Who is Your Field Provider and Where are They Coming From?
It is really important to understand that there are different sorts of field providers, and they have
very different interests. What can you do for them?
If your field provider is another sports club, typically they are run by volunteers and, like our own
volunteers, have limited time and just want hassles to go away. So for those providers, do what
you can to make hassles go away. Offer to pay for a whole year, rather than periodically, so that
their Treasurer only needs to worry about one transaction. Explain to your players the need to
ensure we are the least possible hassle for this group to hire fields to. Respond to their emails
If you can, attend meetings of this club, so you can get to know several of them and you become
more than an email address. Is there a way you can become more a part of their club? One
thing you can do is offer to work together on field/lights/etc improvement grants. Can you deepen
the relationship, by involving Ultimate players in their fundraising (say they do a carwash
advertise this to all your players, and let them know to mention that they are from the Ultimate
club that uses their fields).
If you field provider is a local council, again typically the council worker wants things to be hassle-
free as they have limited time. So again, aim to be the best possible user (particularly as
Councils will have multiple users across multiple venues).
For Councils too your best friend is the local Councillor, or any nearby Councillor who has an
interest in sport. Write to them and invite them to come and present awards at your Final nights.
Write to them and invite them to come and have a look. Write to them just to say you appreciate
their role and Councils role in providing sporting fields, and that Ultimate is waycool. Keep copies
of all of this correspondence.
While Council fields will have entrenched users in the form of other sports (and the entrenchment
comes through it being too much effort for a Council to rock the boat and as with anyone,
someone possibly losing a field to Ultimate will likely go a bit nuts in trying to retain it, thus making
a headache for the Council that they'd rather avoid) it is worth invoking the overall goal of
Councils to serve their local community. Is there a way you can demonstrate that helping
Ultimate get more field space will benefit the community? Perhaps an oval is set aside for a
cricket club to train on thats 11-15 people. Ultimate can put 3 games of 6 teams of say 10 people
on that space 60 people. All year around.
If you use Council fields, acknowledge this regularly and publicly on your website, as your events,
While you're at it, your local State and Federal MPs are also worth writing to, to let them know
you're here. (Tangent too Ive said elsewhere that Ultimate does ceremonies badly (usually its an
afterthought because we are shagged from running the tournament/season) inviting a pollie is a
good way to motivate going a good job, and many of them are actually quite good speakers and
good at ceremonies as well!)
Anna Hayes of WAFDA also mentioned that a strategy for surveying Council fields is to have
AFDA write to them wearing their national body hat, and ask for a survey of facilities suitable for
Ultimate (as part of a nation-wide survey). If you're interested in doing something like that locally,
have a chat to Anna and myself.
There are some field providers who are businesses (or run like them). The con of these is that
their fields tend to be more expensive. The pro is that their fields tend to be nicer, but perhaps
more importantly, they are a lot more formal and clearer about the nature of the relationship
between you and them what you get and can expect for your money. Your hire of their fields is a
contract be really aware of your rights and obligations and dont expect too much more than what
is written down (unless you have a really good relationship with them!)
With professional field providers, it IS worth thinking about outbidding other users (ie offering
more than the asking price to get extra space). Because Ultimate is cheap and growing anyway,
there is often scope in a budget to pay a bit more for fields. So consider it, but be wary, as you
can generate a bidding war, and while Ultimate players and organisations can easily pay a bit
more, other sports often have deeper pockets, or a more insane willingness to pay to get what
By this group, I mean another sport thats non-profit that typically owns a bar as part of their fields.
Many people have wisdom and experience in dealing with University sports providers.
Remember that they have to manage multiple sports and multiple demands. Universities also
often have a turnover of booking staff, who are often doing the job to support their University
sporting career. Universities are also typically very welcoming to people who will volunteer to
help run the sporting body as a whole, not just their own sport, thereby increasing Ultimates
Typically, as with Councils University Sports bodies want minimal hassle. So do what you can to
ensure this. But they also tend to have a lot written down and have detailed processes and can
act like formal businesses, so keep that in mind. Many though will extol the virtues of growing
sport, and this can be a valuable tool when you are looking to grow Ultimate. If youâ€™re
looking for more field space, you need to have records that show how your numbers have grown.
