Ultimate Frisbee players in Madison have always played for competition, for camaraderie and occasionally for a couple of pitchers of beer at the Great Dane.
But beginning on Friday, some ultimate players will be playing for something else — a paying crowd.
The Madison Radicals, the city's first professional ultimate team, hosts their first-ever home game against the Minnesota Wind Chill on Friday, May 3, at 7 p.m. at Breese Stevens Field, 917 E. Mifflin St.
After more than a year of preparation, co-owner Tim DeByl said he's thrilled to finally get started, even if the weather might be less than optimal Friday night.
"Other than that I think it's going to be great," DeByl said. "We've sold a lot of tickets already, almost 600. We're ecstatic to actually start this thing."
Amateur ultimate games go on all over Madison all summer long, but the sport isn't necessarily conducive to being a spectator sport. For one thing, it's hard for a viewer to follow the action while standing on the sidelines of a flat field, something sitting in raised bleachers can address.
"In a stadium, the disc comes up to your level and you can kind of watch it float over the players," DeByl said. "I think it will end up being a pretty good spectator sport."
The American Ultimate Disc League has adopted some rule changes to make the game move a little faster and be easier to follow. The biggest adjustment for ultimate players is the presence of referees to call infractions; amateur players typically call their own fouls.
"I think that the sport is definitely moving toward spectators, but like anything, the fans have to understand the sport a little bit," he said. "And you have to tweak it a little bit, see what was boring, and see what you can do to make it a little bit more fan-friendly."
The other big component is to make a trip to a Radicals game a fun, family-friendly experience. While the team hasn't quite gotten to Mallards-level attractions, there will be entertainment between quarters, Isthmus sports columnist Jason Joyce serving as PA announcer, and the concession stands will sell Great Dane beer and homemade french fries.
"Like any spectator sport, it's the stuff around you," DeByl said. "You throw a baseball game in an open field without pretzels and music and a PA announcer, it's pretty boring to watch."
Plus, a Radicals game is extremely budget-friendly — $6 for a ticket, and kids 12 and under get in free.
Still, at its core, it's about the sport, and DeByl thinks the rhythms of ultimate — lots of quick action, punctuated by field-spanning Hail Mary throws for scores — will work well for spectators.
"It's a super fun sport and super inexpensive for people to play," he said. "It's all the best things of basketball and football, but outdoors and really cheap."
For DeByl, an amateur ultimate player himself, the dream of a professional team goes back years. His business, Distillery Design, is located across the street from Breese Stevens Field, and he would look out his window and think how cool it would be to play in a stadium before a crowd.
When Cisco Systems president Robert Lloyd founded the AUDL in 2011, David Martin and Chad Coopmans bought the franchise for Madison, and Debyl joined as a co-owner.
Of the six teams in the AUDL's Midwest Division, the Radicals are considered one of the top three contenders. After three games on the road, the team is 2-1, with victories over well-regarded teams in Minneapolis and Chicago.
(And to those who are still on the fence about going to Friday's game, consider that Chicago's Windy City Wildfire drew more than 900 spectators to their home opener against the Radicals — and that was in chilly 32-degree weather.)
As for the name Madison Radicals, that was DeByl's idea. So far it seems to be a hit; through its online store, the team is already selling lots of T-shirts, caps and discs with the Radicals logo, and not just in Wisconsin but around the country.
"I really wanted it to feel like Madison, and the kind of ongoing joke of how radical Madison is compared to the rest of the state," he said. "It just felt right. People cock their head a little a bit, but they seem to like it a lot. People seem to have really embraced it."