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Keeping Your Tournament Viable During a Recession

Seven Tips on How to Keep Your Event Afloat During Hard Times

April 6, 2009
By Nick Williams

You’ve heard it a million times already: in tough economic times, it’s the entertainment and sports budgets that get whacked.

With less disposable income at hand, parents and coaches have to make tough decisions, namely, what sports to sign their kid up for and what events to attend.

In the soccer world, parents, coaches and club administrators often mush pick and choose which and how many tournaments to attend. How do you make sure the tournament they pick is yours? And how can you keep your event afloat during harsh economic times?


Soccer Tournament Guide spoke to some of the top tournament directors from different parts of the country and polled some of their answers here. So, without further adieu, here are seven tips for staying viable during a recession:

1) Cut The Fat. When your budget is squeezed and you’re facing the prospect of less sign-ups, cutting all superfluous spending becomes paramount.

“All you really need are fields, referees, and teams,” says Teri Vogt, Director of the National Sports Center, which puts on the annual Schwan’s USA Cup in Minnesota. “Do you need so many golf carts for volunteers? Do you need radios or could you just use cell phones? Could you get kids to paint event signs instead of buying professional signs? Maybe you just can’t feed all the volunteers anymore and they will have to bring a bag lunch – or have one volunteer’s job be making sandwiches rather than ordering sandwiches from a restaurant.

“Look through all your expenses and just cut back.”

2) Creative Scheduling. Changing the weekend your tournament is held or adjusting the length of your event may take some effort, but in some cases the reward can be worth it. Dick Whalen, the Executive Director of the North American Sand Soccer Championship held every year on Virginia Beach, believes that scheduling his event “in early June before secondary schools close and vacation/camp travel begins” is one of the main reasons he expects his numbers to continue to remain steady if not grow this year.

Meanwhile, Dennis Blackmore, the Tournament Director for Beach FC, which runs a series of tournaments in Virginia, thinks that cutting out Friday activities and making the tournament a one-night affair is a good way to help out clubs who may be driving to your event.

“Teams that are driving from 3-4 hours away, make it so they only have to spend one night and not two,” says Blackmore. “People can come in Saturday morning.”

But the downside, of course, is that you face the risk of losing hotel revenue.

“You may have to deal with the local hotels who want the 2-night minimum because they’re sticking their neck out to block out all these rooms for the weekend,” he says. “So it’s a double-edged sword.”

Sand Soccer

3) Make It Fun. One of the most simple – and important – measures to undertake during a recession period is to keep the tournament fun and entertaining. After all, competition aside, this is the reason why people go to these events.

To enhance the atmosphere at the NASSC, Whalen said they’ve added a series of “SideKick” sports, including “beach wrestling, rugby, coed flag football, tennis, lacrosse, and beanbag.”

However, if you don’t have a beach at your disposal, there are plenty of other ways to keep your event fun and inviting.

“Make your tournament a stress free oasis for families to have a good time,” says Vogt. “Little things like how they are treated by volunteers at team check in or at the field marshal tent can set the tone for a positive environment. Focus extra on making it a fun atmosphere and welcoming environment – people have less disposable income so where they spend it becomes more important to them.”

4) Keep it High-Quality. All three tournament directors we spoke to agreed this was a must for all times, but especially vital during a period where people are possibly going to cut out one event from their summer docket. Don’t let an untidy site or poorly run tournament ruin your event.

“You have to keep your standards up and your quality up and make it so [your tournament] is a destination people want to come to,” says Blackmore, whose club holds three events in Virginia, starting with the Beach FC Spring Classic in March.

Whalen believes NASSC’s consistent quality has grown a positive reputation that has helped the event maintain players.

“Our long-standing reputation as a well-orchestrated and professionally managed event has produced a player return rate of 93 percent,” he says.


5) Help Out A Family/Club. This might be a tough one, considering that in all likelihood, your club or organization is feeling crunched as well. But you’d be surprised what helping out one family or club can do for the bottom line.

“Be prepared to help teams that have one or two individuals with financial problems, that way you won’t lose a whole team,” says Vogt, who oversees one of the biggest tournaments in the world in the USA Cup. “Teams are kind and don’t want to stress one family who is troubled by throwing extra tournament expenses at them. If the tournament can solve the problem for the one family the team will be appreciative and stay a good customer.”

But it’s not just individuals you should help out. Reaching out to an entire club and making it enticing to send multiple teams instead of just one or two is another important part of marketing during hard economic times.

“We try to do something special for them whether it’s offering a discount, or trying to coordinate a schedule for them; anything to get more teams from the same club,” says Blackmore. “We have 20 fields, we might give them a golf cart to get around.”

6) Maximize Revenue. “It’s more important to try and keep your expenses a little lower and maximize on other things you’re doing to generate revenue, like t-shirts, sweatshirts, trinkets and anything else you may sell,” says Blackmore.

Selling merchandise is one thing. But make sure it is quality merchandise. The tournament logo should be thought out and well-designed. A new logo every year allows for different types of t-shirts, key chains and over branded products. Look at the forecast. If it’s going to be cold, be sure to order more sweatshirts, or even ponchos, to sell at the fields.

Also, if you control the concession revenue, try offering family packs or discounts to discourage off-site eating at fast food joints and other restaurants.

And don’t forget to accept credit cards at all retail and concession locations.

“People don’t want to spend their actual cash,” says Blackmore.

Sand Soccer

7) Weather The Storm. Sometimes it’s inevitable: unless you’re a unique event like a sand soccer tournament, your event may draw fewer applications than in years past and your numbers will most likely fall.

“I think everybody’s seeing a decrease in numbers, unless you’re an extremely different type of event,” says Blackmore. “The real concern is there are so many events now.”

Still, don’t lost hope. There are literally thousands of tournaments out there. And if you can weather the storm, you’ll reap the benefits later.

Says Vogt: “It’s a time where some of the tournaments will probably go away, so if you can survive you may end up on the other side a stronger event.”

If YOU have some ideas of your own on how to weather a recession, or if you’d like to be featured in the next STG piece, shoot us an email at

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