90% less Googles: is Ultimate in trouble?

author - melissa witmer editorial

What GoogleTrends Tells us About the Future

Running an ultimate frisbee business, part of my job is checking in on Google Search trends to see what people are looking for. I noticed something disturbing a few years ago but haven’t talked about it because I assumed I must be missing something.

Still, it’s bothered me on and off. 

I figure the best way to get a real answer is to say something wrong on the internet. So here we go… 

Google Trends data seem to indicate that ultimate is decreasing in popularity. 

I’m not talking about a pandemic effect. I’m looking at data from the past 5 years. We know (from WFDF's member census data) that the number of folks that are members of governing bodies like USAU is growing steadily.  But when we look at what the general population are doing, Ultimate does not seem to be gaining popularity versus other options.

Here is a graph showing how often folks, across the world, have searched for "ultimate frisbee", over the past 5 years relative to other searches:

The y-axis is scaled so that its highest point in the range is always '100'.  A value of 100 is when the term was at peak popularity. A value of 25 - like near the end - means that the term is now only one quarter as popular as it once was.

Maybe the decline doesn’t look totally obvious.  Here’s the same chart, extended back to 2004.

We can see that peak popularity for the term was way back in 2004, and now the term is only one tenth as popular as it once was.

What does Google Trends Know?

What is Google Trends exactly? And why should we care?

Google trends shows how frequently a search term is entered relative to all search volume over a given period of time. So these charts can be seen as gauging the popularity of ultimate frisbee versus every other thing in the world.

Do people search less for what’s familiar?

Okay, so maybe as people learn what ultimate frisbee is there is less need to search for it?

I like that idea, it's appealing.  I went to look at other sports, to see if it fit.  Here is the search trend for “American Football”, from USA users, over the same period (2004-present):

Seems like knowing what American Football is does not lead to fewer searches, and checking trends for “basketball” and “baseball” showed similar results (whether looking at worldwide or US data).  Hmm...

What about non-spectator sports?

Here’s where I think we can gain some insight into what’s actually going on. Or at least maybe get some comfort in that we’re not alone.

Here’s the chart for Lacrosse, worldwide users.  Looks similar to ultimate.

Handball, netball, and raquetball appear to be suffering the same fate. 

What is handball, you ask? To be honest, I don’t really know. But that’s because I’m from the US.  Still, handball is apparently just as popular here in the US as ultimate frisbee. 


What’s the Point?

Good question. I get the feeling a lot of folks think that ultimate is rapidly growing in popularity. I think this might not be true and that we will be better prepared if we take a closer look. 

Perhaps Ultimate is growing in-line with the growth in population size, but it does not seem to be gaining ground versus other sporting options.  Worse, perhaps other sports aren't the real 'competition', perhaps we are losing ground to other recreational options like e-sports as UltiLeague have said.

What do you think?

What Next?

Are our current strategies not working as well as we thought? Do we have no control over global trends like spending more time in isolation or online?

I would like to believe we can take this opportunity to think about how we might attract people to the sport as we exit this pandemic.

Can we appeal to folks looking to get and stay healthy? Can we recruit people who are combating the modern epidemic of loneliness and isolation?

The pandemic has put a halt to our regular ultimate activities. Perhaps now is a good time to think strategically about the future. What kind of growth we want to seek in the coming years?

Getting Started

Want to explore this idea more? We’re discussing the theme of The Future of Ultimate this week in our Social Distance Training Tips group. 

One way to plan for the future is to plan for the upcoming ultimate season, whenever it arrives. If you’re a coach or are thinking of becoming one, join us here for our free 5 Day Season Planning Challenge!