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Bad Weather Insurance, Cancellation Policies and Refunds

What to do When the Weather Cancels Your Tournament

Does your soccer tournament need bad weather insurance? If you don't think so, consider this scenario: You’ve got teams coming from all over the country and maybe some from overseas. They’ve paid entrance fees, filled out paperwork, booked hotel rooms and traveled at great expense.

But it’s also been raining for three days straight and the weather channel is telling you it’s just going to keep on coming. Four of your seven fields are already waterlogged and you’ve just received a phone call from the town administrator urging you to call off your tournament lest the fields be damaged beyond repair for the rest of the summer. What do you do?

This is a dilemma many tournament directors have faced over the years, and will continue to face as weather contrives to threaten tourneys large and small. Some of the other questions are: Do we issue refunds or credits? How are we going to continue to operate our club if we don’t have the revenue from the one big fundraiser we run every year? If we cancel, what will it do to our reputation? Will people come back next year? How much, if any, of our overall losses are covered by bad weather insurance? What am I going to tell all the angry players and coaches?

One guy that has had to deal with these issues is Tom Manchester, former tournament director of Sandwich Soccer Club in Massachusetts, which annually stages the Cape Cod Challenge tournament each Memorial Day weekend. In 2003, they were able to play Friday, Saturday and Sunday matches but decided to cancel Monday’s play-off games when the forecast called for an inch of rain with 90% certainty. There were plenty of grumbles when the decision was made on Sunday evening, but it was when everyone woke up the next morning to find that the rain had held off, that the complaints really started.

The Cape Cod Challenge that year had 172 teams and all of the U-11s and above got three games in. All the U-9s and U-10s got four games in. Relative to the big Virginia tournaments that canceled all of their matches, Cape Cod did well.

Nevertheless, Manchester says the tournament committee struggled with the decision to lop off Monday’s play-offs. There was more going on than just bad weather.

“We had a lot of rain on the Saturday night that put the fields in marginal to fair condition,” said Manchester, “and we were starting to see some injuries occur because the fields were slick. So we had the forecast and it said there was a 90% chance of an inch of rain. You figure that if something has a 90% chance of happening you’re going to bet on it. The tournament committee said that, for the safety of the kids, we should cancel Monday’s games

“There was some discussion about whether we should wait until Monday to cancel them or cancel them that Sunday. Our decision was to cancel them on Sunday so that people wouldn’t incur the additional expense of staying over on that night. We knew that if we woke up on Monday and there was no rain, we’d look like complete knuckleheads.”

When the announcement to cancel was made, Manchester said, there was a mixed reaction:

“Of the teams that made it through to the Monday play-offs, about 50% were very vocal and disappointed. The other 50% were fine with it.”

The Cape Cod Challenge tried to soothe the disappointment by offering teams who missed games $75 credit towards next year’s entrance fee. They also mailed out trophies to teams that were clear winners in their age groups. This was a far cry from the refunds many cancelled tournaments offer, which is none at all. Clubs often can’t afford to give the money back when they’ve already spent it on trophies, t-shirts, tent rental, soccer equipment, and a myriad of other expenses. This is where a good bad weather insurance policy can come in handy.

“I was disappointed in the way some people reacted,” admitted Manchester, “because all of the tournament committee members are volunteers. We’re just down there putting it on. Some of the parents, not all, some of them were bordering on being extremely rude. We didn’t want to have to make the decision, but we did.”

Here are a few points to consider that might (repeat, might) soften those reactions if you are forced to cancel all or part of your event.

1. Every tournament should have a clear cancellation policy and it needs to be spelled out in advance. Put it up on your website so teams can be aware of it before they sign up for your event. This policy should spell out whether teams will receive a credit or a refund, full or partial (depending on the number of games they miss out on) and what will happen regarding results and trophies in the event that the competitions can not be completed.

2. Make sure all application forms (both online and offline) have a check box that indicates coaches and/or team managers have read and accepted those terms and conditions before their application can be submitted. You should also consult with a lawyer to be sure that the wording of this document covers you legally in the event that someone decides to sue.

3. Make any cancellation decisions as early as possible. In spite of the anger that certain folks showed in the Cape Cod Challenge situation above, the tournament committee did the right thing. They showed consideration to their customers by giving them the opportunity to save money on accommodations, and explained that was the reason for making the call Sunday, instead of Monday.

4. If you have teams coming in from long distance and can call with cancellation information before they leave, they will thank you for it. This is also true even if you decide not to cancel but are forced to drastically reduce the number or duration of games. We heard of one local team that flew over 1,000 miles only to find that, while the tournament was still on, all games had been reduced to 15 minute halves. That’s a heck of a long way to go for 90 minutes of soccer. Needless to say, they were not happy that they were only told of this when they arrived.

5. If your tournament is a critical fundraiser for your club, and your policy calls for refunds of fees in the event of cancellation, consider taking out bad weather insurance for that eventuality. You can check bad weather insurance quotes here.

6. If your tournament makes use of other people’s fields (local schools, town rec. department etc.) make sure you are all on the same page regarding weather before the rain starts falling. Getting a call from the school superintendent on the Friday morning before your event saying you can not use fields, even though you think they are perfectly playable is not a great way to start your big weekend. If they're particularly concerned about their fields, maybe they would be prepared to share the cost of a bad weather insurance policy with your club.

As for the folks at the Cape Cod Challenge, we asked Tom Manchester if his bad weather experience persuaded him not to run the tournament in future years.

“That day it did,” he admitted, “because you tell yourself you’ll never do this again. Some folks threatened to get me fired as the tournament director. Some folks threatened to take us to the small claims court. Some folks even threatened to sue me.

“But the kids were great and you like to see the kids really enjoy themselves, to see them play against teams they wouldn’t normally play against. So, once you look at it that way, you say, I don’t believe I’m going to do it again, but I’m going to do it again.”

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