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Thursday, October 8, 2015

Where No Team Has Gone Before: AUDL Snubs Boston again, Announces 2016 Mars Expansion

The Martian Manhunters are coming to the AUDL in 2016.

The league announced the new expansion team early Friday morning, confirming the rampant overnight Twitter rumors, with a tweet of their own that shocked the ultimate world: 

“Hey, @MarsCuriosity! Want to throw? #ultrastartrek #AUDL2016 #mudl"  
 @theaudl; 8 Oct 2015;6:03AM EDT
"Selfie at the fields! California, you know what's up."--Curiosity

AUDL Commissioner Steve Gordon spoke to reporters two hours later, during a press conference at his New York office. 

“The AUDL is thrilled to welcome the Manhunters to the fastest-growing semiprofessional disc sport league in this world or any other,” said Commissioner Gordon. "We're confident that the Manhunters will be a great addition to the League."

The announcement comes as a slight surprise, since the general consensus in recent weeks among pro ultimate insiders has pointed toward possible franchise locations in either Boston or Beantown -- with an outside chance of North-North-North-East Providence.

“I’ll admit, this comes as a bit of a shock," said Evan Lepler on his daily ultimate talkshow on ESPN Radio. "We all thought Boston for sure. With the whole Connecticut-Rhode Island thing well in the rearview mirror now, I would've thought the AUDL would finally be getting into in Boston."

Lepler was referring to the AUD's legal trouble during its first season back in 2012. The league sued two of its founding teams, the Rhode Island Rampage and Connecticut Constitution, over the rights to the Boston territory, which the league had previously sold to those teams. The league asserted the legal principle of habeas dibsus and argued that its contracts were, in technical terms, shittus bulli. The teams settled and exited the league rather than pay fees and fines out of their ample profits.

Since then, despite widespread speculation and hope, the league has repeatedly declined to expand into Boston or challenge MLU for control of one of the East Coast’s prized markets. For 2016, the league has once again passed over the city of brotherly sports entitlement, to the disappointment of untold dozens of Boston-area AUDL fans.

At the press conference, Commissioner Gordon addressed the choice of Mars over Boston for the 2016 expansion Manhunters:

 “We considered every possible market. Boston was seriously considered—as were many others, including St. Louis, Denver, and co-finalist Anchorage. We feel like we’ve done our homework, and we’re confident that 2016 is exactly the right time to tap into the emerging Martian market.

“Are there some logistical issues to work out? Sure. I don’t really know how low gravity and minimal air pressure will affect the disc.

“But let’s face it, Mars is hot right now. NASA’s announcement about liquid water…Matt Damon’s new movie…I mean, if the dude from Dogma can get tens of millions of Americans to pay to sit through a two-and-a-half-hour movie, I’m sure we can get twice that to come watch an actual, live sporting event.”

Early response from outside parties seems promising from a business standpoint. The Manhunters have reportedly received interest from potential corporate sponsors, including Spirit Airlines, Red Bull, and 21st Century Fox, and from possible fan-service partners, SpaceX and VirginGalactic. A political strategist for GOP Presidential front-runner Donald Trump has confirmed that the candidate has inquired about naming rights to the Manhunters' stadium.

Nonetheless, many are skeptical about the league’s decision to place a franchise on Mars, including Ultiworld's 2015 Women's Club Player of the Year, Leila Tunnell, who criticized the league's choice in a phone interview, saying:

“It just smacks of opportunism and sensationalism.  They’re cheaply cashing in on the buzz right now. I mean, seriously? Boston is clearly a great ultimate town that could support a franchise. We [Brute Squad] just won the USAU title, and I’m sure Ironside finished second or third or something. This is the place to be for ultimate. But the AUDL picks Mars over us? That’s just plain shortsighted.”

But even some critics have admitted the expansion plan has a certain sense of logic.

“I’m not totally sold on Mars,” said Ultiworld's 2015 Men's Club Player of the Year, Cassidy Rasmussen. “It sounds like a difficult location, what with public transportation being such a concern for residents. But if that’s what it takes to grow the sport and reach new audiences, it’s probably worth it. Plus, it can’t be any worse than Salt Lake City.”

Commissioner Gordon insists that the move is fully in-line with the league's philosophy about monetization and expansion as drivers for growing the game.

“We are innovators in business and in sport,” said Gordon. “We push the boundaries and expand aggressively. We believe in the potential of free enterprise, and in the value of spreading this great sport. We’ve always said that there’s a market for this game, even if we have to make that market ourselves.  If you build it, and if you advertise it, they will come.”

Asked whether the league plans on experimenting with a women’s division any time soon—Martian or otherwise—Gordon immediately replied:

“No. Given current market forces, it just doesn’t make business sense.”

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