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How is your soccer tournament like Apple?

This week, the Washington Post published an article on Apple, it’s new product line and how it is kicking butt all over the computer world despite being in a recession. In the article, it concedes that Apple’s success are not merely driven by Apple fanatics who will buy anything Apple makes, but by a sound, well-thought out value strategy.

Quite simply, Apple produces a quality product and makes no compromises on design and user interface. They set the price high enough to generate a profit to ensure research and development dollars for future products and don’t apologize for it nor do they adjust it based on whether or not we are in a recession. Their products don’t appeal to everyone, but the audience to which they appeal are loyal and expect quality; first time, every time.

And they are onto something. As the average PC maker continues to be squeezed by their customers who shop on price, they have fewer and fewer dollars left to innovate and improve. When a recession happens, many low-cost producers simply go out of business because they can’t afford to weather the storm. They did not prepare.

Is your soccer tournament an Apple or a PC? Is your fee/vendor/sponsorship agreements set high enough to claim value and ensure enough profitability to assure your guest teams that you will be around next year? Or in some cases, even this year? Do you take care of your guest teams enough to justify your fees?

Our advice: Set your team fees high enough to make sure there is enough profit to operate at a high-quality level. Don’t cave to arguments of teams not being able to afford your tournament. You are providing quality soccer competition and entertainment at a fair price that reflects your value. If some teams have problems affording you but have pegged your tournament as a “must attend” event, then perhaps they need to make cost-cuts elsewhere.

And don’t compromise your vendor relationships — including hotels and concessions — to make your tournament more affordable to guest teams. Don’t undervalue your volunteers and staff by cutting perks. Don’t buy cheaper awards. Don’t compromise your marketing.

And don’t cave to scheduling demands that compromises revenue. If that means shrinking the number of teams you accept in order to maintain your quality and profitability goals, then do it. If you are profitable, you can always grow in stronger economic years.

Your ultimate goal is to build a soccer tournament event that is sustainable and will benefit your soccer organization and your local community over a long period of time. Making price deals just to satisfy short-term team counts does not contribute to that goal.

Using postcards as effective soccer tournament marketing

Click the postcard to view front and back in full size

Click the postcard to view front and back in full size

A postcard for the Hershey Tournament and the Penn State 8v8 arrived earlier this week. It got my attention, not only because the two events are TourneyCentral.com tournaments, but because it was well designed and executed. Here’s why.

I knew what it was about quickly
I didn’t have to open a letter or fight with that low-grade postage wafer that tears most of the information off the top of the flyer folded in thirds. “2 great tournaments.” The logos were right there on top, leading the description.

Who, What, When, Where, Why and How were listed in bullets points and were easy to read. No disclaimers were mixed in to “CYA” the tournament. Just the facts and where to go to get more.

Contact information front and center
The web address was right there as was the email AND PHONE NUMBER. Chances are most folks will go to the web site first, but there are a few coaches left who still feel more comfortable picking up the phone and getting a feel for how real the event is.

It is print
I’m an advocate for the Internet, but nothing replaces 4-color print — even if only a postcard — to let your guest teams know that you believe in your event enough to design a postcard, print it out and pay for postage to mail it to them. Print says “I am real.”

Good use of white space
The designer did not stuff every square inch of postcard space with crap. Get the basics out, push your audience to the web site where they can read more if they need to. Just the facts and lots of breathing room.

What I would have liked to see
– A human face, a soccer player or coach. A family that has been helped by the charity.
– The web address bigger for each event
– Rule of thirds and some offset. The tournament panels being side-by-side instead of flanking the middle content.
– A little more contrast between the actual soccer tournament events and the Kicks4Kids organization.
– More WIIFM (What’s in it for me) to the coach and less about the hosting organization.
– A TourneyCentral logo, showing that they are hosted by the best (but that is really selfish on my part.)

Please feel free to leave a comment if you disagree with my list.

Print and direct mail is not dead. Neither is the US Postal Service. A great soccer tournament will use a mix of email marketing, print and word-of-mouth to get the message out about their tournament.

Almost ready for St. Louis and the NSCAA

Just in case you were following along with us, checking off the dates until the big NSCAA soccer conference in St. Louis, here is our booth status. Almost ready!

Our TourneyCentral.com NSCAA booth. A little more nip and tuck, but we're almost there.

