Increasing Your Tournament's Fun Factor

Posted on November 15th, 2011 by Mark "Spike" Liu
This is a guest post by Fred Spanjaard from Windmill Windup
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As a Tournament Director, there is nothing better than those moments when you look around and see your tournament running as it should be – discs flying across the playing fields, the colossal cheer of a massive layout somewhere in the distance, the smiling faces of people enjoying each other’s company and their surroundings, and everything running smoothly.  Because let’s face it – there is quite some pressure when putting on a tournament.  Players and teams these days have quite a few choices when it comes to picking which tournament to go to, and as a result, they are getting critical in assessing the value for their money.  Tournaments need to be priced properly, provide solid playing and living facilities, and at the same time possess a seriously high fun factor.

The fun factor is something we take very seriously at the Windmill Windup in Amsterdam.  By leveraging the large core group of people that put in great amounts of work to make our tournament a success every year, we are able to make sure we fill the tournament with the best shows, bands, activities, games and all sorts of things to see, do, and read throughout the tourney.  Over the years, we have gotten better at choosing our entertainment. This article is a look into some of the insights we have gained over time. Please note, these suggestions are based on my experience with European tournaments – where players stay on site for most of the tournament. 

Activity Based Suggestions

Quality is better than quantity

You can fill a tournament with cool activities and this can be good, but if even one of the aspects of your tournament’s entertainment is shabby, this will be what the players remember.  I won’t try to get into the human psyche behind the phenomena, and maybe it says more about me than it does about the tournaments, but I more clearly remember the shabby parts of tournaments than the great things, so it is very wise to be sure that the quality of the show or activity is good enough to entertain your patrons.

The Main Event is essential

In Europe, it is traditional that tournaments host a Saturday evening party – a main event of sorts.  Organizing a tournament without a good Saturday party is like watching a Woody Allen movie without Woody Allen in it – possible, but extremely lame. You should assess your crowd and choose an act that balances accessibility with interesting and cool.  Poor extremes that I have experienced in Europe include a 2 hour long CD with 80s music (too accessible, limited coolness factor) and on the other end of the spectrum, a minimalist band that was interesting for 10 minutes – after that I just wanted to dance.  In the end you want at least 80% of your people to enjoy at least 80% of your party.

Bring the city to the tournament

It’s always an unfortunate paradox to go to a tournament in a cool city, and realize when you came home that you were in Pisa, for instance, and never saw the leaning tower.  Ultimate tournaments in Europe tend to be intense on-location events which require a player to add some days before or after the tourney to explore the city.  Of course players always can choose to go into the city, but during the Windmill, we try to bring the city to the tournament.  No, we don’t build a mini red light district, or dig canals around the fields – but we bring local artists, serve traditional Dutch foods, and incorporate Amsterdam themes into events like our beer race and pub quiz.  It makes the player feel like there was some local interaction even if they didn’t make it into the city.

Stick to the roots of the sport

The ultimate lifestyle has great appeal for a great deal of the players in our community.  For instance, at tournaments like the Windmill Windup, where players camp on or near the fields, there is always a heightened sense of community that makes putting on a fun tournament a great deal easier.  We have found other features that stay close to the “hippy” roots of the sport to be successful.  Example : this past year, we rented a hand-made tent made by a hippy from the dutch countryside, and filled it with acoustic musicians and shows. Very 1960s, and very nice to stop by and hang-out or sing.

Don’t forget to innovate

So while we had our acoustic throwback events in the hippy tent, we also added wifi access and live scoring in the main tent – one needs to keep innovative as well!  Innovation from a technology point of view and simple change are necessary.  People get bored of the same thing every year.  Just this year, I opted not to go to 2 different tournaments because I knew exactly what I was going to get, and it wasn’t enough.

