TD Tools: Cancelling a Tournament – The Best Worst Case Scenario

by | November 11, 2011, 12:04pm 0

This article is part of Leaguevine’s “TD Tuesdays” series and are being re-posted on Skyd following release on Leaguevine.

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You’ve spent months organizing your event down to the last detail. All the bagels and peanut butter has been purchased. After over 8 hours of lining fields and setting up tents in blistering heat, you’re finally ready to go. Day one goes without much of a hitch. A few clouds here and there but discs were flying. You check the weather forecast for day two of three before you get to sleep around 1am. You wake up at 4am and head to the fields to set up cones.  After a couple rounds of play, the rain starts to come down and you see the damage being created on the fields. In the back of your mind you know you have to cancel.

This article is all about helping TD’s provide the best service possible. I hope that this look into the internal processes is beneficial to TD’s and anyone who wants an inside look at decisions made by real people in real world situations. The names have been changed to protect the innocent. Now back to our story.

Any tournament director knows that running an event is not a walk in the park. It’s a lot of hard work that almost always goes underappreciated and certainly underpaid. Anyone that says otherwise deserves a cleat to the face (figuratively speaking of course). When you’re sleep-deprived after having spent exuberant amounts of your life preparing for this one weekend so you can bring some happiness to a ton of awesome people, cancelling a tournament is the last thing you want to do. But there are many scenarios where this has to happen.  Here are some ways to minimize risk and create the best possible scenario for all parties involved.

Selecting your field site

Before you even run your event, finding the right field site is crucial. While this will be addressed in other articles in this series, a couple things to keep in mind are:

  1. Do the fields drain water well?
  2. What are the risks of the site needing to cancel on you?
  3. How easily do cleats damage the ground?
  4. How easily can I get a hold of the site staff?

Assess Risk

There are a lot of reasons a tournament should be cancelled. Maybe there’s a risk of some toxic valley air, or the fields have accumulated too much rain-water. Acclimate weather is my personal favorite.  The sooner you know that something is wrong, the better. Know your fields. Know the staff that runs your field site and be in constant communication with them in the weeks leading up to your event. A good practice is to ask for a cancellation cut-off date from your field site. This provides you with a liability window that can give you some leeway and also gives you a date to share with others as well. Be as clear about your needs and intentions as possible.

Assessing the risk of a tournament is very much based on your investment, alternate opportunities, your backup plan, and determining what’s most reasonable. Sometimes 30% chance of precipitation turns into 100% and a blizzard. Look at meteorological records; consider the relevance of your event. All these factors weigh into the risk of running your event. I can’t tell you whether or not you should run your tournament, but I can tell you to be as informed as you can be.

Making the Call

The sooner the better. With flights booked sometimes months ahead of time (sometimes week of), the more cancellation lead time, the fewer angry emails you’ll get. If you can allow for at least a week of notice, you can save a lot of players some cash and hopefully some trips out to Las Vegas (who would ever want to go there?).

Try not to gamble. Make decisions based on the best knowledge available. True, even the best laid plans are still at risk. This is why it’s always important to have a backup plan.

The Backup Plan

Went shit hits the fan, it’s important to have a contingency plan. This may seem like a no-brainer, but having a good backup plan is sometimes harder than running a tournament itself. In your initial field search, you’ll want to find some alternates and stay in touch with the administration staff. Ask them about their reservation policies and what day-of costs may look like. Let them know that you’d like to keep them in mind as a possible backup site and check in on their schedule to make sure the site has room for your event in the worst case scenario.

This may sound familiar – how exactly am I supposed to afford reserving three alternate field sites when I can barely afford to pay myself? Very good question. Unfortunately, there’s no perfect solution. But here are some ideas:

  • Include backup field reservation costs in bid
  • Reverse multiple field locations (that individually may not be large enough to hold your tournament)
  • Partner with a local school or university to get reduced cost or free alternate field locations

Getting Creative

In some scenarios your main field site will cancel on you. Often, your back up fields will not offer the same space and accommodation that your main site had and as a result you’ll need to modify the timing of the tournament. This is where ideas like shorter round times and switching up schedules to function more as a round robin come into place.

In some scenarios your back up fields may not even have the space to run shorter rounds. Maybe it’s too dangerous to even play outside. There are a ton of scenarios that put you as a TD up against the wall (and nobody puts TD in a corner). Yes, everyone came out to your tournament to play Ultimate but in lieu of that you want to create the best experience possible.

Here are some crazy ideas for the eleventh hour (when cancellation has to happen mid-tournament or after participants have already arrived):

  • Switch to a indoor tournament (a consideration in reserving backup fields)
  • Switch to a Goaltimate tournament (it’s really the best disc sport out there anyway)
  • Switch to a Dischoops tournament (it’s really the best disc sport out there anyway)
  • Rent a party space or a restaurant and provide teams with free pizza and/or beverages

Switching tournament dates is very doable. However, doing so may force a lot of teams to drop due to conflicts and dramatically change the success of the tournament from a participatory standpoint. That’s not to say that you won’t be able to run a great tournament on a different date. It’s just important to realize that often teams plan their season well in advance and don’t have the flexibility to attend a later date. This can throw budgets off and create other problems.

All of this non-sense brings me to another important point:

Communicate with your Participants

When tournaments are in the midst of cancellation, leaving your participants in the dark isn’t much fun for anyone. Bad communication can lead to confused expectations.

  1. Communicate in tried and true ways. Call each of your participants directly. Update your website. Send out emails. Make sure that you have a response from every participant representative that indicates they understand the circumstances.
  2. Be incredibly clear about options. If you’re offering an alternate plan from the original, make sure participants are aware of what’s available. Gauge what people are most interested in doing.  If it’s Dischoops, it’s Dischoops. But sometimes people just want to play Ultimate. And when alternative plans aren’t going to work, sometimes you just have to offer refunds.


Clearly cancellations are a lousy situation for all parties. From a player standpoint, you just invested a ton of money to travel somewhere that may not worthwhile otherwise and you don’t get to do the thing you wanted to do and paid an additional fee for:  Ultimate. From an organizational standpoint, you just invested a ton of money and months of planning only to have to ruin the weekends of a ton of Ultimate players. The money you’ve already put into renting fields, buying food, renting equipment, flying a staff out somewhere, etc. has already been invested.

Often, providing refunds is an impossibility due to invested costs. If you are able to offer a refund of legitimate amount and still cover your costs, then that puts a little bit of ease on your participants. This leads to our last point which is to communicate with your participants the stipulations and scenarios of your refunds.

Prior to the event it’s key to let your participants know the risks of paying for a tournament.  Let them know what your refund policy is either on your website or explicitly in emails. If your participants are informed they won’t be surprised if you tell them that there won’t be any refunds. They’ll understand that they took a risk in deciding to participate in your event. This may hang on you or your organization as a result, but it’s not your fault for covering your own costs. NO TOURNAMENT DIRECTOR SHOULD GO INTO DEBT BECAUSE OF AN EVENT CANCELLATION [ALL CAPS].

In Conc1usion

As the lack of flow charts indicates, this article isn’t meant to provide the perfect direction for tournament cancellation and how to create the best situation possible in its wake. The keys to taking a situation like this in stride are:

  1. Preparing for the worst (alternate field sites, field cancellation policies)
  2. Assess Risk
  3. Make cancellation decisions early
  4. Communicate with participants (altered tournament plans, refund policies)
  5. Cover your costs
  6. Play Dischoops

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