in order to ensure that the needs and goals of each individual division are being met. While those needs and goals may be the same, the way to fulfill and accomplish them may become different as the sport grows. At the 2015 Competition Working Group meeting, different competitive formats for the men’s, mixed and women’s divisions were proposed and considered by national volunteers, athlete representatives and USA Ultimate staff, but it was ultimately determined that maintaining a consistent format across all divisions continues to provide the optimal experience for both athletes and fans. This will continue to be evaluated on an annual basis, and potential differences could eventually be implemented on a division-by-division basis if they could improve and enhance the experience for athletes and fans.

Additionally, during the club restructuring process and creation of the Triple Crown Tour, USA Ultimate gathered feedback from the community, specifically asking athletes via a survey if we should consider different structures for different gender divisions. The response overwhelmingly indicated, by more than a 2:1 ratio, that all three gender divisions should maintain the same structure. Throughout the decision-making process for all programs, strong consideration will always be given to the impact of changes on the "community" element of the USA Ultimate’s mission. 

(Updated: February 8, 2016)