22 Jun 2010

So you think you can organise a tournament? - Part One

The BJJ and grappling scene is growing fast in the UK with, it seems, almost one or more tournaments being held every month. But what do the organisers get out of running such events? Do they make any money and how hard can it be to drag a few people onto the mats to let them rip arms off in the name of jiu-jitsu?
In a three-part feature, I talk to several organisers and ask them why they do it, how they do it and what do they get out of it? For Part One, I talk to Steve Fan, organiser of the BJJ British Open in Birmingham.

The BJJ British Open
Steve Fan is a purple belt under Braulio Estima. He is the principle organiser for the BJJ British Open gi and no-gi tournaments:

Meerkatsu: Tell me about your tournaments?

Steve Fan: We run the BJJ British Open & No Gi British Open which is arguably the largest event of its kind in Britain with 670 entries (BJJ) & 370 (No Gi). Last year, 2009, was the inaugural year for both events and since then, in 2010, we ran another gi event and there is a No Gi event planned for this September.

Meerkatsu: Why do you organise these tournaments and what do you gain out of it?

Steve Fan: That's a bloody good question! ;) To be honest I got roped into it (big time) by my good friend (& instructor, Braulio). If you ever get involved with him, nothing is simple! ;)
I was asked in the beginning to just make a few emails/ enquiries and before I knew it, I ended up doing 95% of it including the website, marketing, query handling, liaising with academies, and independents, doing the brackets, sorting out venue, time schedule etc etc...

Seriously though, I do it mainly because Braulio is my friend - I am humbled and honoured that he has total trust in me and sees me as an equal partner in this. We both want to put Gracie Barra Birmingham (Braulio's academy) on the map.
A big part of my decision is to support the BJJ and UK grappling scene in the Britain, raise the standards (inc organisation and level of competitors) for others to follow and put Britain on the map. Tournaments like ours help to grow the BJJ scene and reach a wider and newer audience. They bring together the BJJ community/academies for the good of all.
We want to start to challenge the Europeans IBJJF event in the future and, other than the Gracie Invitational, there was no overall big 'British' event - although there are some very good regional events eg Kent (now English) BJJ Open, etc but nothing central in the UK and on our scale

Meerkatsu: What are the hardest aspects to running an event?

Steve Fan: I've worked in business management, marketing, event management etc for the past 20 years. I also have an MBA so all that experience helps and I see events as 'project management'. But here are some of the harder aspects to running a tournament:

  1. Communication & culture. What I mean by this is that we are dealing with Brazilians (as you know!!!!), who have a very different approach to decision making, communication, urgency, prioritising etc. Working with one of the busiest BJJ personalities in the world and organising a comp is difficult. During our first comp, Braulio was competing at the Mundials, ADCC, seminars around the world etc etc
  2. Getting people who have never worked previously in a 'team' or business working environment to work together and getting rid of egos.
  3. Finding a suitable venue within a budget and on a date that does not clash with any other event.
  4. Getting everyone's entries in before the deadline, especially the Big Boy academies (who expect a favour and hand a list of 30 names the night before the comp!)
  5. Putting the brackets together to avoid academy clashes
  6. Ensuring you have every bracket, division covered without upsetting anyone
  7. Deciding on what the schedule should be without upsetting anyone
  8. Telling Roger Gracie when he phones you the night before....'NO, Roger, sorry, but your guys are too late to make changes! ;)
Meerkatsu: What do you think are the most important considerations when running a comp?

Steve Fan: CHOOSE YOUR TEAM WELL! You need to have trust among the people you work with and they need to knowing and understand where they fit in with their role. Be organised. Plan ahead. Know the individuals and influencers. Have an objective(s). Most of all ENJOY yourselves to help the scene grow positively.

Meerkatsu: How much does it cost you roughly?

Steve Fan: Thousands! The big expenses are venue hire, medals, t-shirts, insurance, paramedic attendance, referee fees, barriers and web development. I don't personally charge for any element of my time - my total time from start to finish (excluding working on the actual day) is about 120 hours from day one to post event. We also save a bit by using volunteers and our own mats.

Meerkatsu: Jeez! that sounds really expensive, do you make any money out of it?

Steve Fan: Well that's Braulio's area, he's the one taking the financial risk on this but at a guess, I would say we made a small profit on each event. But neither Braulio nor me do it for the financial gain. He doesn't need the money or publicity and his time could easily be focused elsewhere. And for myself, as you know, I've better things to worry about, but I enjoy it and it focuses me.

Meerkatsu: What makes your event in particular a good one to take part in?

Steve Fan: It's debatable who you ask, what level of competition they are used to and who they compare us to. But by and large I see our good points as:

  1. We're not in it for ourselves but for the BJJ community
  2. We strive to improve every competition and listen to the punters
  3. We like to think we're organised and well planned
  4. We offer good value for money
  5. There is a very good level of competitors (700 or more!)
  6. Good medals, t shirts
  7. Good , central location
  8. The best mats and eight fight areas, all being used.
  9. We run on time
  10. We give as much information up front as possible
  11. We publish the results within 24 hours of event finish!
  12. We view ourselves as one of the 'must be at' events on the fight calendar 
  13. Great fun and a great MC! (Neil Simkin's hilarious PA announcements)
  14. Presented by Braulio Estima! (....mmmmm not sure, if its a good or bad thing ;) )
Meerkatsu: How do you see the event developing in the next few years?

Steve Fan: With the British Open, we wanted to create a brand almost and set the standard. We had a specific message to raise standards and be bigger and better than anything before. I think many competitions these days are set up for the sake of setting up without great thought. But, I think like anything, people jump on the band wagon in a growing market. Within the next couple of years it will reach saturation point, whereby only the best organised and established competitions will survive, especially as competitors only have limited budget/ time to compete.

Meerkatsu: How do you deal with criticisms?

Steve Fan: As you know (from reading EFN), expect to have critics before and after the event. There are plenty of arm chair experts! I think you have to keep level headed and keep your objectives in mind. I tend to take note of good constructive comments for improvement. You need to have broad shoulders! 

At the last show, we were very strict in accordance to IBJJF rules, to raise standards. We upset a lot of people who were dq'd on the day. We stuck to our guns and believe it was worth it. I think the UK competitor is use to competing under more relaxed conditions. You will note, most of those who complain are those who've never been to the Europeans or Mundials. I believe this has raised the standard in the UK for others to follow.

Meerkatsu: How do you see the comp scene developing in the next few years?

Steve Fan:I think in future, there will be greater and closer co operation between the larger academies and the organisers. Last time round, every major UK academy helped the process by giving team lists, again I think, only the more established competitions will have the muscle to influence these academies.

Meerkatsu: Thanks Steve, your comp is definitely one of my 'must do' events each time.

Steve Fan: Thanks Seymour, see you soon.

Coming in Part Two - The Hereford Open. 


About the Author


Author & Artist

Meerkatsu is the artist name for BJJ black belt Seymour Yang.


Unknown said...

Great work!
Really enjoyed reading this interview.

Meerkatsu said...

Thanks Bassam! Part two tomorrow with any luck!


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