Maddie Purcell, left,and Chloe Rowse are co-owners of Portland Rising, a new expansion team in the all-women's Premier Ultimate League. Tim Cardoso photo
There's a new professional sports franchise coming to Portland, and all the players are women.
Portland Rising is one of four expansion franchises announced Tuesday by the Premier Ultimate League, which held its inaugural season of Ultimate frisbee last spring with eight teams spanning from the eastern half of the United States to Colombia.
The Portland franchise was awarded to two local women with a passion for Ultimate, a somewhat obscure sport that has expanded in popularity over the past decade at the college level and as a club sport at Maine high schools.
Maddie Purcell, 29, of Brunswick and Chloe Rowse, 26, of Falmouth are the Portland Rising co-owners, and likely to be playing for the team as well.
"We see this as an opportunity to show off the talent and caliber of the top (female) players here," said Purcell, an entrepreneur who founded the Fyood Kitchen in Portland's Bayside neighborhood three years ago and ran track as an undergraduate at Colby College. "We actually have a long-tenured and fairly outstanding ultimate community in Maine."
Ultimate is a seven-on-seven noncontact sport where the object is to pass a flying disc from player to player until reaching the opposing end zone. The game lasts four 12-minute quarters and draws elements from football and basketball.
This marks the first time Maine will host a women's professional sports team, although Portland Rising appears to have more in common with semi-professional sports than local minor-league teams such as the Portland Sea Dogs, Maine Red Claws and Maine Mariners, all of whom are affiliated with major-league organizations.
The Premier Ultimate League's standard player salary in 2019 was $40 per game and Portland Rising will hold tryouts to build its roster. The growing popularity of the sport here at youth and amateur levels factored in to the league's choice of Portland, the only franchise in New England.
Rowse, the executive director of a non-profit organization (Growing Routes) that runs summer camps for kids, was a two-year captain of the Ultimate team at Colorado College and last summer led the Boston Siege to its first nationals appearance, in San Diego. In 2015, she played for Team USA at the World Championships in London.
"Portland was the smallest of the new cities that applied," Rowse said. "I think that actually helped us in a way. It's a pretty new league so they are trying to expand in a thoughtful way."
Toronto and San Diego were among the cities that applied without success for a franchise, which comes with a $6,000 price tag. Other teams in the league are based in New York, Atlanta, Raleigh, Austin, Columbus, Indianapolis, Nashville, Minneapolis, Milwaukee and Washington D.C., and Medillin, Colombia.
"In a city as big as Toronto, having a women's Ultimate frisbee team might not have a huge impact," Rowse said. "Whereas in Portland there's already a huge ultimate community, so us having a team could have a big impact."
According to Tom Stoughton, director of the state's high school Ultimate league, Maine had 1,307 players in USA Ultimate-sanctioned leagues, tournaments and club teams with roughly the same number participating in recreational ultimate that doesn't require USAU membership. In 2019, there were 55 high school teams and 28 middle school teams playing the sport.
The Premier Ultimate League formed as a not-for-profit enterprise, run by a board of directors that includes representatives from each team. Its mission statement talks of achieving "equity in the sport of ultimate by increasing accessibility to and visibility of womxn players through high-quality competition, leadership experiences and community partnerships."
Purcell explained that "womxn" - pronounced women-x - is an alternative term that includes transgender women.
"It's meant to be inclusive of women and non-binary folks on the gender spectrum," she said. "The league is very much focused on equity and inclusivity."
In their application, the co-owners made note of the rising number of women holding leadership positions in Maine, including the governor, a U.S. senator and U.S. representative, the speaker of the state house, the chief justice of the supreme court and Portland's newly-elected mayor.
"Portland is a city that loves its sports teams, and Maine is a state that values women leaders," Purcell said in a prepared statement. "From our elected officials to our CEOs, Maine continually leads the nation in terms of percentage of women and their level of success. It makes both business and entertainment sense to launch this professional women's sports team here in Portland."
Purcell and Rowse, who both attended Maine Coast Waldorf School before heading to Brunswick High and Waynflete, respectively, said they are talking with city officials about using either Fitzpatrick or Memorial Stadium for home games. The league's schedule runs from April to June.
In the inaugural season, each PUL team played five games before semis and finals. Purcell said she expects five regular-season games in 2020, with at least three home dates. Ticket prices figure to range from $10 to $20 and Purcell expects to draw fans - players, too - from Greater Boston as well as Maine.
By comparison, the Sea Dogs charge $11 to $13 for same-day adult tickets to a minor-league baseball game.
Tryouts begin Jan. 25 with a roster of up to 27 players set by Feb. 15. Purcell said with enough sponsors, coupled with ticket and merchandise sales, she plans to increase player salaries beyond the $40 level.
"Teams run their finances, but there is a league-wide fundraiser and an opportunity for shared sponsorship," Purcell said. "Most teams (in 2019) hovered around the break-even point. I know at least one turned a profit and one did not."
Medellin, the one international franchise, wound up winning the inaugural championship, defeating Raleigh Radiance 20-14 after prevailing in double overtime 27-26 against Atlanta Soul.
"There's a hotbed of ultimate there (in Colombia)," Purcell said. "They do travel a little more than other teams. I think they have one home game."
Even at the professional level, Ultimate remains a sport officiated by its players, who resolve most issues on the field with occasional assistance from two Observers who help with line calls and timing. Rowse said that Spirit of the Game is part of Ultimate's draw, along with its simplicity (all you need is a disc) and welcoming nature.
Speaking for Purcell and herself, Rowse said "this is kind of like a dream we never imagined would come true."
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