It can be really valuable to recruit a member of University staff to manage the fields relationship.
Because they will be there every year (and thus proactive on the annual field booking cycle).
Because also they will outlast the staff who do the field bookings. Because also they will have a
different sort of relationship with whoever does the field bookings than does a transitory student.
Ultimate players who have moved from running Ultimate clubs on campus to becoming staff often
are wary about getting involved in the Club again (because they remember how much time they
used to put in!) but asking them to take the lead on such a limited but extremely valuable role is
ideal. (Tangent Oweek is often the focus for Uni Club recruitment but Oweek is mostly about 1
year Undergrads. What about postgrads and staff (who are often more on campus than
Undergrads and can often help considerably in the admin of your club)? What about 2 and 3
Many Universities have lunchtime sport can you get lunchtime indoor Ultimate happening?
Aside from providing another avenue to play Ultimate (and recruit new people - remembering that
when a potential lunchtime sport player is considering playing lunchtime sport, they typically get
given a booklet with many options and Ultimate will be probably the cheapest as it doesnt require
referees. Rarely is Ultimates low price put so squarely next to that of other sports) lunchtime
indoor will put Ultimate in front of the University Sports administrators on a regular basis (as
typically the indoor courts and connected to the offices during the day, whereas fields and
evenings can be a long way away.
Remember, as with Councils, it can be valuable to go up the ladder and write to the Board of the
University Sporting body. Be wary though, as these folks may have interests other than helping
you and Ultimate out.
Who Manages the Relationship?
I really encourage every club/league/association to find someone to take responsibility for
managing the relationship with the field provider, and make this the sole activity of a particular
title (ie dont make it the Presidents role, but if the President also wants to be the Fields Manager,
then sure). Typically for Ultimate this is subsumed within the LD or TD role. But these people are
busy, and can change from season to season and year to year.
Ideally, you should be looking for someone with a long term intention to stay in the same city, who
is looking and able to do some behind the scenes work and is able to build relationships with your
provider(s) over the long term.
These people can also be strategic about future field needs, as well as keeping records of fields
that have been used when and for how much (side note we have had a much more positive
relationship with our field providers now that were able to drop into the conversation how much in
total we have spent on their fields from year to year this is just because we started to keep better
records of this and add up each season). Recently I discovered we contribute almost as much $
to a junior soccer club through our field hire than they do through their player fees in some ways,
were subsidising the kiddies playing soccer! So suddenly weve become much more tolerated by
the various coaches and administrators and parents that otherwise own the fields and sometimes
wondered why the committee let these people clog up the place and ask them to get off the fields
when their training session is due to finish.
Having someone generally looking around for new fields is what will deliver them (and building
relationships with providers BEFORE you desperately need them), rather than having a sudden
capacity issue that you cant do much about, is a very good thing.
At the least, it makes it much easier for a provider if they have a single point of contact over the
long term. You dont need to have one person for all your fields you might have three people
each liaising with a different provider.
Consider paying this person to keep an updated database of venues in your neighbourhood, and
make them a point of liaison for people who want to run leagues and tournaments (both new and
old). Not just ones youre currently using, but ones that youve enquired about. A soccer club
might not be able to fit you this year, but in two years time they might, and if youve still got the
phone number handy it becomes easy to check (its also helpful if when someone rings them, they
can say you might remember I rang you six months ago). Some fields too may well be worth
ringing up every three months or whatever and saying were still interested if anything changes).
Frankly also there is a real potential benefit if your Field Guy outlasts the person whos managing
for the field supplier your experienced Field Guy gets to lead the relationship with the new
Marking Your Turf
Have you considered some small infrastructure investments to mark your turf? This can do a lot
to make your relationship with the field provider feel more permanent (on both sides), as well as
give other users and the general public something they can actually see 24/7 (in addition to the
times you are there playing).
