How to Run a Yoyo Contest

Yoyo contest organizing. 
If you have ever organized a contest, my hat is off to you. It’s not an easy thing. Even the smallest local contest organizer has a lot of responsibility. It’s not a thankless job, the people that attend are always very appreciative, but as far as recognition outside of that, not much happens (and if you are running the World Championship you usually get a pile of negativity). Having said that, this article isn’t about complaining, it’s about giving you a realistic outline of what goes into running a contest. Who knows, you might actually want to run one after reading this! At the very least you might look at approaching the local contest organizer and offering to help out.
For anyone who has attended a contest, you know there are some things to expect. You can generally expect qualified judges and a stage. You can expect to see vendor tables where you can do some shopping , a practice area and somewhere to sit. There’s a sound system for the music and nowadays there is an expectation of a live stream, or at least high quality video is posted to youtube afterward. There are prizes, often a raffle. A good contest usually has access to food and drink as well. You also might notice the banner with the sponsor’s logos on it. Generally this is all put together a handful of people, headed up by a single person.

The Columbia Theatre hosted the 2016 Canadian Nationals.

So what are the key steps needed to pull a contest together?
1. Venue. First step is finding a venue. This is varying degrees of difficult based on the date you choose. It's best to try to give your attendees at least 2-3 months notice to make any travel accessories. For this contest I usually use an elementary school gymnasium. Because I am a teacher I can generally get a really good rate at my schoool, around $500 for the day. That usually includes the sound system, tables and chairs. I have to add on event insurance though, which is another $125. Often some local parents will volunteer to go to Costco and provide a snack table and charge enough to recover costs.
Total $625

2. Judges – This is always the 2nd thing I look for. There is no point in going any farther if there are no judges available. I can usually scrabble together enough people from the local community to judge smaller contests, although its usually a case of some of the 1a players judge the open division and junior division. I always try to pay judges at least something, since it’s a pretty boring way to spend your day when you could be yoyoing. Another element is having a volunteer to run the judges table and process the scores they generate into final scores.. I luckily have a parent of a local yoyo champ that is heavily involved and handles this.
So tack on a minimum of $50 per judge, usually for around 4 people minimum.
$200

Chris Mikulin at the judges table at Western Canadian Regionals 2013

3. Sponsors – With a smaller contest most of the time the best you can get from sponsors is product donations. Occasionally one or two will add a bit of cash, but for the most part they provide the prizes and raffle prizes. They don’t give away something for nothing either, there is an expectation that they are getting advertising, so someone (usually me) has to put the time into facebook, Instagram, reddit and anywhere else to give them public thank you announcements. There is a cost here, generally aroud $150 for the stage banner.
$150 Plus time.

4. Trophies/medals. – For smaller contests I usually go with certificates that I can print at home due to the high cost/low return of a small contest. This gives me the freedom to make up some awards as well (funniest yoyo trick, future professional dog walker, etc)

5. Sounds/video – For a smaller contest this is usually a pair of volunteer jobs. Someone to run a laptop that the players music is loaded into (usually in the morning the day of the event). I have a decent video camera and usually can get a volunteer to run it. Then I have to put the hours in at home to edit and upload the videos with the sponsors logos at the beginning. I usually am able to give the volunteers something from the sponsor donations as a thank you
Cost: A lot of time and sponsor donated products.

2016 Canadian Nationals 1a winners

I can speak to contests up to the size of a small national contest. I’ve run BC provincials, Western Canadian Regionals and Canadian Nationals. To some degree the work involved is the same, just in gradually increasing scale.


BC provincials
I usually treat this as a fun, small contest with the intent of providing a venue for competitiors to hone their stage skills, but mostly as a place for newer yoyoers to have fun and come together to play with yoyo. I organize a couple standard divisions (1a junior, 1a pro, open/X division). Scattered in there are various mini contests (sleeper, rock the baby showdown, walk the dog race). 

