*as best as you can, anyway.
So you’re planning your big tournament, got lots of people flying in, all set to go. Yeah baby. Love that Ultimate.
Then the fear sets in.
“What if it rains?”
"The forecast is looking pretty bleak."
"Brisbane had lots of localised flooding yesterday!"
“What if the people hiring us the fields decide to shut the fields?”
“Oh craaaaaaaaap!” "Armaggedon!" "We're doooomed I tell you, dooooooomed!!!"
So, some thoughts based on our experience at running Nationals 2003 in Canberra, attending Worlds 2004 in Finland, talking to the folks who organised Nationals 2008 at Coffs (all major tournaments that dealt with heavy rain in the lead up and first day of the tournament), and reflecting on some years of dealing with field hirers.
Well, first things first. Sometimes it hits and it’s the shits. I mean, you can’t be responsible for an Act of God. God’s responsible for that (that's why they capitalise the Act bit), or the randomness of a chaotic and soulless universe, if you prefer it that way. (We here at the stately Brisbane Ultimate Blog mansion usually just stick to the occasional sacrifice to the Spirit Goddess in our pagan ritual temple out back).
So yep, if the field is flooded then ITS OFF and all you can do is nominate a decent sized pub and tell everyone that’s all you can do (although you might ring a few pubs and explain the circumstances and see if you can arrange to bring your own lunch in (or outside) in exchange for your patronage). You can also make suggestions of good things for tourists to do while visiting your town.
But what with the wonders of modern weather-forecasting, you generally know a few days or up to a week in advance if it is forecast for rain before or during your tournament. (if you haven’t been looking, just wait until those emails from players who do keep an eye on the weather forecast to start coming in … they’ll be shrill!)
So tip one – make sure your field hirers are aware of the nature of your event. – a one-off weekend EVENT with LOTS of people FLYING in (and quite possibly a national championship of some importance).
Most field owners primarily use their field for week-in, week-out sport. If you own a soccer field and you usually have soccer every weekend, then its often not such a big deal for you to shut your fields (I mean, it is for that week, but a week later its forgotten). Its an inconvenience, but generally worth it to keep the fields in good condition. So they’ve got a general approach of closing their fields. (Tangent – this is why I’m surprised when Ultimate players over-stress their League fields being shut occasionally. Yes, some field owners will shut fields to lower priority sports like Ultimate and prioritise their own sports, but that’s the way field ownership is. And – I mean, for Ultimate as for other users, its preserving the field you’ll be using the following week. Wouldn’t you rather play on good fields?)
This is a different mindset to people who run on-off-events. Talk to someone at the convention centre or the Winter Olympics and they’ll be completely in the headspace of ‘the show must go on!’ no matter what (although if necessary you change a few things, but I’ll come to that).
Ultimate tournaments aren’t quite that important of course, but make sure the uniqueness of the event, and the impact of closing the fields is clear in your field hirer’s mind.
Preferably give them this information far enough out that it’s relevant when they’re thinking about a decision (not after they’ve made it – because changing a decision is something people don’t like doing), but not so far out that they’ve forgotten it by the time it comes for them to make the decision.
The most powerful piece of information that you can give the field owner is just how many people are flying in for the tournament, and from where. If you’ve got 30 people coming from NZ, 30 people from Sydney, 30 people from Melbourne, 15 people from Adelaide, etc etc flying in specifically to play a big tournament, then it’s a very big call for a field hirer to shut the fields. Maybe you can even quantify the costs. "All together people have spent $50,000 on flights to get here!" (200 people at $250 return)
Its often thought that its an option to ‘just find some other fields’. This is challenging because a) if one venue has shut their fields due to rain, most other venues in the region will be in the same state of sogginess and b) you probably had enough trouble finding a suitable venue in the first place, so finding a replacement that’s half as good at short notice could be really difficult. That said, if you’ve got good relationships with your usual field providers, it can be worth some quick cries for help. Often still this is a big challenge in terms of redoing a draw to suit a smaller number of fields, on the other side of town.
But if there’s obviously a wet weather problem with the fields, but you’ve convinced the owners that you have hundreds of people committed to flying in to play, then you need to consider some changes to the event, and start working cooperatively with the owners to get your tournament happening.
Have you already paid a deposit for the field hire?
This gives you a bit more leverage than if you haven’t. They’ve accepted a greater commitment from both parties.
Can you rejig your draw (or have two draws ready to use, depending on the final weather pattern) to use some fields and not others?
Many field providers have at least a mental hierarchy of their fields. Maybe you can stay off their best field(s) until they dry out a bit more (or not use them at all). Maybe you can also change your field layout plans, and fit an extra smaller field or two in the rougher field space to help you minimise byes etc. (Don’t forget to mention you’d expect a cheaper rate, although you don’t have to sort that straight away).
While it is hard to find a whole new venue, maybe you can find another field nearby that can fit one or two Ultimate fields on it, and use them to offset not using the best fields at the main venue.
Has the venue got lights?
If its been raining during the week but it stops for the weekend, you can move play back 2-3 hours to get things dried out – eg don’t start play until midday Saturday, and play through to 9pm. Try to suggest that you’re doing them a favour in helping to preserve the fields, so maybe they shouldn’t charge you too much for lights.
If the field owner is being very reticent, another option is to agree to no play on Day 1, but a commitment to full (or longer) play on Day 2 (in any conditions should of catastrophic). Maybe they’ll agree to the gamble – some people assess risk very badly.
Let them know you can provide manpower in the form of your local teams if they have any tools and techniques for drying fields out., or getting the covers on.
Leaving the field hire issue, also if you’re a TD and you’re looking at a rainy weekend:
- invite locals to bring tarps, tents, rope etc – whatever you’ve probably arranged for shade isn’t quite enough for rain;
- rain will annihilate temporary line markings, so be ready to forget about that (save yourself the money and effort if you can) and roll out the portafields. You’ve got cones anyway;
- go and buy a few hundred big garbage bags, and give them out to Capatains/ teams/ players / spectators. Plastic bags keep your stuff dry, and are also useful for shoving your wet gear into. And you can wear them;
- bring a hose, mops and buckets, to deal with all the wet grass that’s going to get dragged around Frisbee central, the toilets, and so forth;
- Ditch the iceblocks, but see if you can get a big pot of soup on the go - get a bunch of cans of soup, thin out with water, polystyrene cups and a ladle, and get on your BBQ. Your wet players will love you.