There is a professional Frisbee league. In fact, there are two. But don’t say “Frisbee,” the proper word is “ultimate.” The American Ultimate Disc League (AUDL) says they are the first and largest professional ultimate league in the world. The AUDL enters its fourth year fielding 25 franchises in four conferences spread from New York to San Diego.
You’ve probably seen ultimate. Like soccer there is continuous action. The game is played in shorts and T-shirts, featuring running, passing, catching, and throwing discs. Ho-hum.
Okay, now picture a superb athlete making a forehand, backhand, thumber, slow release, scoober, hammer, or overhead throw and watch the disc sail 50 yards downfield to a sprinting teammate as he dives forward, stretching out until his entire body is level to the ground, catching the disc by his finger tips in the end zone. GOAAAAAAAAAAL!
On the phone with Justin Goodman, 34, co-owner of San Diego’s newest professional sports team, the San Diego Growlers. He’s been playing ultimate 14 years.
Goodman says, “I played three years ultimate in college [William & Mary], and then on a variety of teams in Virginia.”
I ask, “What got you to San Diego?”
“I wanted to explore the West. I chose San Diego for many of the reasons others chose it, weather and beaches,” Goodman laughs.
“It wasn’t for a job or a woman or a college? You just wanted to be in San Diego?”
“That’s pretty much it,” Goodman says. “I was unemployed for four months, eventually found a government consulting job, project management support.”
“Sports-team owner and government consultant?”
Goodman says, “It strangely works out well. They’re definitely different, but the elements are the same. You’ve got to worry about budget, got to look at the schedule, got to put plans in place and execute. I feel I’m pretty good working with people, getting a team together, coaches, personnel, announcers, the whole gamut.”
“I’ve read the Growlers have three co-owners.”
“Yes,” Goodman says. “I’m the CEO, my housemate is the COO, and our other partner is the CFO. We operate in those boundaries, but whenever there is a tough call we always try to reach a consensus.”
I say, “Tell me about the moment the three of you said, ‘Why don’t we do this?’”
“Ryan, the CFO, was interested in buying when the league first started out, but it wasn’t expanding fast enough on the West Coast, hadn’t made its way down to L.A. and San Diego. When they announced they were looking to come here, Ryan asked around local club teams, ‘Is anyone interested? If we do this is anyone interested in contributing or helping?’ It just so happened that me, Will, and Ryan were the ones who were the most positive about it.
“Ryan sent an email one day, ‘Hey, we can take Ultimate to San Diego. Do you guys want to do it?’ We said, ‘Yup,’ and that was it.
“There was lots of meetings after that, discussions with the league, but it was relatively simple. The league needed papers signed and a territory agreement. We made out a check and provided proof we’d set up a small business.”
I ask, “What was the buy-in? What does a franchise cost?”
“Last year it was $15,000, but that has gone up to $25K.”
“So, it’s doable for most people. A normal person could get up the money and buy a franchise.”
Goodman says, “It’s definitely doable, especially split three ways. It’s a ton of work to start a small business and do all the things you need to do, but it’s definitely doable.”
“What’s your take on the Growlers opener, their first game ever?”
“Went well, except for the eventual outcome,” Goodman says. “We lost to Seattle, 26-22. Over 600 people attending. We didn’t know what to expect. This is our first year in the league, first time putting a game together, our home opener. We pulled it together and had a successful event. Our fans had very positive feedback.”
“You’re not playing, are you?”
Goodman says, “All three owners are on the roster. We have 27 guys on the roster, only 20 can dress on game day. I did not play the first game, which is fine by me. I was trying to run a solid event. But, I will be playing.”
“Sports are the new gold rush. Can you see quitting your day job?”
“That’s the dream. It would be very cool to run a professional sports team. In year one we’ll be happy if we break even. Maybe, in three to five years, the sport could take off. Especially with football and all these head injuries.”
The Growlers play San Jose on Saturday. Check sdgrowlers.com for particulars.