June 21, 2019
By Grant Lindsley
Owning an AUDL team – What does it take?
What does it take to run an AUDL team? If you want to do it well, the answer is: it takes a lot – which is exactly what goes into managing the New York Empire.
Barbara and Paul Stevens were inspired by ultimate thanks to their son, Matthew “Cat” Stevens, a cutter on the Empire o-line, and they took majority ownership of the team after the 2017 season.
But ownership was just the first step. The team needed both a financial supporter and a management structure. The Stevens wanted to strive to be the best organization in the league, so they got to work. They held one of their first “meetings” at home, filling the walls of an unused bedroom with sticky notes to outline the spread of people and tasks they’d need to consider in building a top-quality operation.
They negotiated player contracts and hired coaches, trainers, operations staff, interns, announcers, and videographers. Most areas require continuous attention and strategy: marketing, social media presence, travel coordination, concessions, merchandise, and attendance at owners calls and meetings. The list of things to do, as Barb Stevens put it playfully, “is as long as my arm.”
The list goes on: securing field space, buying insurance, and, a fan favorite, coordinating in-game entertainment from the much-loved Ice Cold Drumline that performs at Empire home games. Barb estimates that she spends 40 hours a week on Empire-related work during the season, including practices, meetings, emails, calls, games, travel, and even making PB&J sandwiches, a favorite among players.
Behind the team of ultimate players, there’s a whole back-office team making the weekly spectacle run smoothly. For example, players can expect the luxury of a pre-game email from Elly Ouellette, Director of Operations, detailing the schedule for warm-ups, player introductions, and post-game activities. It’s a huge privilege for an ultimate player to be able to focus entirely on playing, and the back-office team works between 100-120 hours a week in-season to make that possible. While stressful at times, the Stevens enjoy the extended family of the team, the energy in the stands each game, and all the learning that comes with running what’s essentially a start-up business.
Empire players notice. Many report that playing for Empire is far and away the most professional experience they’ve had in pro ultimate.
Looking ahead, the Stevens want to keep pushing ultimate toward becoming a household name. They want to continue bringing new players into the ultimate community and to grow the Empire brand within a league that’s also expanding. As more fans attend games and subscriptions to AUDL.TV increase, more sponsors take interest. Every day, there’s something to be done – eleven things, really – and one of the biggest challenges as an owner is figuring out how to prioritize time and capital. While players train for gameday, there’s a whole ‘nother operation, a team behind the team, setting the stage, making the show possible. It’s more than a full-time job.