Use your scale and demographic to your advantage

One time, we approached an up and coming band about doing a gig at our tournament.  They had just played the small room of the the Paradiso, a famous venue in Amsterdam.  As a result, their manager was hesitant to have them play a frisbee tournament.  When you put it like that, sure, it makes sense, but when I assured him that the larger part of 1500 people from all over Europe would definitely attend their show, they became interested and ended up rockin the 2010 Windmill party for a reasonable amount of money.  Your scale and captive audience can certainly be of advantage to you as you book entertainment.

Take the occasional risk

In choosing entertainment options, like in life, sometimes it pays off to take a risk.  Consider paying a bit more for a top act, choosing a form of entertainment never done before at a tournament in your area, demonstrating another sport or attempting to break a world record at your tournament. Of course there are certain risks in these decisions (time invested and other costs) but ultimate players are a very diverse crowd and are open for a lot of new stuff. If it’s a hit, you can build growth of your tournament around it. If not, then lesson learned, and it wasn’t that painful was it? A Windmill example was the mingle mingle – a game that one of our organization team assured us would go over well, even on a large scale.  The TDs debated, and decided to take the risk.  The mingle mingle has become a Windmill Windup classic.

It’s nice to have things to do

We make sure to fill our tournament grounds with all sorts of little things to do before, between and after games.  For instance, for the Windmill, we built a few cornhole sets, we bought a second-hand ping pong table, we posted billboards about the cool stuff that the tournament was up to (charity work, contests, tourney info), we rented a dunk-tank where a disc hitting a target sends someone on a plank into a bath of cold water, we built an accuracy grid, etc.  The more stuff there is to do, the better, as bored players tend to complain more!

Learn from events and tournaments that you visit

By keeping our eyes open while travelling to tournaments, festivals and other fun activities, the organizational crew of our tournament has learned a great deal about what works well and what doesn’t, giving us ideas that could be used at our tournament as well.

Operational Suggestions

Brainstorm with your team

The people in your organizational team and/or local disc community likely comprise an extremely diverse and interesting set of interests and friends. Give them a platform to share their ideas and connections, and you will find that cheap and interesting entertainment will come out of it. Facebook groups or local bar brainstorm sessions can be an extremely helpful means to get this accomplished, and TDs should not discount the value of ownership this creates among tournament staff. As an example, we have a guy on our team that sings in a choir, so this year we are looking into hosting the whole choir for some Sunday morning singing action…stay tuned Windmill public!

Maintain a database of ideas

It is very easy to forget about great ideas as a result of a small barrier that exists today, but may not exist in a few months. We have made this mistake before and now maintain an ideas document which we revisit from time to time.  This year, for example, we are looking into two ideas that were brought up more than 5 years ago, and are now feasible because of increased scale.

Create hype and build-up about an event or activity

It takes people a long time to get used to new things and ideas. This past summer, we added an event called the accuracy competition, by which a guy in an elephant suit rides a big transport bike across the field, and anyone who throws their disc in the bike’s container would win a hoody.  Cool idea, and a great event.  However, we under-promoted it, and maybe 1 in 8 players had a disc with them when the event started.  It was still a success, but we learned that next year, we need to make sure that every player is fully aware so that we can get far more participation – Windmill participants will read about it on the site, the Facebook page, the tournament booklet, in on-site promotion, and hear about it over the PA. Awareness is key, as people in general need time to get used to an idea, and they need to know that the person next to them is also aware and participating.

In conclusion, the entertainment that will work and is possible at your tournament will vary from other tournaments, and you know what will work best for your tournament.  By using some very basic ideas when it comes to thinking about the type of content, managing the idea flow, leveraging your scale and people, and making logical choices about what your patrons are interested in, you can make your event extremely memorable so attendees will always feel like they are getting their money’s worth.

Fred Spanjaard co-founded the Windmill Windup, Europe’s largest grass tournament, and has been TD since its inaugural edition in 2005.  He has organized several other smaller tournaments all with the goal of growing the ultimate scene in Amsterdam and the rest of Holland.  He and his co-TDs Frans Passchier and Michael Cummings have also formed 2 student teams in the city, and head up various ultimate growth related initiatives.
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