USA Ultimate Board of Directors Votes on Timing of 2017 TCT

Posted: February 25, 2016 02:00 PM

Recent Survey Data Analyzed and Considered along with Previous Research and Dialogue

Colorado Springs, Colo. (Feb. 25, 2016)—The USA Ultimate board of directors conducted its annual winter board meeting last weekend in Colorado Springs. 

On the agenda was a presentation of data collected from a recent survey USA Ultimate distributed to more than 15,000 club division athletes, team managers, event organizers and coaches. The survey, created by USA Ultimate’s club division working group, was specifically designed to gather information and better understand the potential impact of shifting the Triple Crown Tour earlier by approximately five weeks, as well as learn more about the overall preferences of the ultimate community with regards to the scheduling of the club season. Feedback from this survey was considered, along with previous dialogue and research (including database analysis of various participation trends, dynamics of coach/player conflicts and discussion with local disc associations and affiliates) conducted by key volunteers, staff and board members, to help inform a decision. 

Since USA Ultimate introduced the Triple Crown Tour in 2012, it has considered shifting the season so that the National Championships occurred no later than Labor Day weekend. This consideration has been ongoing and evaluated on an annual basis by USA Ultimate staff, volunteer working groups and members of the board. It has also been discussed publicly on several occasions, along with implementing small, incremental adjustments to the traditional schedule over the last three years.

The primary reason for considering such a change is to better achieve the most important goal in the organization’s strategic plan – to increase the visibility of ultimate. Although USA Ultimate has made significant progress towards this goal, the current timing of the National Championships puts the sport at a disadvantage from a visibility and awareness perspective.

The top supporting strategy of USA Ultimate’s visibility goal is to partner with media to broadcast its premier events to a mass audience. Currently, the fall is oversaturated with sports programming – a reality that brings with it two significant challenges. First, networks are generally not interested in adding ultimate to their sports programming after Labor Day. Secondly, with so much sports content available to casual sports fans in the fall, ultimate would have to compete for viewership against many well-established and higher-profile sports. 

According to leaders in the television and broadcast industry, holding the National Championships in the summer would significantly increase the likelihood of securing a broadcast agreement with a network to place the sport’s premier event on a more visible platform. 

The goal of increased visibility for the sport remains an important one for a variety of reasons. It plays a significant role in introducing ultimate to new participants and fans, especially children and their parents, as well as youth-serving social and sports organizations, schools, educators and administrators. A higher degree of visibility also enhances the legitimacy of ultimate, corrects many stereotypes and misconceptions and illustrates the unique elements that differentiate ultimate from virtually every other sport. It also improves the sport’s commercial viability by increasing sponsorship opportunities and the potential for corporate partnerships which are increasingly important to keep the costs of participation and barriers of entry extremely low relative to other sports. 

The last few years serve as a good example of the progress that has been made and how many of these things are interconnected. Introducing the U.S. Open in 2012 helped to create the Triple Crown Tour, which led to a broadcast agreement with ESPN. Our partnership with ESPN was a significant factor in the formal and permanent recognition of USA Ultimate and WFDF by the USOC and IOC, respectively. From there, strategic partnerships with the Women’s Sports Foundation, the Boy Scouts of America, Catholic Youth Organizations and Jewish Community Centers were a direct result of USA Ultimate’s membership in the USOC. These relationships have already provided the opportunity to introduce and teach ultimate to literally thousands of kids across the country.

Ultimately, increased visibility plays a crucial role in USA Ultimate’s mission of advancing the sport by introducing new athletes, parents, fans, coaches and supporters to an amazing sport that makes the world a better place.

Spirit of the Game and the concept of self-officiating remain central to the mission of USA Ultimate, and it is strongly believed by many in our community that those distinct characteristics make ultimate the best sport in the world and exemplify the most honorable and joyous sides of human nature. Spirit of the Game provides ultimate with a unique selling point to parents and kids, as well as potential sponsors and partners that share those same values. Having ultimate on a highly visible television platform with significant viewership provides the sport with an opportunity to effectively market and share Spirit of the Game and its virtues. 

As ultimate continues to position itself as a future Olympic sport, the roles that media and sponsorship play are critical. As new sports and disciplines are considered for inclusion on the Olympic program, decision makers, including local organizing committees and the IOC, place a great deal of emphasis on a candidate sport’s marketability. This includes the ability for television networks, which invest billions in the Olympic movement, to generate ratings, which directly affects how willing sponsors are to invest in the Games or the sport of ultimate in the future. It also includes the ability to ensure enough spectator demand to guarantee a sold-out stadium.  

For a variety of compelling reasons, including those mentioned above, the ultimate community (both current members and alumni, athletes, coaches, team managers, event and league organizers, observers, parents, fans, volunteers, staff and board members) has expressed a desire for increased visibility.  Often times, however, the need arises to delicately balance the individual preferences of these various constituents while staying true to the organization’s overall mission, vision and strategic plan.     

