It is hard to make it as an expansion sports league in the United States, particularly with a sport with which much of the population is not very familiar. These new leagues are often willing to attempt some unique ideas that have never been previously tested. It is their way of searching for a competitive edge. Major League Ultimate (if you are unfamiliar, click here) is attempting to increase its fan base, so the league decided to buck convention and employ an original method to fill the stands. I was intrigued by the program MLU is implementing so I decided to take a look at it, weighing both the pros and cons.
Over the two seasons since MLU’s inception in 2012, the league average for attendance has been just over 1,000 fans per game. That’s not bad for a startup league but that number desperately needs to improve if the league has any real hopes of sustaining itself. They know that too which is why they are using a new fan promotion system. This program encourages already existing fans to bring new fans to the stadium with them by giving them a cut of the profit. The league via an email containing a fan code contacted each fan who came to a game last year in the MLU. If people distribute the fan code to their friends and family not only will it give those who use it a discount on the ticket price, it will also earn the fan whose code was used one dollar. There are bonuses in place as well for fans who bring large groups of people to the game using the fan code at increments of 20, 50 and 100 people.
This is an unprecedented system that has never appeared in a professional league previously. This gives a financial incentive to fans to make the crowd at games larger. It should interesting to see how effectively this program boosts attendance. This novel idea might seem a little like throwing money at a situation but in a way, it is simply rewarding the fans who have supported the league since the very beginning. It also shows that MLU is conscious of what makes it so great is its novelty as well as the inexpensive price of attendance. People also tend to jump at opportunities if they think they are getting a good deal on it so discounting ticket prices makes sense. This also makes the decision for fans who have attended games previously to return. The program will likely preserve the already existing fan base. I think it is likely that they did not necessarily have to worry about keeping current fans but it provides a nice security blanket with the money incentive.
However, this is not all good for the league to implement. I mentioned the concept already but it does seem like MLU is trying to buy fans a little bit. You can buy fans, but you cannot buy loyalty. It is unlikely that fans who come in through this program are coming solely for interest in the sport so if this is just a short-term plan, then it could pose issues for the league down the line. Additionally, this could alienate some current fans. I noted it acting as a security blanket but at the same time could drive them away if they believe the league is being driven too much by money. The other issue is that this system is completely untested. MLU is taking a risk in running a program without any certainty that it will work.
Overall though, the reward for the MLU greatly outweighs the risk. It seems like the likelihood is that this will retain existing fans and if it begins to work effectively than the league has discovered a way to boost its popularity. The concept that must make MLU optimistic is the idea that if new fans who come at a discounted price see Ultimate played at a high level, they will be hooked and want to continue coming back. For so many in America, Ultimate is a mostly unknown entity. This plan offers exposure. This type of system could be effective in some sports but what makes it ideal for MLU is that it is best suited for small, growing leagues. It will be intriguing to see to what degree this program works because I certainly think it will work. I also think this is the right step for the MLU to take. You have to wonder if an organization would ever consider adopting it on a larger scale. Right now, we will have to watch and see if the MLU can make it work first.