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Thursday, May 26, 2011

Triumph, Trials and Tribulations as Organizers

Organizing an event is not a simple task no matter what the level of the event maybe - be it a local event, club event, state event or even an international event. The challenges, demands and preparations faced by organizers for each level are somewhat similar but, the importance of each obstacle is heightened depending on the level of the event. Obviously, organizing an event of International level requires a more thorough and detailed approached whereas managing and preparing a local or club event allows room for a more relaxed environment.

Like in most other things in life, money plays a very important role hence, the first issue faced by most organizers - myself included, is finding or obtaining substantial funding to underwrite an event.

In most cases, events are organized where the funds are sponsored by companies or individuals. In most cases, a single donor would be enough to cover the expenses but in some, more than one donor is required to underwrite the costing of an event. A small weekend event can easily cost between RM 2,000 and RM 3,000 to run. The higher level the event is, the higher the costing would be, running up to hundred thousands of ringgit. This funding is used to cover the cost for providing prize fund, officials fees, rating fees, stationary charges including hall rental, equipments and the likes.

For a weekend event, the bulk of the costing goes to the prize fund but for running an international event, the main culprit would be preparing the venue and accommodation. Obviously, for international events, the place has to be comfortable preferably in hotels where the players' accommodation can also be catered for. If the sponsors are well established, the hotels also need to be of a certain level and not some 2 star hotel somewhere where the "genie goes kicking"

Looking at Malaysian Open and KLCA Open this year, the total prize fund given out by these two events is between RM40k and RM50k. But, if we look at the venue, a hotel ballroom can cost anything between RM7k to RM 15k per full day. Running a 5 day event with RM7k per day for the ballroom would easily chalked up RM 35k costing for the venue alone. As the event goes bigger and bigger (and more important), a bigger and better venue would be required and this will also add more cost for the organizer to think about. Ergo, whilst the big chunk of the costing goes to the prize fund, an almost bigger fund is required for the venue. And this cost is elevated as rooms/accommodations for selected players and officials need to be catered for - again, a few more thousands added.

Costing for officials and equipments are usually "negotiable" and rather reasonable. In a weekend event, an arbiter can be paid anywhere between RM100 and RM300 per day, depending on the size and importance of the event, and the arbiter's competency. And there are also organizers who double up as arbiters for their own event as such, the arbiter fees is somewhat absorbed. There are also "voluntary" arbiters - interested individuals who happen to be there (and wanting to gain experience) and I am sure, there are also individuals who are "forced" to become arbiters as part of their duties or responsibilities.

If we look at a full international events like Olympiad or other world level events, the Arbiters can receive a handsome remuneration including board and lodging taken care of by the organizers. Whatever it is, the costing for these officials are included in the entire budget and depending on the level or importance of the event, the cost of arbiters increase accordingly as the importance of the event increases as well.

Aside from the arbiters, the bigger the event is, the more "warm bodies" are required to help run the event i.e. runners, bulletin editors, secretariats, securities and dispatchers. With these added people, the organizer would need additional budgets to provide the "salary" for these additional assistants. Again, there will be some "voluntary" helpers that are more than willing to help but taking advantage of "free hands" generally should be avoided.

In some cases, organizers rely on the collection of entry fees to pay out the prize money and cover the running expenses of organizing an event. In the US. one of the method used was to provide a clause where a certain percentage of the entry fees collected goes back to fund the prize money, and the balance to be retained by the organizers as running cost. This method is not so popular here in Malaysia as most players would like to see a guaranteed prize money rather than a "what-might-be-prize-money". There were attempts to promote such events but most of the time, the response from the crowd has been very cold if not frozen!

Having sponsors mean that organizer has one less headache to think of i.e. how to manage the funding. Once an organizer has a solid backing from an organization (or someone) to make sure that the finance part is taken care of, then the other costing (if any) can be taken care of by the entry fee collected. In most cases, the profit and loss can come to about even with a bit more advantage on the plus side. But, these so called "profit" needs to be managed well for rainy days because as organizer move forward to create other events, there will be situation where no sponsors will come forward to provide any financial backing and the organizer is left at its own resources (and ingenuity) to manage the costing of the event.

But, as an event becomes more popular and regular, it can become a self supporting event able to finance itself. Again, the importance of the event, the level and the attraction (for players to have a reason to play in the event) plays a very important role in ensuring a successful event with minimal external financial support. As the event becomes more popular, it would only take minimal time before companies may start to take interest in the event and eventually becoming its sponsors.

I was told that the World Open held annually in Philadelphia can turn in huge profits based only on the number of entries that it received in every edition, but during the first few years of the event, the organizer was running the event at a loss. But, as the event continues year on, it become more popular as more and more players take part in the event. The event became known world over and attract chess players from all corners of the globe to participate in the event, and eventually attracting some sponsors as well.

Relating to my experience, whilst it may not be the World Open, all the events that I did was purely relying entry fees received from the players and participants. My first 2 events - the Renegade and Maverick, had impressive turnout and I did manage to get some profit out of it but the Warrior weekend was a letdown and it ran at a loss. I am not sure what the turn out will be for future events but I am hoping for the best.

Looking back at the previous events, Renegade success can be attributed to the fact that it was organized early in the year and Maverick was 2 weeks before the National Closed - there are some elements of "hunger" for players to take part in these events. On the other hand, the Warrior event was held during school exams week and in view of the coming MSSM, there were also a few selection events for the schools running during the same weekend. There were also weekend events ran 2 or 3 weekends prior to Warrior i.e. Ampang Chessmaster including events held in Perlis, Terengganu and also the Selangor Open hence, there could also be an element of "burnout" from the players - they just had too much chess to deal with. Anyway, events will go on and in view of the coming Puasa month and Raya celebration, the next weekend event should be sometime in September and I am hoping for more players to come and play - after all the celebration that all of us have had.

Organizing events has its ups and downs and there are plenty of rooms for improvement that can be learned from it. In most cases, players and parents continue to show their support despite some unfavorable incidences that may occur from time to time in the events. It is understandable that organizers - me included, are prone to make mistakes but, the most important thing is how we learn and move forward to improve the situation and not repeat the same mistake again. But, this is not a task for me alone because I do believe that both organizer and players, spectators, supporters and parents need to work together to improve the tournament condition in our country.

A friend of mind once said "I respect the players but I respect the organizers more because without the organizers, there would be no event for chess players to play in, and when there is no event, there is no rating and no title."