QUDA recently spent about $400 on a professionally designed and made sign to put up at one of
our regular League venues. The field supplier was happy to let us put something up. Most
importantly, it gives an email address for people to contact both potential players and curious
locals. Check out the photos on my blog at:
Disc Golf Hole
QUDA is also looking to install a disc golf hole (ie the permanent chain ones) at some of our
venues (just gotta get around to it, really). Again, this will have a small explanatory sign
attached. Partly, this is to facilitate Ultimate players giving disc golf a go, as well as having
something fun to do and an addition to when leagues and tournaments are played there. But
also, it marks the turf without impinging much on the field supplier (make sure you explain clearly
in non-jargony terms to the field supplier what youd like to do and give them a photo of the hole
so they know what it is exactly that you want to do). Get a disc golfer to help you pick a good
location at your fields, but think also about making it a bit out of the way etc. A disc golf hole is
worth about [check with Bruce how much one is], and only takes a couple of people with some
digging tools, a hose, a level and a bag of concrete to install (try to find someone amongst your
player base whos a home renovator or whos built a fence). Or, often the field provider can put it
in themselves if you give it to them and ask nicely. (Tangent here too find out when their next
working bee is (typically pre-season for ball sports) and turn up and do it then you get some help
as well as building bonds with the field provider).
The Brisbane Premier League and QUDA also recently invested in some portafields. Leaving
aside the playing benefits verses cost/effort to set up arguments (note that BPL draws indicate
which team is responsible for setup and which for rolling them up again), the portafields have a
great benefit in marking our use of fields. People dont wander across them. Other users know its
time to make way or stay off. Its easier for the unfamiliar to grasp what the game is about. Side
note BPL got theirs custom-made size-wise to fit the soccer fields it uses, at minimal additional
cost. [check how much they cost] With the Aussie dollar high against the US, its a good time to
think about them.
Linemarking might be a challenge during the field suppliers season, but out of their usual season,
they may be all groovy with doing it.
Cost of Fields
Ive mentioned above the benefit of having a person in the long term role of building relationships
with field providers. This becomes really beneficial when negotiating the costs of fields.
The cost of fields, much like rent or real estate, is almost entirely arbitrary and doesnt have much
to do with the cost of electricity or the amount of wear and tear per hour on the fields. Its driven
by the market (what people have historically been willing to pay)
Its often that case that when youre scouting out a venue for a tournament, the field provider will
provide you with information about their hourly rate. Of course, that hourly rate times 8 hours
times 2 days quickly becomes ridiculous. This is because the hourly rate is worked out for
entirely different reasons to what a reasonable daily rate would be. Typically, the person
providing the fee information is just passing on an amount they have been given. So you need to
get them discussing the daily rate.
If someone keeps sticking to quoting 8 times the hourly rate to give you a daily rate, you need to
get them thinking about the different. What is the administrative workload for them to hire the
field out 8 times for that day, as opposed to once for you? What is the origin of their hourly rate?
For example, say the hourly rate is $40 - it could be from a reasonable guess as to the cost per
player to play a two hour game (eg $4 per player for 20 players). Also, is it likely that they would
otherwise hire the field out for 8 hours each day? Chances are, they only hire the field for a
couple of hours a day normally. If you can get an idea what they normally earn from the field per
day (eg one football game), then you can offer that plus a little bit more because youre there
longer. But its not a direct correlation. You do need a little bit more of course, again say do
people generate that much more rubbish for their dumpster if they stay for the day rather than for
a couple of hours? Yes, a bit, but not four times as much.
