Thursday, February 16, 2006

Should TDs be paid?


In the old days, tournaments were supposed to be run at cost. There was a threatened boycott of Fools in about 1990 because the TDs included their own substantial time as a cost of the tournament (if memory serves). Only gradually did it become even ponderable for TDs to "make money". Even now, though, I would be surprised if any TD got a decent wage (say, more than minimum wage) for his work.

The UPA Series really should be different because the players do not have the option of voting with their cleats and skipping the tournament for something else. The TD really is just the director of the event, not the owner, and so doesn't deserve the entrepreneurial rewards.

So, I'd break down the "profit" into two components:
1. A fair wage for the work going into running the tournament.
2. A fair return on the investment (and risk) of running a tournament.

I think we've reached a point where #1 is permitted (really, 15-20 years ago it was not) and ought to be the standard, although I'm not sure what a fair wage would be, especially since the TDs generally also need volunteers to line fields and man tents, and if the TDs get paid then the volunteers will want to be paid. And maybe we're breaking ground on #2 with the professional services of Cultimate. The NUA couldn't make a go of it.

Then again, in the real world prices are determined by supply and demand, not by the actual costs of producing the product. The actual costs relative to the price then can affect the supply, as producers either rush in to garner profits or else rush out because they can't make a profit. For other participatory sports, it seems that the going rate is about $5-10/hour for short events (1-4 hours) (a four hour round of golf goes for $40, indoor soccer is about $10/hr, my modified fast pitch softball league is about $3/hr, gyms sell one-day passes for $10). By this token, players should be willing to pay about $50 per person for a tournament, but somehow this seems excessive. One of the attractions of ultimate is that it is such a cheap sport to play (just need a pair of cleats, a piece of plastic, and the occasional ACL surgery).

The bottom line is that we've become spoiled (or perhaps we should say, "Ultimate doesn't make people spoiled; it reveals that people are spoiled") and might have to be willing to accept capitalism and all the good things that selfishness does for the world.


Hh said...

I've been thinking about this myself, and was happy to see you tackle the idea of running tourneys for profit.
But give me more, James. The last paragraph, where you start to state your opinion on it, is hardly fleshed out. I agree, TD's should be paid. Maybe I'll write my own thoughts on it and stop griping about how yours did not satisfy me.

dar. said...

it should be noted that ideally you're not paying for an airline ticket and hotel to attend your gym for one hour. doubtful that you're flying much or staying overnight in a hotel for softball league too. and of course it's perfectly plausible taht you may have a palne ticket and hotel bill associated with that round of golf, but i would bet a nice vacation comes along with that in most cases.

don't get me wrong, i'm perfectly fine with paying more to attend an ultiamte tournament and i don't think $40-50 is entirely unresonable for a solid weekend of ultimate that would give me 6-8 games in a weekend. decent facilities, ideally central site where i can catch up with friends from across the state, i don't really care about the food (but i enjoy having the water), party? maybe, but i'm capable of throwin' my own party and don't need to pay more to have you show me a good time...what else?.....

ah, i also like arriving to a full day early so i can check out the city a bit and wander around. that adds to the cost for sure, but ultimate is just another excuse to travel so i don't mind. and as long as the tournament is well run and doesn't throw any major wrenches into my plan (injuries, etc.) then i always feel like it was money well spent. there is a ton of effort that goes into getting the tournament right, and it should definitley be rewarded. i hate it when players gripe about bagels and fruit. are you serious?! it almost always sucks and there are way better breakfasts/lunches/snacks to be had if you just plan a little bit. should be one of the last things on a TD's mind in my opinion, but i bet i'm in the minority there on that one.

and i figure if a duder is gettin' paid for his effort, then that offers some monetary reward as well as the hopes of hosting an event that pleases the masses, and that duder will want to host it again and i'll get to come back to a palce i'm only visiting once a year anyway. more travel and more catching up.

i am curious as to where i draw the cutoff for fee though. i imagine i'll determine what that is when i say to myself, "self, this is a bit more than you really want to spend to go see logan, UT and run on their grass. you should skip this one" or, "hey duder self, vegas is comin' up again and you're healthy and you left the shrooms at home this year, and although that entry fee went up another $100, you could make up your share in 10 minutes at the black jack table -- book that flight."

i'm just sayin's all.

Tarr said...

Dar makes a good point about how the scarcity of quality club ultimate means that the average player has a whole bunch of travel costs associated with playing. Perhaps the better analogy is skiing, where those enthusiasts who are foolish enough to live outside of Colorado often fork over hundreds of dollars for 15-20 hours of quality athletics spread over 3+ days. By those standards, my $30 share of a tournament fee is pretty tiny compared to $150+ in lift tickets.

We have not reached the point where anyone can actually draw a salary from hosting events, so the only question is whether folks can get paid for time, effort, and risk. I can't see how anyone can reasonably complain about that. (And according to Skip, they barely made money on Vegas, thanks to the jacked field rental costs and the difficulty reserving a party site on Super Bowl weekend.)

I would go a step further and ask - why isn't it reasonable for hosts to get money for their time to host UPA series events? This is coming from a guy who is paid about $0.20/hour (all in benefits) for his UPA volunteering.

parinella said...

HH, we can only count on the goodness of people's hearts for so long in relying on them to host tournaments. Although there are a lot of tournaments, there still don't seem to be enough, so if TDs (individuals or groups) had more financial incentive to host, we'd see more. (I should modify that a little, as DoG last year did have to choose between options (ECC, Labor Day, Tuneup, Colorado, Chesapeake). I suppose we would have preferred to have one more drivable elite tournament, though.)

