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Really Cheap Ways to Get More Teams to Your Tournament

It's easy to spend and arm and a leg trying to get more teasm to your tournament but the truth is, while there is certainly a place for paid advertising and marketing services, there are a number of things you can do to promote your tournament that are either free or cost very little.

Here is a list of seven. Do all of these things well, and half of your marketing battle is won. Then you can focus your no doubt limited marketing budget on filling the gaps with paid efforts.

1. Use Free Listing Services – This is so easy that it always puzzles me why it's not the first task on every tournament director's marketing to-do list. Sometimes when we're updating our own website it can take several emails just to get someone to list their tournament details for FREE on what is one of the biggest tournament directories on the web. And several tournament directors ignore up to five emails and then complain several months later when they learn from some inquiring team that some of the listed information is out-of-date.

Just type in “[your sport] Tournament Listings” into a Google search box about 6 months before your event and several of the top tournament directories will come up. It takes about 5 minutes to submit your information to each one and that can get your tournament details seen by tens of thousands of coaches, team managers, parents and players.

Quick Tip: Keep a note of which ones you submit your info to and check back to make sure the listing is posted and that all the info is correct. Save that list for next year so that you can easily update the info for subsequent events.

2. Offer Multi-Team Discounts and Promote the Fact – Plenty of tournaments offer multi-team discounts but we very rarely see tournaments that do a good job of promoting the fact. A direct mail piece to Directors of Coaching is a good place to start. A retroactive email sent to every registrant offering them a partical refund if they can get other teams in their club to sign up.

Maybe your webmaster could even add a link on your sign-up form inviting people to refer other teams. If the registrant clicks the link, it sends an email to any of the registrants fellow coaches saying something like: “We've just signed up for the Anytown Classic. You can join us there and get a 15% discount if you sign your team up, as well.” Quick Tip: Keep a record of which teams brought mulitple teams so that you can market specifically to them next year. If they brough 2-3 teams last year, can you offer them a deal to bring five next year?

3. Offer Discounts to Returning Teams – Speaking of returning teams, they say it takes 7 times as much effort to retain an existing customer as it does to attract a new one. Let your pricing reflect that fact by offering discounts to any existing tournaments that return the following year. Maybe offer an even greater discount if they come back for a third successive year.

After all, these returning teams have saved you all the effort of replacing them with new ones.

Loyalty programs like this work in hundreds of industries all over the world yet we've hardly ever seen one implemented successfully in the tournament industry.

Quick Tip: If you get a handful of teams to take you up on the offer, you can then use that in your marketing literature. Promoting the fact that X number of teams come back year after year tells new teams that you must run a pretty good tournament.

4. Collect Testimonials – Related to the above, all tournaments should make a real effort to get testimonials from satisfied teams. Some people don't feel comfortable asking for testimonials outright but it doesn't have to be presented as if the customer is doing you a favor. All you have to do is send out a standard customer satisfaction survey and offer the chance of a free drawing of a tournament t-shirt for anyone who fills it out. ( is a great tool for doing this).

Not only does this give you terrific feedback for improving your event but it can also be used to gather testimonials. Make sure you include a Comments Field and make it mandatory that people fill this one out. Chances are that, as long as you've run a good tournament, someone is going to enter a comment in that field that commends you on your good work.

Add those comments to your website as testimonials that future teams can use to decide whether they want to register, too.

Quick Tip: Some language either within the survey or in the email that accompanies it explaining that you may publish their comments on your website will probably protect you from any complaints. Seek legal advice as to the exact wording, if you're not sure.

5. Have a Dedicated Tournament Website – Okay, so this one may cost a little but, once it's done, it's done for good. We see all the time that certain youth sports organizations have a club website and then list their tournament(s) as just another page on that site. In terms of being found by search engines, it's much better to have a dedicated URL for the tournament itself. So rather than having you would have

By all means link to the tournament site from the club site, and possibly even have the same look and feel between both sites. But the separate URL gives your tournament its own brand on the web and makes it much more likely to be found for all the important search terms people will be typing in when looking for your event.

Quick Tip: Make sure you purchase related domain names, including hyphenated versions. If your tournament is the Anytown Softball Classic, make sure you not only purchase the domain name, but also those for, (if you're a non-profit),, etc.

It costs about $10 a year to own each of these domain names, a lot less than it would cost to get one back (either through purchase or legal action) from some cyber-squatter who purchases it from under you. Believe me, we learned this lesson the hard way back when we were starting our very first websites.

6. Use Social Media – It's no secret any more that Facebook is the world's most popular website, particularly among the key demographics that are most interested in youth sports tournaments. Twitter is not far behind and Pinterst, the newest kid on the social media block, is growing so fast that industry experts believe it's soon be nipping at Facebook's heels. (Pinterest is a particularly good vehicle for visually dynamic events like sports tournaments, by the way). All of these platforms allow tournaments to build free pages. Done well, a Facebook page can help keep you in touch with all past participants, build your mailing list, turn your Registration Opening into an online “Event” and generally create a buzz about your tournament that will drive more teams your way.

Quick Tip: As with your dedicated website (above) build your social media presence in the name of your tournament. We see a number of clients who have a fairly strong Facebook page for their club, but no social media presence at all for the club's biggest fundraiser, it's annual tournament.

7. Get Pictures – This is another one of those no-brainer things that it surprises me more tournaments don't make a priority. A while back, we had a client hire us to set up a Facebook page for them and, when we asked them what photos they had for us to post to it, they shrugged their shoulders and told us the had none. Sports tournaments are visually interesting events. Colorful uniforms, painted faces, snappy logos and kids celebrating the winning goal or commiserating a tough loss. These all make visually interesting situations.

What's more, most of the marketing methods we've discussed here require the “raw materials” of images to pull off. A Facebook page without any photographs is going to be a pretty dull place to hang out. And as for Pinterest, the whole idea behind it is visual. Even a simple email broadcast is likely to have a visual component to it these days. Get someone to take photos of your event and save them. Have a contest among participants to enclourage them to submit their photos. Burn them to a CD, save them to a Flash drive and keep them for future use.

Quick Tip: Get permission to use them. Parents can be understandably leery of how photographs of their children are used to promote a commercial enterprise. Just as you currently have all participants sign a medical release it may be a good idea to have them sign a photo release, too. This would grant you rights and give you permission to use any photographs, video footage or audio without compensation and without liability. I am not a lawyer so do not take this as legal advice. Have your own attorney help you with the exact wording.

So there you have it. Seven free or low-cost tips that can get your tournament marketing off the ground without busting the budget. If you have any more creative ideas, feel free to let us know. We'd love to include them in a future edition.

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