Our TourneyCentral.com NSCAA booth. A little more nip and tuck, but we're almost there.

Meet us in St. Louis for the NSCAA.
We’re in booth 1735 and we won’t even try to sell you anything, so you can stay and chat as long as you want. Really. And, if you want to make a podcast promoting your soccer tournament, Back of the Net will help you with that. You don’t even need to be a TourneyCentral tournament.

Do you welcome new volunteers into your soccer tournament?

The lifeblood of a successful soccer tournament is the army of volunteers who run the concession stand, sell the sponsorship ads, stand duty as field marshals, sell t-shirts, direct the parking and generally make sure your guest teams feel welcome and cared-for. But, how many of these volunteers are the same people, doing the same jobs year after year?

If your soccer tournament is like most, the same folks are doing the same jobs every year. On one hand, that is good because you have consistency. On the other, it is bad because there is no new talent to take over these critical jobs if the veterans were to leave.

I read Chris Brogan’s blog regularly about social media. For the most part, he is considered an expert in social media technologies such as Twitter, blogging, Facebook and the like. But I don’t think he is an expert on human behavior. Yesterday, he posted a rant about people using robots to reply to a new Twitter follow. There was (and still is) some discussion going on about his opinion on using robots, but I think Jeff Crites’s comment (#182) sums up the issue most closely aligned with soccer tournament would-be volunteers.

Most volunteers just want to help out and have some fun. Having been involved in soccer clubs for a number of year, both in the inner circles and on the outside, there are mainly two reasons people do not volunteer, regardless of the excuse they may use.

1. They are afraid that if they open their time to one or two things, the tournament will take advantage of their time and inundate them with responsibilities. So, it is easier to say no and keep the door shut.

2. They do not feel accepted by the “inner circle” of folks who already run the show. This is perhaps the most common reason.

A soccer tournament, like Twitter, is a scary place. There is a lot going on and a lot of folks who are experts at making it happen. They know all the rules — written and unwritten — and they make it all look easy. They are intimidating to new folks. And — like the Twitter community — the veterans have little patience with anyone who is new coming in and shaking things up. (If this does not describe your soccer tournament, consider yourself very, very lucky. Be honest with yourself; this is all part of that human condition we’re cursed with.)

New volunteers do threaten the status quo. They threaten the existing “power circles” the veterans have built. And that is a good thing because they also bring in new blood, new energy, and a different perspective. If there is no change, there is no growth.

Sure, the veterans will rant about these “new guys coming in and wanting to change everything,” but experienced, seasoned leaders will do it in private and as a release of their own fears of becoming irrelevant and obsolete, not as a rant against new blood who may not quite understand the rules but have good intentions. There may be a few new folks who step up to volunteer for the wrong reasons, but for the most part, they will be found out quickly and either corrected or asked to leave.

Our advice: Running a soccer tournament is more about leading people than it is about finding teams and scheduling games. Stop and think about how you felt the very first day you volunteered. Think about how scary it was being among all those people who were so sure of how to do things. Did you feel comfortable? How long did it take you to become the expert you are now? Did anyone take you aside and show you the ropes?

As a tournament director, identify those areas in your organization that have built walls to new volunteers. Actively seek to tear them down. And, if you have built a wall around yourself, start tearing that down. Pair new volunteers with those expert veterans who are open to change. Establish a new volunteer system that encourages change.

And try the new ideas suggested by new volunteers, but make them responsible for executing their own ideas. If they work, you’re ahead of a lot of soccer tournaments who are doing the same-ol’, same-ol’ every year. And, if they don’t, then they don’t. Don’t make a big fuss, don’t point fingers, but do encourage change, personal responsibility and innovation. If other volunteers see that you rant on unsuccessful ideas, they will be less apt to propose them and your tournament will not grow.

And never, ever use the phrase “We tried that once and it didn’t work.” If a new volunteer is willing to put in time and effort on an idea you tried a few years ago, perhaps times have changed and it will work this time.

Whatever you do, never publicly rant against new people who are enthusiastic and bright-eyed, even if they get stuff wrong and tick you off with their energy and excitement. It will make your soccer tournament look stodgy and you will scare off entire generations of potential volunteers. And your tournament will stagnate as your current experts get older and more resistant to change.

