7 Strategies for Hosting a Successful Sports Tournament

Running a sports tournament can be very rewarding but also challenging, and it’s important to set yourself up for success long before tournament day comes for the best experience all around. Below are some tips we’ve gathered from industry experts on ways to improve your chances of hosting a successful sports tournament in your industry. 

Define what success means to you

The first thing I like to tell event owners who ask for help promoting, marketing or operating their events is “What is your end goal.” Are you trying to get as many teams as possible to help turn a profit? Are you a non-profit group funded and total teams or participants is secondary to a quality experience? Generally your goal will come down to profit, attendance, experience, filling hotels, or some combination there-in. This will help you with the next step and how to approach it.

Create a Marketing Plan

The better your marketing plan, the better your chances of driving more players and fans to your event, increasing your chances for success if that is your goal. We’ve written some tips for marketing your event here worth checking out, and your event marketing can be key to setting your event up for success.

Communication is Paramount

Effectively communicating with your players is one of the most important aspects of operating a successful event. Well informed participants and fans can help eliminate so many of the issues you can face. Pre-event, effectively communicating everything from event expectations to rosters, field locations, officials, parking, game times and everything else will help reduce the amount of issues that arise during the event itself and should be a major point of emphasis. 

Once the event begins, communication between your staff and the officials, players and fans on general tournament procedures is important, as is when handling issues that may arise such as weather or field related delays, location and field changes, handling forfeits, protests and more. Hiccups will happen, and poor communication can both create issues in itself as well as exasperate the frustration of your participants in the midst of trying to correct them. Good communication can just as easily diffuse a bad situation or at the very least not make the mess worse.

How to communicate is worth an article on it’s own, but generally having contact information on-hand for each staff member, event staffer, official, facility manager and team captain can help tremendously. We recommend looking into a mass communication platform, whether it be through your event registration and scheduling software, or separately to quickly be able to text or email the right parties.

Put on your Customer Service Face

Some people are made for customer service and client facing roles, while others most definitely should not be put in that position. As important as it is to develop a good customer service face and voice to handle players, fans and other issues that arise during an event respectfully and with tact, it’s equally important to make sure the right person is handling those duties if it’s not your strong suit.

If you have dealt with an upset participant or fan, you’ll know sometimes any answer you give will never be enough, but in general we find addressing issues head on is typically far more effective than ignoring or dismissing them altogether. I would recommend adopting the following general response tactic when approached with an issue of this nature during an event, where keeping a businesslike composure without raising tempers is important.

  1. Listen to the issue from the upset party.
  2. Repeat what you understand the issue to be tactfully and without attitude or judgement to the upset party.
  3. Reinforce that you understand they are upset, and will speak with another party who may have more knowledge of the situation to get all the facts.
  4. Determine if it’s an issue that can be fixed immediately, can look at putting in procedures from preventing from happening again, or isn’t truly an issue at all.
  5. Communicate with the upset party what you have determined the issue to be if any, what the possible solutions may be, and that you will be evaluating ways to prevent the issue from happening again in the future, and what compensation you have for said party if necessary.
  6. If the party continues to argue, reiterate right now you can provide said solutions, and can discuss more post-event if needed, but need to close the issue.

While not foolproof and each person has their own conflict resolution system that works for them, the point is to have a plan of action for addressing these issues whatever it is that at worst does not escalate the problem further, and is handled by a person capable of keeping their cool in the process.

Have backup plans for your backup plans

Maybe you’re one of the lucky few who’ve never had anything go wrong at your events, but in all likelihood something big inevitably will happen, whether it be weather related for outdoor events, last minute field or court issues, staffing or official no-shows, technology, fighting, funding or worse, having a backup plan for your backup plan is highly advised. You can’t prepare for every possible issue or scenario, but you can account for many of the more common problems your event might encounter. 

In just the first few years of us running events, we encountered every one of the issues above to varying degrees and many times were woefully unprepared. Having a good backup plan and anticipating what issues may arise can go a long way in helping you run a successful event.

Officials can make or break you

Depending on your sport, officials may be more or less important than others, but for us, officials were and are one of our biggest priorities. Both in terms of making sure we had enough and weren’t scrambling for more come tournament day, but also in terms of quality and having the right, well trained officials on-hand to represent our event the way we thought best. Especially for more non-traditional sports where well organized officials associations may not be present in every city, a focus on development and training can be extremely helpful to your long term success.

A wise man once told me, “If the only complaint you get is about officials, you just ran a successful event” and I wholeheartedly agree. In all likelihood you’ll always get complaints about your officials, because ultimately 50% of the teams are on the wrong side of a close call that may not go their way. Having knowledgeable officials to limit these opportunities for blown calls and games can help in your customer experience tremendously, so proper training and preparation is key and a responsibility for the event owner to develop.

Beyond just having enough officials present and knowledgeable, we also have a preference in how our officials handle themselves around the players, in terms of attitude and handling confrontation. An official who takes minor issues personally and unnecessarily injects their emotions into a game, possibly affecting calls or an outcome or simply escalating issues with player and fans that shouldn’t happen are traits we suggest working hard to minimize within your organization. Professional, calm and collected yet knowledgeable and punctual officials are worth their weight in gold to most organizations, so lock them in and treat them well to keep them coming back!

Deliver what you Promise

One of my biggest pet peeves that I see as a huge red flag for event owners is when they constantly over-promise and under-deliver. Too often we see “fly by night” events pop up promising the world to players with offers that seem too good to be true, and usually are. Most of the time it’s due to not fully understanding what they’re getting into and end up being forced to go back on their promises to avoid complete disaster, but when it happens more than once and trends develop it can be highly detrimental to your organization as well as the players and sport as a whole.

Setting yourself up for success in this case means being realistic with your offerings, prizes, schedule and other aspects of running a tournament that can be easy to misjudge and dig deep holes making it hard to deliver on what your players are expecting. If you do find yourself in a situation where you can’t deliver what you promised and oftentimes it can be an honest mistake or result of an unforeseen issue, always try to deliver even at a loss, or compensate to your players as best you can without crippling your ability to continue operating in the future to the best of your ability. Players and fans oftentimes will not understand that in order to continue offering quality events you have to take into account a business minded approach, and may not always be able to compensate everyone as adequately as you even desire, which is where communication and customer service play a major role in diffusing these unfortunate situations.

Being able to deliver what you promise when things go awry is directly correlated and impacted by your communication and backup plans so having a full service approach to your events is key to minimizing issues and maximizing success for your future tournaments. 

We know not all sports share the same challenges or issues, and would love to hear from other event owners what steps you take or ideas you have towards making your events more successful both from a financial and player experience perspective! Let us know in the comments below!

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