Philly’s professional ultimate frisbee team will play an exhibition during halftime at Sunday’s Eagles-Cowboys game
Eagles fans with tickets for Saturday can expect to see two games. While the birds take a break from their battle with the Cowboys, Philly’s professional ultimate frisbee team will demonstrate their sport during the halftime show.
The Philadelphia Phoenix will take on the DC Breeze for a friendly game that won’t count towards any rankings. The length of the game will be shorter than the standard four 12-minute quarters the American Ultimate Disc League uses.
But that’s okay, Phoenix player James Pollard said, because the whole point is to get more eyes on the game.
“It’s great exposure for the sport,” he said. “That’s the way the game is going to grow.”
The sport’s popularity lies somewhere between niche activities like lacrosse and quidditch, according to the Phoenix’s marketing director Alex Shragis.
In 2019, almost 2.3 million Americans said they played ultimate frisbee. That’s down from the peak of nearly 5.3 million players counted in 2012 by an Outdoor Industry Association report, but Shragis said the frisbee community in the Philly area is growing and now includes about 10,000 players.
Ultimate frisbee is usually a warm weather activity. The AUDL begins its season in June and has its championship game in September.
The game is played on a standard football field, where points are scored by getting the disc to the end zone.
It’s a non-contact sport and everyone on the team needs to be able to throw well, as according to the rules once a player is in possession they aren’t allowed to move again until they pass. Interceptions, incomplete passes and passes out of bounds lead to a turnover.
Pollard is one of the team’s cutters, which he said is similar to being a wide receiver in football, as he’s focused on running down the field past defenders to catch the disc. The team’s handlers, on the other hand, are more similar to quarterbacks, as they mainly work on passing to cutters.
The game was created by a group of Maplewood high schoolers in 1968 and initially gained traction on American college campuses, where it remains most popular. Pollard first played ultimate frisbee in his high school gym class but really got into the sport while studying at Jefferson University.
His main athletic focus was dedicated to his spot on the school’s tennis team, but in the offseason he played club ultimate frisbee to stay in shape.
Pollard said the sport is already popular across college and high school campuses in Philly, but it needs to court an even younger demographic to start growing again.
That’s why he’s been working with the Phoenix on their youth programming, which Shragis said has already reached many area kids and teens.
In 2021, Pollard said about twice as many kids showed up for clinics in comparison with 2020. He added that the Phoenix’s Pass the Disc initiative, which provides free youth clinics at Philly recreation centers in underserved communities, is also doing a lot to grow the sport in the region.
He said getting more kids involved is key to continuing the sport’s expansion because “it’s hard to grow with adults trying to learn how to play.”
Pollard also said the sport is good for kids because it’s relatively safe, especially when compared with a game like football. Injuries tend to be more similar to what one might experience playing soccer rather than the repeated head trauma that defines many contact sports.
He hopes the kids who are getting into the game now will continue playing into adulthood and pass it on to their children.
Saturday’s exhibition is not the first time the Phoenix have provided halftime entertainment at an Eagles game. They played at the Linc in 2019, which came about after one of the Phoenix’s owners just happened to meet an Eagles executive while waiting to board a plane, Shragis said.
But Pollard was even more excited about Saturday’s match, because the team has since moved its field from Conshohocken to the South Philadelphia Supersite, which is right across the highway from Lincoln Financial Field.
Now, he says Eagles fans will have an easy time finding the field if they decide to attend a future game or participate in one of the team’s clinics.
Correction: This story originally was published with the incorrect day for the Eagles-Cowboys game. The game was Saturday, Jan. 8.