And I should modify the statement about the old days, because the TDs then charged what the market would bear. It was just that the market did not allow for TDs to be paid for their time, since the community rebelled, as buyers sometimes do when they are hit with what they perceive to be unfair fees.

Re: travel, if you are traveling to a tournament, then the entry fee (even at $50/person) is still a relatively small part of your total expenses. And if you're not traveling, then you probably feel like you saved a lot on expenses and so can afford the $50 entry fee.

College kids might not be as willing to pay, though, even though these trust-fund kids get $10K from their schools plus whatever from their bake sales. Therefore, it's reasonable for the market to price their tournament fees lower, even if the cost of hosting the tournament is the same.

UPA Series TDs should be paid for time and effort (component #1), just not for the entrepreneurial risk (#2). Tell me, what happens if the TD sets an entry fee based on 10 teams and then only 4 teams show up. Is he on the hook for the field expenses, or does the UPA bail him out? If it's the former, then maybe he should be able to charge a little more, just not as much as a regular TD since he has a regulation-enforced monopoly.

Travis Finucane said...

Most tournaments I know of are used as fundraisers for the organizers.

College tournaments in particular are intended to make a few hundred dollars profit for the hosting school.

When Idris gets back from Kaimana he can give particulars. He TDs (or pseudo TDs--where he does all the work but some college player sends out the first couple emails) three or four tournaments a year at UCSC. The proceeds either go to the college teams or Fury, depending on who provides the other volunteers. Idris occasionally earns some money on top of the fundraising, but he is just as likely to finish the weekend in the red.

s. delfel said...

I'm all for the TDs including a stipend of sorts in the budget to recoup some of their costs. Cultimate kind of raises some red flags with me, however, mainly because they tend to try and get as many teams as humanly possible in the tournaments they run. I've only played in one of their tourneys (Centex a few years back), and i felt that the quality definitely suffered. That especially concerns me because they're running most of the top level college tourneys on the west coast this year. I'm not sure what their motivation is in doing this, but the cynic in me guesses that it has something to do with return on investment/profits/economic stuff i don't understand. Plus, most importantly, those dudes are nuts -- how many tournaments are they running this year, anyways?

In general, in terms of college tourneys being run as fundraisers -- my experience after running a couple is that much better money can be made by investing your time and resources elsewhere. If making money is your goal, that is.

parinella said...

It may be that Cultimate just wants to make a living or supplement their living by working in ultimate, like Ultivillage or Gaia or Chasing Plastic or the UPA Championship Director is doing. And you'd expect that they'd get good at it fairly quickly and be able to become efficient. (One drawback is that they wouldn't have the local ties that many TDs exploit to get free or discounted goods and services.)

And as for fundraisers, I agree that it seems like a very inefficient use of resources. How many hundreds of hours does it take? What if each player instead worked at the library or tutored or flipped burgers for the same number of hours and used that money toward the program? Might not they come ahead that way? The other factor to balance that is that they get to play a local tournament and get some good feelings from feeling like they did something for the community.

Travis Finucane said...

Hosting schools usually try to sell discs and suchlike at the tourney's, too. Basically, there are many good reasons to host a tourney--fundraising is icing.

Your model of the students donating a weekend worth of their proceeds from part-time jobs doesn't work out fairly. May as well just say "increase team dues" and hope you don't scare off any kids who are struggling w/ debt.

Stanford used to (may still do) pay student clubs for volunteering for alumni tele-fundraising. The team still makes money on their Invite, though.

parinella said...

Do you have a good estimate on how many hours of volunteer time (including all the organizational effort, probably primarily by the TDs) it takes to run one of these tournaments? And (including disc and merchandise sales) how much of a profit is made?

Idris said...

I think there are too many variables to figure out a standard profit margin.

Some tournaments seek out sponsorship, food discounts, etc. Some do not.

Some sell merchandise, some do not.

Some pay for field rental, some do not.

As the primary TD for Labor Day, I usually pay myself ~$600. Which probably translates to ~$6/hour (trying to be reasonable, it very well be I'm in denial and it really is ~$3/hour or less). And as Travis alluded to, one year I made the tournament a little to good for the entry fee price and ended up losing $100 or so.

The issue really isn't the rising price of tournament entry fees (kaimana has been ~$2400/team for some time (btw, they put the budget in the program this year), potlatch at ~$600+, and people don't freak out over those tournaments) . its that quality tournaments are rightfully raising their prices (and making well deserved money for their efforts) while aligning the fees with costs. But then shitty tournaments are matching them increase for increase while churning out the same old tourney.

maybe a movement can be made in 2006 to have every tournament post its budget in the program. I don't think frisbee players are spoiled, I think they really just don't know what what all goes into the price of a tournament. And if they found out the TD was pulling in 2K by paying themselves for their time. I wonder if they would think that was just fine?

parinella said...

Idris, how much do you rely on other people to run Labor Day, and do you pay them at all? I've been given ~$50 in the past for doing formats and acting as a point of contact for the Boston Invitational.

The UPA has (had?) a star system for sanctioned tournaments, and publishing a budget was a requirement for a fairly low rating (maybe three stars). And I thought that the UPA was producing a tournament director's handbook, which presumably would include things like "how much time will it take" and "what's a fair price", but I couldn't find it.

And do tournaments even produce programs in adequate numbers? About half the time, I might see a schedule on a photocopied piece of paper (sometimes stapled to another piece of party with party directions), but is that a program?

But I'll echo your call for all TDs to publish their budget.

Bobus said...

Hmmm... would anyone have a problem if a TD or company put on a tournament for 2,000 people at $40 a pop, but worked hard to find sponsors to cover the cost of fields, food, drinks, party, etc, and pocketed the $80,000? If you felt the tournament offered good value for the money relative to others, would you care where you money went? Isn't this how capitalism works?