Chris Mikulin at the judges table at Western Canadian Regionals 2013

Beyond that most of what is needed is volunteers – an MC, registration desk, raffle ticket sales, setup crew. It’s a big job to put together even a small contest. My hard costs for a small contest are usually just under $1000CAD. It’s a stretch to get that back between limited sponsor cash, raffle and registration fees. Sometimes I do, sometimes I just have to cover the additional costs myself. The upside to running a store at the event is that my table profits are usually at least close to enough to cover the difference

Here is a sample breakdown for Western Canadian Regionals and Canadian Nationals.
For the most part I treat these two the same. I’m usually either running one or the other as Canadian Natinoals alternates east coast/west coast. So When I’m not running nationals, WCR serves as a replacement west coast contest for those that can’t travel.
As far as the main tasks go they are usually close to the same, with scaled up costs. A larger/nicer venue is needed, everything else costs a little more. 

1. Venue – Cost varies from 1000-2000 for the venue rental. Best nationals I’ve held cost 1600 plus 150 for the venue rental. It had the benefit of a kitchen staff so food and drink were included. It also required a lot more setup/teardown but players are usually willing to show up early and help with that.
2. Judges – You can’t run a larger contest just with local volunteers so I usually have to call out for people with more experience. This year I was luckey enough to get some volunteers from the USA to drive up for the contest. They were kind enough to do the job for $50 each and a place to stay. Total cost was $250

3. For a national contest we are usually able to get more cash sponsorship, sometimes up to a total of $1000. The banner cost goes up as you need a bigger one for a bigger stage, so usually around $200 for that. 

4. Trophies – for nationals a good quality trophy is required. 2016’s organizer was able to get something cool from a sponsor, 2017 I spent about $250 for all the divisions to get a 1st place trophy and 2nd and 3rd place medals for each event.
5. MC – for a bigger contest I budget at least $100 for this.
6. Sound and video – I’ve been lucky enough to get a volunteer for this.
All in Canadian Nationals can be run from $2000-$2500

Canada is small beans in the yoyo world. Our community is limited by geography and access to yoyos (The word yoyo is trademarked). Step outside and things get bigger. A few years ago the Vancouver group considered putting in a bid to host worlds’. We ended up deciding it wasn’t feasible due to cost. Getting a large enough venue and covering all of the associated costs was going to end up requiring somewhere between $100 000 and $140 000. No one around here had the cash for that, and we didn’t feel confident we would be able to recoup the costs.

I don't know what costs are for contests outside of Canada, but they probably vary based on size and location. If you life in a major city, venue costs will be likely be a lot higher than a small town.

Steve Brown recently replied to a question on Facebook regarding contest costs by providing a per minute cost breakdown of a couple contests he runs which maker for interesting reading.
I've quoted them below.

“It varies wildly from one event to the next. Worlds 2016 cost roughly $2800/hour to run, which is about $47/minute. Considering that a player who is doing a 1-minute freestyle takes up about 3+ minutes of contest time, then consider that they are getting like a 65% discount. ;) And that's assuming that you are not charging for the administrative time leading up to the event.”

“For contrast, Ohio States cost about $183/hour to run last year, not including administrative time before the event. Adding admin time would probably bump that to about $300/hour.”

For a 6 hour Canadian Nationals that works out to about $400 per hour or around $6.50 per hour.
Food for thought for sure. I think I’ll leave the massive contests to the people who have the knowledge and skill set to organize something that large, but I’m content to keep running our small Canadian events. More than anything what makes it possible is the huge amount of local support I have from parents and yoyoers alike. When I am putting on an event all I have to do is post “I need someone to do _______ at the contest” and I always get a volunteer. Yoyo is not a major sport. I don’t see it ever becoming a major sport. Volunteers will always be what makes our happy little corner of nerdsville run. 

If you have made it through this article, feel free to join in the comments. I’d love to hear either your experiences running a contest, or a shout out for volunteers that have made your corner of the yoyo world a better place!