Ultimate Frisbee Goes Pro

Disc warriors fling hippie past as they launch a professional league and cross over into SportsCenter

Cody Pickens for TIME

Dylan Tunnel of the Atlanta Chain Lighting looks downfield during USA Ultimate's Pro Flight Finale even in Davis, Calif.

You may remember Ultimate Frisbee — a team game that combines elements of soccer and football with a Frisbee — from your college days. Grad students hogging the quad, treating an intramural game like it was the World Cup. But Ultimate players may soon show up on ESPN, where they might finally attain status as genuine athletes, not a bunch of toked-up hippies tossing saucers.

In March, USA Ultimate, the sport's governing body, announced a two-year agreement with ESPN, which aired the college championships on ESPNU in May and the elite U.S. Open tournament on ESPN3 in July and will stream October's national championships. Frisbee has even gone pro. Investors have launched two leagues: the American Ultimate Disc League (AUDL), which just wrapped up its second season, and Major League Ultimate (MLU), which debuted this year.

The game is growing. According to the Sports & Fitness Industry Association, participation in Ultimate is up 27%, to 5.1 million, over the past six years. The demographics are ideal for advertisers. More than half the Ultimate players fall in the key 18-to-34 age category, and 27% of them earn more than $100,000. Which makes sense, since so many players pick up the game at elite universities.

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