The Nature of the Beast

Feature photo by Kevin Leclaire – UltiPhotos.com

Imagine that you want start a company whose prospective users are dispersed all throughout the country. Those users are interested in your product, but only if it is customized, personalized, and local. Understand that there is no way to get any local information without providing it yourself – there is no Wikipedia, no expert, no archive.

Welcome to Ultiworld.

Everything we do at Ultiworld is primary sourced: stories bubble up naturally from interviews with players and coaches, all of our tournament reporting is done on the ground, and all the news we report comes straight from our work. There are no news wires, and press releases are rare. That makes the work we do everyday fun and interesting, but it also makes it extremely challenging. It’s hard to bring readers the comprehensive coverage we want to because there are so many teams, tournaments, and local stories out there.

Consider the ideal in sports journalism: outfitting every top team with a beat reporter. When you read major sports coverage on, say, ESPN, every major market team has its own dedicated reporter. That gives unparelled depth to reporting and allows fans to form close connections with their favorite teams.

Now think about ultimate, where it’s just not financially sustainable for us to achieve that level of coverage. We know our website stands to grow only if we can find ways to bring better local coverage to areas outside the Northeast Corridor, where we’re based, but we face the same challenges as small businesses in any industry: need capital to expand, but to get capital, we need to be bigger.

A small example: our livestreaming video product this past year was very bare-bones, a single camera feed with no scoreboards or replay. Ultimate consumers want a better product – thanks largely to the affordable and excellent work of NexGen – but have no real sense of the economics behind the operation. NexGen operates a video production rig worth over $50,000; interest in our pay-per-view streaming is just not high enough to justify that kind of investment.

Budgeting, then, becomes incredibly important for the sustainability of Ultiworld. Choices get difficult: should we invest in more West Coast writers or in an upgraded video product? Of course, we try to find ways to do both, but it’s not a simple task. The cost realities often mean that I spend a lot of time on the road and in the air. Going somewhere myself is often more cost effective than paying a writer to travel there. A quick back-of-the-envelope calculation shows that I went to around 20 tournaments in 2013, many of them far from my Brooklyn apartment. I am not the only one – at many tournaments, I see the familiar faces of apparel company owners who face the same situation that we do at Ultiworld.

I am happy to say that we are continuing to take steps towards our goal of comprehensive coverage. We now have more staff writers than ever before across all parts of the country. Our women’s coverage, led by Keith Raynor, exploded during the club season and will continue in the 2014 college campaign. We are also experimenting with youth coverage this year.

But to this day, I still haven’t taken a paycheck: it would be irresponsible to the growth of the company.  While that clearly is not sustainable, the website has needed all the revenue it has generated as we fund travel, pay writers, and continue to expand.

Want to help us succeed? Read the website and send us story ideas, news tips, and even simple feedback. We can’t be everywhere, but we are sure going to try.

Issue No. 3 | Business

January 6, 2014