Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Where to promote ultimate

I had been thinking about this a little bit over the past few days. It seems the track for ultimate has been to start in high school (Columbia) move to college with their graduation and then trickle down from there. From the formation of club teams, to the formation of a serious college competition, and then finally back down to the high school level where we are now.

There is an emerging middle school scene now, as the high school competition becomes more developed. We are a long way off from Ultimate Little Leagues where parents take their kids in their small town to the local park and every child gets a different solid color jersey with the name of a local orthodontist on it. But we are gradually moving that way.

While we have this organic growth, the formation of leagues and training camps and travel teams etc we also have the publicity aspect of ultimate. We have blogs (aggregated at places like PlayUltimate.us), we have message boards like RSD, and we have the multimedia coverage of intrepid individuals and the more established folks like UltiVillage. Aside from the niche media mentioned there is very very little established coverage of ultimate. We see it every time the local newspaper runs a feature on "those crazy kids playing that game with the frisbees", usually with the title "The Ultimate game"... because originality is at a premium.

The UPA does some outreach to media, they have started to post press releases online, but they are only beginning to tap the growth potential of media relations.

But where should they focus the energy - the crux of this matter. You can spend all day yelling at the Wall Street Journal, telling them they should cover Easterns or Westerns... spoiler alert: they aren't. (until someone starts measurably profitting from the sport)

We have to face certain realities of ultimate press coverage, daily ESPN highlight reels - not going to happen. NYTimes sports pages - maybe once a year, more likely to find it in the arts section though. The work required to place or pitch a story to major outlets like this vastly outweighs the profit of one story. What the UPA should focus on now is what i call High Value Exposures.

Right now the UPA and ultimate as a sport is focused on growth, High Value Exposures are media blips that will actively help this cause and aid in the development of leagues and teams. An ESPN clip is a novelty, something that is sandwiched between an NHL highlight and an NFL off-field scandal. Ok, some examples of what I mean -

Sports Illustrated for Kids - it has a circulation of 8.1 million with the target demographic as 8-15 year olds - a two page spread on the rules of the game with some pictures from WJUC showing Team USA victorious is good for a few thousand new players. They usually put a "find out how to play in your area" starburst somewhere on the page, maybe the UPA could come up with a more attractive (read: not so text heavy) website geared towards teaching the rules to kids?

Nickelodeon and Disney Channel often have shorts between shows and commercials that show kids doing "interesting things". The on camera person will explain why they play sport stacking and what the rules are, or why they skateboard or play basketball. This is the PERFECT medium for ultimate. The game can be explained in 5 minutes or less and looks interesting and appealing when filmed and cut correctly.

At a minimum every single press release from the UPA should be CC-ed to these three venues (and the hundreds like them). When you get younger kids to see your product (ultimate) and identify with it positively that is a high value exposure, the more frequent the better.

To make this happen you need to make ultimate more accesible - take the Facebook publicity model. They have an online press room where you can find headshots of company personnell, stock footage of people using facebook (b-roll), all their latest press releases and more. The UPA needs to have these resources available and promote them. They have made great strides in recent years but there is more that we can do.

My point with all of this though is that it doesn't come naturally. ESPN is not out looking at ultimate tournaments just waiting to pick one to cover and the NYtimes does not have a beat reporter trailing Wisconsin's college season. To make these things happen you need pressure from a unified body - one would say the UPA. At the same time you need companies like discraft pushing the envelope as well - they need to see that they gain from increased coverage (as if this were hard to see). They need to push for product placement in stores like Sports Authority and Modell's to make the sport more readily accesible for the kid who just saw a clip on Disney Channel, picked up their SIforKIDS and read an article on the game.

We are a long way off from the bulk made monocolor jerseys of large scale little league in every town, but these are a few of the venues where the UPA and you can push for more publicity to push ultimate into the forefront of the larger consciousness.

So what do you think, is the UPA doing enough to promote ultimate in the press? What would you do differently?

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