If you have someone in your organisation who has to hand knowledge of the costs of other fields,
then this is extremely valuable information. For me, I have been in negotiations where field
providers have proposed a price, and Ive been able to say that Ive hired fields elsewhere for a
different amount (the fields may be better or worse, and larger or smaller). This has a big impact
on some negotiations, because typically field providers have no idea about what other providers
Note that Councils are somewhat different here. Councils are often monopoly field providers, and
Council officers will have almost no room to move on costs. But, take note above of the ability to
contact a local Councillor, and in particular for tournaments, trumpet the number of people it will
bring to the area and the opportunity for good PR for them and the Council.
Make sure you publicly acknowledge your field providers when you can (and depending on how
you feel your relationship is), particularly if this is a Council. If the Council is doing you a deal,
make sure thats mentioned on your website, blog, email, press release etc (and send them the
link or copy!)
For Leagues, Ultimate LDs often figure their budget around seasons, and put breaks between
seasons (as much to give themselves a break as the players (and fair enough) (also to enable
catchup rounds due to bad weather). But for most of us, Ultimate is a year-round sport trapped in
a world where other sports play a season.
So if your association has some money in the bank, I encourage you to look closely and explore
with the field owners doing an annual rate and booking the field for your timeslot 52 weeks a
year. You should be able to negotiate a rate much less than 52 times the weekly fee, just
because a) you're paying in advance! b) you'll lose some nights due to rain anyway (handy to
have a number of nights lost last year) c) youâ€™re vastly reducing the administrative load one
invoice, one payment, rather than multiple through the year. For Ultimate, you get certainty oh so
valuable. And fill up those weeks between seasons with pickup, training or learn to play (get
other people to run these if the LD needs a break!)
Groundskeepers vs Owners
Groundskeepers are typically a little crazy - if they had it their way, nobody at all would be
trampling on their hallowed grass. So be wary when talking to them. On the other hand, some
can be great fonts of information, and will often enjoy a good gossip and chinwag. I guess I'm
saying that the person who mows the grass often has a different perspective to the person who's
otherwise busy trying to manage soccer parents, coaches, kids and so forth - so its worth trying to
talk to both if you can.
Finding New Fields
Finding new fields can be a real challenge, but a few thoughts. There are a LOT of fields out
there, but typically there isnt a roadmap on what might be available, who to contact, etc etc
(although some local governments can help to varying degrees).
Think about what sports currently have fields that you might find useful, that you can target (note
of course this will vary around the nation). We have traditionally relied on a few sports to share
their fields with us theres value in thinking more widely?
Hockey traditionally owns large flat fields with movable goals (great for Ultimate), but are also
moving increasingly to astroturf. The sport is perhaps also in a relative decline. Is there an
Softball/baseball fields arent rectangular, but it is often possible to fit Ultimate in their outfield, and
if there are multiple softball fields facing each other theres a lot of real estate to consider again,
possibly a sport in relative decline, but like hockey, has excellent funding due to international
profile Gold Coast Ultimate is presently based softball fields.
Junior sport clubs if a club is specifically junior focused, they typically use the fields in the
afternoon/early evening. Maybe you can get on there from 7 or 8pm onwards?
Referees/umpires are often long standing bodies and may have fields they use for their own
training. Ultimate as a non-refereed sport may have a quirky appeal for them. They may also be
interested in having someone outside of their sport use their space so they can look neutral in
Athletics/cycling â€“ typically will have a track surrounding a green space.
Gaelic football (and possibly other ethnically backed field sports?) Sometimes, a sport is
supported financially and over a long by a community even if theyre not into playing the sport
itself. They might have good fields that are underused.
Any local club or sport that is for some reason in decline (eg due to demographic changes, land
use changes) is well worth investigating.
It is worth investigating schools. Private schools have often hired their fields out for many years,
as they are seeking sources of income. So maybe not many avenues here. If you can see some
juicy school ovals but that dont have lights, contact the Principal or Sports Master and see if
theyre interested in YOU doing the work to get lights put on them (via grant from state sport or
education departments or anywhere really) in exchange for your long term use. They probably
light and hire out their tennis courts so remind them that what youre suggesting shouldnt be a big
deal. Maybe you can tie this in with building an Ultimate program at that school.