Anticipating that shifting the season would undoubtedly cause some concern and raise some questions, USA Ultimate wanted to clearly understand the potential ramifications, drawbacks, benefits and challenges such a change might bring. We also wanted to learn more about the preferences of club division players and stakeholders.

Coming out of our annual competition working group meeting in early December, USA Ultimate announced publicly later that month that it would consider shifting the season beginning in 2017. The club working group, which is comprised of six player-elected athlete representatives, three national-level volunteers and two USA Ultimate staff members, decided to survey the membership as part of its information-gathering and recommendation-making process. Those who would have been most affected were sent a survey that asked a variety of questions pertaining to shifting the season.

Specifically designed not to lead, bias or otherwise influence the respondents, the survey included several open-ended questions. There were approximately 1,800 responses to the survey. The responses, which included thousands of individual comments, were thoroughly and carefully analyzed and yielded an enormous amount of valuable data. This feedback from a variety of perspectives helped inform the working group’s recommendation. The results helped to confirm and add clarity to many of the concerns USA Ultimate had prior to issuing the survey and also brought to light new issues that had not been previously considered.

Overall, it was determined that the respondents generally opposed shifting the season significantly for several main reasons, including:

  • Potential conflict and overlap with the youth, college and club seasons for both athletes and coaches. 

  • The negative effect that cold, or otherwise inclement weather, could have on teams in northern climates as they prepare for the season (tryouts, practices, etc.).

  • The possibility of unfavorable playing conditions in extreme heat and humidity that may accompany a postseason series of events in July or August, particularly in certain southern climates.

  • Conflict with the growing number of international and established local tournaments.

  • General member preference.  

Following the collection and analysis of this data and ensuing discussion, the competition working group was concerned that such a shift in timing could have unintended negative impacts on growth which are potentially larger than the positive benefits gained as a result of increased exposure. The working group recommended to the board of directors not to shift the timing of the Triple Crown Tour, including the National Championships, in 2017. At their meeting last weekend, the board voted to accept the working group’s recommendation.

"The competition working group did incredible work in thoughtfully developing its recommendation," said DeAnna Ball, president of the USA Ultimate board of directors. "While we continually work towards all of the goals in the strategic plan, decisions that need to be made are often complicated and require extensive deep dives into both the positive and negative impacts of those decisions. This decision is a great example of how we as an organization, along with the rest of the ultimate community, continue to review things thoroughly and thoughtfully as progress is made in achieving long-term strategic goals."    

The board of directors and USA Ultimate continue to place a great deal of emphasis on its strategic plan, which values visibility for the sport of ultimate as its number-one goal. The board reiterated that commitment and continues to empower USA Ultimate staff to pursue a broadcast agreement that helps achieve this goal. The board also tasked the competition working group with exploring alternate options (other than a complete shift of the season for the entire club community) that would accomplish the goals of the strategic plan.

"It continues to be a pleasure to work with our thoughtful and strategically thinking board, key volunteers and engaged members of our community," said Dr. Tom Crawford, USA Ultimate chief executive officer. "We will continue to be faced with lots of tradeoffs and complicated decisions like this as we grow, and having a great board and staff to help guide our decisions with our mission and vision front and center will help us continue to thrive in the competitive U.S. sports landscape."

The timing of the Triple Crown Tour and the National Championships continues to be a complex issue with many implications. USA Ultimate would like to sincerely thank everyone who took the time to respond to the survey and provide thoughtful comments, suggestions and insight, as well as the volunteer members of the working group for contributing their time, talent and input. Because USA Ultimate continues to value the feedback of its members and the ultimate community of which it is a part, it will continue to seek additional input as future changes are considered. 



USA Ultimate is the national governing body for the sport of ultimate (Frisbee) in the United States and proud member of the United States Olympic Committee (USOC). 

Headquartered in Colorado Springs, Colo., USA Ultimate is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization and is the largest flying disc organization in the world with more than 53,000 members, including athletes, coaches and observers. 

Governed by a core principle called Spirit of the Game, ultimate remains proud of its historical and continuing practice of being a self-officiated sport – even at the highest levels of competition – which places a unique emphasis on sportsmanship, respect for one’s opponent, conflict resolution, self-confidence, communication and integrity.

USA Ultimate currently administers the full spectrum of ultimate in the United States and owns and operates 11 major championship events across all ages and abilities, including youth, high school, college, elite and masters divisions, as well as the Triple Crown Tour – ultimate’s premier elite competitive league for men’s, women’s and mixed gender divisions. USA Ultimate is a member of the IOC-recognized World Flying Disc Federation and also selects, trains and supports U.S. National Teams for international events. 

Recently cited as one of the fastest-growing team sports in America by the Sports and Fitness Industry Association (SFIA) with more than 7 million players worldwide, ultimate was invented in 1968 by students at Columbia High School in Maplewood, N.J. 

For more information, contact USA Ultimate Director of Marketing & Communications, Andy Lee at 719-219-8323 or

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