Where Do My Tournament Fees Actually Go?
A question was recently posted on Twitter that caught my attention: Approximately what percentage of the entry fee goes to the host site in USTA junior tournaments? It’s a question I’ve been pondering for quite some time, especially since all this talk started about cutting draws at tournaments and the impact that would have on Tournament Directors and local communities. So, I contacted my local and sectional USTA junior tennis staff members as well as some tournament directors who run local, sectional, and national events and asked them to answer a few questions for me. Here’s what I found out . . .
1. For sanctioned tournaments, how much does the tournament director pay to USTA for sanctioning fees? Do those same fees apply to non-sanctioned events?
These fees vary by section and by district. In order to host a Georgia-sanctioned tournament, there is a $35.00 sanctioning fee per event plus a head tax of $.50 per player. For National Level 1 events, the fee is $100 per age group. For National Level 2 and Level 3 events, the fee is $100 per tournament. For Southern Sectional events, the fee is $35 (plus Active fees).
For a non-sanctioned tournament in Georgia, the fee is $100 per age group plus the head tax which varies based on the level of tournament.
2. Who pays for officials? Is it the Tournament Director? If so, is there a set daily fee?
The tournament pays for everything, though at some of the bigger events, USTA may contribute toward the costs of running the tournament. And USTA mandates the required number of officials based on the level of the tournament. Every community is different with regard to umpire fees. Some do a flat rate, some a per hour rate, some a mixture of both. The rates vary as well, anywhere from $12/hour on up. Tournaments are also responsible for hotel rooms and travel expenses, and sometimes meals for the officials, again depending on locale. Nothing is standard. There are no volunteer officials. They are all paid. It is important to note that the Tournament Director may not also be the Tournament Referee.
3. Who pays for tournament gifts (t-shirts, towels, water bottles, etc)?
The tournament pays for everything.
4. Who pays for trophies or other awards?
Typically, the tournament pays for everything. However, at certain larger events, like our own Southern Closed, USTA may provide the awards and player gifts.
5. Who pays for court fees? Balls?
The tournament pays for everything. Court costs are dependent on location. What’s interesting to note here is that, while the cost of balls has gone up in recent years, sanctioning fees and tournament entry fees have basically stayed stagnant, cutting into the profit margin.
6. Does the tournament director have a say over how many days an event can last? Does he/she have a say over draw size? Does he/she have a say over whether the tourney includes both singles and doubles?
Most events fall into categories or levels and those levels or categories determine pretty much everything from draw size to length of play.
State, Sectional, and National events have specific regulations for specific events, so it’s pretty much cookie-cutter. All events of the same designations (e.g. a National Open, or Southern Bullfrog, or GA Level 3) should all be the same, unless the individual sanctioning authority makes an exception.
In Georgia, Level 4 events have some choices since there has to be room for “regular” tournaments. It’s up to the tournament to determine which age group events they want to hold, if they have doubles or not, the court surface, whether or not to provide certain amenities, etc.
The sanction period is still determined by USTA Georgia. The length of the tournament, the number of events, and the courts available are all considerations in setting the draw size. The USTA Georgia Sanction and Schedule Committee has to approve the details, including draw size.
In recent years, USTA Georgia has been disincentivizing tournament directors from offering doubles by charging an additional head tax on each doubles team plus mandating that trophies are provided for first and second place finishers in each age group, thereby increasing expenses and reducing net profit for the tournament directors. The additional tournament fee of $3.00 for doubles goes directly to TennisLink as opposed to the tournament itself.
7. Is there an additional fee for having a tourney listed on TennisLink?
No. That’s part of being a USTA sanctioned event. (I’m not sure about Unsanctioned events, but I assume the only reason to have one listed is to take advantage of the entry system.)
8. Does the $3.00 TennisLink fee go to USTA or TennisLink or the tourney director or someone else?
TennisLink is administered by Active.com under contract with USTA. The fee is retained by Active.com for their services and is therefore non-refundable.
USTA sets minimum and maximum tournament fees that can be charged. It also specifies how many trophies are to be awarded in each age group. In order to host a tournament, the tournament director must be part of a USTA member club or organization.
If there’s a day or two of bad weather, that can drastically cut into the tournament’s profit. Officials are expected to stay on duty during rain delays, increasing the overall expense in that column of the balance sheet. If bad weather persists, sometimes the director decides to move the matches indoors, increasing court costs for the event, too.
Some tournament directors rely on volunteers to staff the tournament desk and to perform other duties over the course of the event. Others, though, prefer to hire paid staff, again increasing expenses and decreasing their profitability.
The key, it seems, to running a profitable tournament is finding some sort of sponsor to help offset the costs outlined above. We recently went to a Southern Level 3 tournament in South Carolina sponsored by Dunlop. Not only were the players treated to a really nice long-sleeved tournament t-shirt, but they were also each given a reel (not just a packet!) of string. In addition, the tournament provided complimentary lunch for the players at each tournament site both days of the event.
I was hoping to be able to give you a hard-numbers breakdown, but there are so many variables in terms of related expenses that it’s really impossible to do that. The bottom line is that very little money goes to USTA from junior tournaments. The vast majority of the revenue goes directly into the tournament’s bank account with all related expenses coming out of that same account. While some of the larger national events turn a sizable profit for the tournament director, most local and sectional tournaments wind up being a very small source of income for those running them. Some directors have figured out ways to reduce costs, such as ordering t-shirts in bulk for the entire year and doing the same with trophies. While a great cost-cutting measure, having the same shirt or same trophy at every tournament can eliminate the unique personality that many tournaments (like the old Bowls) try to develop. Ultimately, though, a tournament’s success is gauged NOT by its profit or loss but rather by the satisfaction of the players and their families and their willingness to return year after year.