Some of these ideas will also vary depending on if youre thinking Leagues (weeknights) or
tournaments (weekends). Again many traditional sports use weeknights for training and
weekends for fixtures. But perhaps theres an avenue there - touch football fields for example will
be saturated on weeknights, but unused on weekends. In non-AFL areas, cricket ovals will be full
all weekend, but largely unused on weeknights. School ovals are often unlit so are vacant on
weeknight youve just got to do the work with them of getting them lit. School ovals are also often
unused on the weekend too!
As mentioned earlier â€“ getting someone whos interested in the long term of the sport to lead
this kind of stuff is very desirable (they dont necessarily have to do all the work, but someone
needs to keep it going and get help when needed eg to write a grant) it will also be very
rewarding to them to the first time they see the lights turned on at the field that will have its
weeknights devoted to Ultimate!
Going back to a thread through here look to build the relationship with the field provider from day
one. Keep records of your interactions. Look to build a partnership, think about what they might
be looking for whether a good tenant, more people to use their bar, etc etc.
What Have You Got To Offer?
In finding new fields, its useful to also think outside the box about what you have to offer. Think
first about who it is who is the field provider, and what may appeal to them (aside from having
someone pay to use their fields).
For example, a club with a bar license may want to increase the number of people on its books
(and who use the bar). So arrange for all the local Ultimate players to become a member (include
a discounted membership fee in the League fee), and ensure the bar is open at a time that suits
your use (and then do what you can to encourage players to come in for one after their game.
Also, why not have a separate presentation night at the end of the season/year, and use their
Maybe they want to improve their fields. You can probably help them with grant applications.
Trumpet any experience and success you have in doing this. The improvement will probably help
Ultimate anyway and often can mostly improve Ultimate and not their sport (eg returfing the area
inside an athletics track) but they feel good having a nicer venue. A school getting lights for its
oval probably will never use it themselves, but can generate income from hiring them to you and
Just a straight injection of volunteer enthusiasm can really get their attention, as can projecting an
image of a well run and no-hassle group. Mentioning your growth is also often valuable were
doubled in size in the last two years and are desperate for new fields).
Remember, you have $ to offer. Make this amount as large as possible by estimating an annual
spend on hire. You may also have the money in the bank to consider investment in the field
provider and their fields.
Remember though, that for many field providers, you dont have anything in particular to offer
them alas. Sometimes, it just wont work.
Many an Ultimate player has dreamed of the day when Ultimate will own its own fields. But I
should add that many field providers I have worked with have suggested that this is madness.
For Ultimate, field ownership would trade one set of problems (primarily, uncertainty and lack of
control/information) for a whole new set (administrative burden, stuff going wrong, people trashing
the fields, etc).
That said, deepening your relationship with your field provider can take you a long way towards
the best of both worlds. For example, there are many Leagues and Sporting Clubs out there, that
own fields but arent necessarily devoted solely to a single sport. Join them if they field a cricket
team and a soccer team, why arent they fielding an Ultimate team/club? Go to their meetings or
write to them. Chances are, many of these clubs are non-profit, and need something to spend
their money on. Why not you? Hello cheap league. Hello free training nights, with paid
coaches. Hello shirts and tracksuits and other merchandise (chances are they probably already
have all this for use across sports). Hello inviting Great New Player to move to your town and
take up a job tending bar when theyre not playing Ultimate for you (this is how many semi-
professional sports recruit players).
Another option is to invest directly in the venue. Perhaps you can put $10,000 in to upgrade
fields or lights, in exchange for say a 10 year license to use deal (or whatever you can negotiate).
Writing Down the Relationship
Im running out of steam here, but question what you have written down. A hire agreement? An
MOU? Just a bunch of emails? Think about how you can ramp this up as time goes by.
Well, that's if for now - further discussion, questions and comments welcome. Apologies again if
this is all a bit scattershot and otherwise unpublishable - I'm sure you all understand that I'm