The Ultimate Buzz: Inside Surly’s Infatuation With Ultimate Frisbee
No company across Minnesota champions Ultimate Frisbee quite like Surly Brewing. So when you ask founder Omar Ansari why, in 2017, he decided to buy the Wind Chill, the state’s professional Ultimate team, he won’t hesitate to describe it as a no-brainer. “We’ve been supporting Ultimate for 14 years,” he says. “I met my wife playing Ultimate, and a lot of my friends. So for us, it was just a natural extension of what we’ve already done.”
Surly was the Wind Chill’s title sponsor last season, taking over from Summit Brewing, and the team’s popularity has grown with majority owner Ansari and minority co-owner Surly exec Jim Mott at the helm. Season-ticket sales have doubled, says Wind Chill general manager Ben Feldman, who is a minority owner in the team. Average attendance for the 2018 season is substantially up over last year, and the team has a new official home at the National Sports Center in Blaine.
“For me to be able to leverage Surly and its brand is critical,” says Feldman. Besides the sponsor revenue, benefits include Ultimate Frisbee halftime shows during Vikings and Minnesota United FC games. “We now have about 20 formalized partnerships. The fact that Surly is involved, and Omar and Jim are at the table with [a] stake, it makes my job so much easier.”
Their involvement, Feldman thinks, will soon allow the team to turn a profit. With well over 500 fans on average attending Wind Chill games now, Feldman estimates another 100 to 200 attendees buying concessions or merchandise is all he’d need to break even. “An operating budget for a team running at full steam with marketing and everything costs about $100,000 a year,” he says.
Surly, in the meantime, agrees the future holds lots of potential. “At the end of the day we’re in business and we wouldn’t be investing in something that’s going to be losing money 20 years from now,” says Mott. But “right now, we’re doing this because it’s enjoyable.”