Tips for Starting a New Tournament

Posted on December 27th, 2011 by Mark "Spike" Liu
Ultimate Frisbee Tournament Photo for TD Tuesdays

This is a guest post by Kevin "Bulb" McCormick who runs numerous events in and around Philadelphia
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Photo courtesy of Alex Fraser

The increasing popularity of Ultimate has led to a myriad of new tournaments in recent years.  Some tournaments thrive, and continue to exist for years, while others falter and collapse after a single instance.  Much like in the business world, the success of Ultimate tournaments can depend on many factors, and today we’ll take a look at a few of them.

1. Have a purpose

Some tournaments exist as fundraisers for teams, some for charity, and some aim to break even.  Some tournaments provide a party, some provide elite competition, and some do both.  A tournament director should make it very clear to attending players why the tournament exists.  Deciding this purpose is the first step in establishing a new tournament, because it could potentially impact many downstream decisions.  If you know you want to have a competitive tournament, you may want to look into getting observers.  If you want to throw a big party, you will probably want to hire a band.  Once you have a well-defined purpose, many of the smaller details will fall into place later on. 

2. Start small

Sometimes tournaments fail because they tried to do too much in their first year: hosting too many teams, having too big a party, etc.  Unless you have the backing of a big organization like USA Ultimate, it can be difficult to manage some of the more difficult tasks that become easier with established relationships.  The biggest example of this is securing fields.  Owners of large complexes are often reluctant to rent a large number of fields to Joe Frisbee.  Assuming you can get enough fields, hosting 16 teams in a tournament’s inaugural year should be manageable.

Even if you have a reasonable number of teams, you still might try to do too much.  Providing something unique (whether through Saturday night dinner, a party, or some other aspect) is always helpful, but if you are doing it at the expense of what most players have come to consider “standard” tournament routines, you will be hurting yourself more than helping.  Make sure you have all the basics covered before trying to provide something unique.

3. Recruit early and often

This topic has already been covered in other TD Tuesday articles, so let it suffice to say that you can never reach out to teams too early.  Even if you just mention to a team that you are thinking of hosting a tournament on a particular weekend, that could be enough to influence their early take on their prospective tournament lineup for the season.  Identify an ideal list of teams you’d like to attend, get contact information for them, and try to get a verbal commitment as soon as possible.  If they back out later, that’s on them, but it’s always nice to be able to publish a list of interested teams that includes some familiar names.

4. Know when to delegate

Recruiting teams is important, but recruiting volunteers is just as vital.  Trying to put on a new tournament by yourself is feasible, but often unnecessary.  Friends and teammates are often willing to help out if you ask them to do specific small tasks.  If you can’t find anyone to do something for free, you can often get attending captains to help out for a small discount from their registration fee.   The closer you get to your tournament date, the more crucial and time-sensitive delegation becomes.  If you really want to ensure that everything goes smoothly, you should not plan to be doing ANYTHING during the tournament itself (except maybe playing).  If you plan to be the one collecting scores and filling water jugs and running ice out to injured players, you may very well find yourself overwhelmed.  Just be there to fill in the gaps in case of emergencies.

5. Take advantage of technology

As we move further into the 21st century, technology will become more and more capable of helping you run a new tournament.  You can use RSD, Facebook, and other social media to announce your tournament and hype it up.  Online collaboration tools (like Google docs) can help you work out a budget and to-do lists for you and your volunteers.  Score reporter can create schedules for both pools and brackets in almost no time at all.  Twitter makes it very easy to provide time-sensitive announcements, as well as let players post score updates.   After your tournament is over, you can assess how well you did by using free services like Doodle or paid services like Survey Monkey.

Almost anybody can muster together enough resources to put on a tournament.  If you want to establish a new tournament so that it continues to be successful year after year, you need to think big picture while starting small.

Kevin “Bulb” McCormick started playing Ultimate for Delaware Sideshow in 2002.  He helped run Delaware Showdown from 2004-2010, and has also helped run PADA Mosh, Bell Crack Coed Classic, and Philly Invite.  He has served in the Philadelphia Area Disc Alliance Board of Directors since 2008.  He lives in Philadelphia and plays for two time defending Mid-Atlantic Mixed Champions AMP.
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