Make this year the year you resolve to try new things and break the status quo. In a down economy, the worst product to be selling is a commodity that anyone can get anywhere. Resolve to be different, to be special. Resolve that new people with new ideas will help you get there.

Meet us in St. Louis for the NSCAA. Jan 14-17, 2009
We’re in booth 1735 and we won’t even try to sell you anything, so you can stay and chat as long as you want. Really. And, if you want to make a podcast promoting your soccer tournament, Back of the Net will help you with that. You don’t even need to be a TourneyCentral tournament.

The recession will affect soccer tournaments

Make no mistake about it; the current recession will hurt some soccer tournaments. Attendance will be down as teams will travel to fewer and fewer tournaments. And some tournaments, especially the ones that attract teams from more affluent areas where wealth is based on stocks and high home value may feel especially high pressure to limit soccer tournament travel.

The only bright light in this whole financial mess is the low cost of gasoline. Or, is it?

While teams may be cutting the number of tournaments in their schedule, it really only matters if they cut yours. If you have worked to create a must-attend tournament event, most likely you will survive the cut.

Here are some must-attend qualities:

1. You have consistently worked to make the teams feel at home while they are guests at your event.
Have you worked to make sure their questions were answered quickly via email? If they have had hotel problems, did you help to resolve them? When there were disputes about scoring, rules, etc, did you work with each party to resolve for a win-win-win? Are your volunteers cheerful and helpful? At the end of the tournament, did the most loosingest team remark in some fashion, “We lost every game, but had a blast! We’ll be back next year!”

2. Your organization is solid.
You have control of your data and everyone knows what is going on, from the host coach at a league game to the advertising coordinator to the person in charge of registering the teams. Your web site is up-to-date at all times, even to the minute during the tournament weekend. Your front page has news, maybe even hourly during the competition.

3. You have solid sponsors
This may seem like a little thing, but adidas doesn’t just sponsor anyone. And, once you get their sponsorship, you don’t get to keep it forever without working hard at it, especially in this economy. Parents and coaches are fairly savvy about what it takes to convince a corporation to spend sponsorship dollars at a youth soccer event that only takes place for 2-3 days in a limited geographic area. A display of some well-heeled sponsors get you respect.

4. Games are played on time and are well-controlled
Don’t underestimate the power of keeping a tight control of the games on the field. Many teams have been to a lot of tournaments where nobody seems to be in charge, games are played when referees stroll onto the field and all sorts of loosey-goosey standards. Don’t be one of those events! Expect everyone to show up on time, schedule enough referees to over-cover the games and make sure the volunteer field marshals know the times, locations and duties. And, if you can’t find volunteers, pay your field marshals. They are that important, for safe play and for your brand protection.

5. Advertise and market, market, market
A lot of soccer tournaments are going to be scared of this economy and pull back their advertising. DON’T LET YOUR TOURNAMENT BE ONE OF THEM! NOW is the time to go out and become visible. Now is the time to grab market share. Now is the time to be bold. Make sure your TICO Score is up-to-date, your tournament is listed correctly at your state association and your other media like podcasts and bulletin board advertising is intact. And, get some postcards/business cards for all your coaches to hand out (ask for Don Denny.)

6. Web site
I saved this for last, but it really is the most important of all. Make sure your web site is up-to-date, and uses the latest technology to bring your guest teams real-time information including scores and standings. We recommend any and all tournaments on this list. Your web site is your front door so it should be easy to find out information. (Who, What, Where, When, How Much does this cost) The application form should be readily accessible and work without any fancy log-ins, pre registration, etc. All TourneyCentral soccer tournaments have these capabilities built in from the ground up.

Our advice: Firstly, if you don’t already have a TourneyCentral web site, get one. Secondly, if you do, make sure it is turned on and ready for 2009. Thirdly, be visible everywhere. If you can, go to the NSCAA in St. Louis. Make sure your TICO Score is current. Advertise and get cards to hand out. But mostly, believe in your event and make sure your club/host coaches, teams, parents and players are your greatest champions and they know and love your tournament as much as you do.

2009 could be make or break for a lot of events. Make sure yours is on the “make” list.

Meet us in St. Louis for the NSCAA.
We’re in booth 1735 and we won’t even try to sell you anything, so you can stay and chat as long as you want. Really. And, if you want to make a podcast promoting your soccer tournament, Back of the Net will help you with that. You don’t even need to be a TourneyCentral tournament.