Ultimate has been codified for 43 years. Paced like basketball but with a scoring system akin to football, the competitive team sport—often erroneously called Ultimate Frisbee—has been a serious endeavor since the 1980s, with over 1.5 million people playing regularly last year alone.
Yet it wasn’t until June, with the help of YouTube, that Ultimate developed its first superstar: Brodie Smith.
A former college player who led the Florida Gators to two national championships, Smith has taken Ultimate trick shots to epic, otherwise unimaginable extremes. The videos on his Frisbee Trick Shots channel on YouTube have garnered nearly 9 million views to date and been featured on the front pages of Yahoo! and YouTube, not to mention the Weather Channel, MTV, the Discovery Channel and Inside Edition.
His most recent video, “Incredible Speed Boat Catch,” has over 2.3 million views—despite being only five days old. That success likely has something to do with it being proclaimed the #1 play on ESPN’s "SportsCenter" yesterday.
“[I’m] the first person to be strictly playing ultimate Frisbee and making money, probably,” Smith recently told the Daily Dot, with an obvious sense of pride.
Since he joined YouTube’s Partner program this summer, Smith’s been able to support himself almost entirely from the income he receives based on video hits—no surprise given that his trick shot channel has over 100,000 subscribers. But that doesn’t mean he’s not out there hustling for views.
Smith keeps a Twitter account purely to promote his videos and interact with fans, and he tried to do a Reddit AMA soon after his YouTube deal. He’s created an athlete fan page for himself on Facebook, liked by over 7,000 people.
“I was getting overloaded with friend requests,” he says sheepishly. “I didn’t want to not accept people. And I’d go on Facebook, and I wouldn’t know anybody.
Those trick shot videos, however, are really a front for his true passion: spreading the sport of Ultimate, which comes with a bounty of its own.
His other YouTube channel, Everything Ultimate, is devoted to instructional videos covering every aspect of the game, from throwing technique to defensive strategy. A former math teacher, instructional videos came naturally to Smith, who cites a dearth of Ultimate content on YouTube as his original inspiration. (Here's a beginner's guide for Ultimate players.)
“I was like, there’s nothing going on right now,” said Smith, a 24-year-old Jacksonville resident. “Just two or three guys. I didn’t want people to search Ultimate Frisbee and have this be their idea of what it is.”
In May, Smith pieced together his first trick shot video, set at the University of Florida. IHe uses the campus as a playground and trash cans as targets. He hits them with discs from the top of Florida’s soccer stadium, by rolling one down a spiral parking garage, and by throwing one over the top of a small building.
Soon after, Smith got an email from the marketing department of State Farm Insurance. They wanted to use a clip from the video in some of their ads. He was under the impression it would be used only on their Facebook page and accepted their offer of a single, flat fee. But the clip proved to be so popular that it was used with State Farm’s logo on ads for Hulu, Pandora, and mobile web videos.
“I didn’t have a business manager at the time, so I kinda gave myself away,” he said. “But it’s still getting me out there, and that’s what matters.”
Smith’s biggest boost in popularity came from doing a collaborative video with Dude Perfect, the Texas-based trick-shot pioneers who reached viral heights when they made a basketball shot from the bleachers of Cowboys Stadium.
“I went from a subscriber page of 7,000 to over 70,000,” Smith says.
That’s when Smith realized that if he didn’t want to scare away his new fans who weren’t familiar with Ultimate, he needed to make two separate channels: one each for trick shots, the other for Ultimate tips.
“We were afraid if we just started posting everything, people would be ‘I don’t want to see this, I just want to see trick shots,’” he said.
That doesn’t mean Smith doesn’t work in some cross-promotion for the tutorials. After all, he says, the end goal is to help promote and elevate the game.
“It’s really awesome to see all these new people saying ‘I’m playing all Ultimate Frisbee now that I saw your video,’ or ‘I had no idea until I saw your channel,’” he says. “That’s what it’s all about.”