For Rumble staff and players, working for a professional team is more than just a job, it is an opportunity to introduce the sport to a whole new audience.
To those on the outside who saw a Rumble player sprinting for a disc on Comcast this week, there is no better time than now to be a part of the game.
For a sport that has been around for 50 years and today has 5 million players in the U.S. alone, Ultimate is popular but still considered by many to be an amateur sport. With the evolution of professional Ultimate, there is at last a chance for the sport to legitimize itself and grow in the eyes of a general audience.
I talked to second year Rumble player Robbie Gillies, Coach Anthony Nuñez, and General Manager Michelle Kondracki to get different levels of the New York Rumble perspective about the rise of the sport, its similarities and differences to other sports, and its appeal to the public.
“What I actually think is most appealing is how it’s not that much different from other sports,” says Gillies. “It’s certainly unique but it combines the rules and necessary athleticism of a variety of sports including football, soccer and basketball.”
“Scoring is similar to football, as are the cut routes,” says Kondracki. “Constant swinging of the disc from handler to handler parallels basketball, as players pass the ball to each other around the 3-point line. The constant running (there isn’t a lot of stoppage in Ultimate) and leading the disc to that perfect spot for the cutter is what makes Ultimate similar to soccer.”
But Kondracki also believes that Ultimate takes it a step further than other sports, making it more exciting.
“I think the biggest difference is that every play is a highlight that you see in other sports. That’s what makes it appeal to me so much – a sky, a layout, a perfectly timed throw – these types of plays happen in Ultimate constantly.”
The rich sportsmanship of Ultimate is also as highly regarded as other sports. It is a game where you pick up not only your teammates off the ground but your opponents. It is this community of players that fans admire and want to introduce to new followers.
“The community is much closer than most sports,” says Nuñez. “I know that no matter where I go in the country as long as there is Ultimate in that city or town, I have friends.”
Working for the game’s benefit is also a thrilling experience, not just for those on the field but for the staff.
“I explain to people that I have the coolest job,” says Kondracki. “I manage New York City’s professional Ultimate team. Being involved in the MLU has been a very rewarding experience. Professionally, it has introduced me into the sports market as well as management. I never thought I would enjoy a job so much – every day is something different and I get to work with some of the best people out there. The players appreciate everything that’s being done to make their dreams of playing Ultimate seriously and in front of fans come true.”
In the past, Ultimate has had to repeatedly legitimize itself, but the rise in exposure through social media, especially sharing videos, has given a visual representation to what the sport does best.
“The best way to explain is to show the game and now that the MLU has a collection of fantastic YouTube videos it has become that much easier,” said Gillies. “I don’t know how many times I’ve been talking to someone and instead of boring them with attempting to explain the sport I just pull out my phone and show them some highlights and it instantly clicks.”
For every snicker and scoff in the past about the validity of the sport, new people from around the country are joining in to be fans and players of a game that is already contending with the big leagues of other sports.