Tournament Fees: What Makes Dollars and Sense?

How to anger-proof a tournament in trying times.

Josh Woods ~

Cover art with discs

Cell phone activation fees. Baggage fees. Hotel internet fees. Cancellation fees.

No one likes fees. People especially dislike hidden fees, additional fees and any charge that seems shady or unreasonable. Still, fees are everywhere. Including in disc golf.

As one example, players without PDGA memberships must pay a “$10 additional fee” to register for a PDGA-sanctioned tournament. Although there are logical reasons for this charge, not everyone is a fan.

Fees and other charges can generate problems when disc golfers disagree about whether, or how much, organizers should profit from running tournaments. If players feel like they’re being nickel and dimed, it doesn’t matter whether they are or aren’t. One whiff of a sneaky fee and some players assume they are being overcharged for everything.

Of course, there are alternatives to fees. Dropping them altogether is an obvious choice. Additional fees can also be built into the retail price of things.

But another idea is to reframe “fees” as “discounts.” For instance, instead of charging the PDGA’s non-membership fee, organizers could increase everyone’s registration cost by $10 and offer a $10 discount to PDGA members. Doing so might lessen the angst of some disc golfers, and the PDGA would still get its ten bucks from non-members.

Revision of 10 fee on dg scene

No Pain, No Pain

Reframing fees as discounts is a common business practice. And studies show that it can increase customer satisfaction (1). As the theory of loss aversion suggests, people perceive losses and gains differently. In fact, people dislike losses almost twice as much as they enjoy gains (2)(3).

When charging disc golfers for goods and services, tournament directors (TDs) should think carefully about how players perceive the costs and benefits of tournaments, knowing that many will feel more harmed by certain costs than helped by benefits.

In friendly, well-established disc golf communities, loss aversion is a nonissue. No one is worried about being nickel and dimed at a popular tournament organized by a beloved TD and staff. But in less serene communities, small concerns about upcharges can spark complaints that snowball into recurrent conflicts—game of thrones anyone?

Game of thrones anyone

Let’s consider a few potentially controversial tournament fees and think of ways to maximize happiness in House Disc Golf.

Please Preregister … Please!

Online tournament registration platforms like Disc Golf Scene have made it easier to organize events. Some tournament directors are now thinking about charging fees to encourage everyone to preregister online and discourage day-of registrations.

Initiating a fee may trigger people’s loss aversion and motivate almost everyone to preregister. That’s a good thing, right? Yes, but the fee may also generate discontent, feed into negative social media chatter and diminish attendance at future events.

Reframing the fee as a discount may soothe the beasts. But then, without the full burn of a “fee,” players may be less motivated to preregister.

So, which option is best?

To make the right decision, TDs need to understand the relative demand for tournaments in their area, as well as the level of social cohesion in their disc golf community. If demand is high and morale is good, TDs can probably charge the fee, if they really want to. Doing so will likely maximize compliance without much guff.

However, if demand is low and there’s tension in the air, TDs should consider reframing the fee as a discount, and avoid poking the dragons.

Dont poke the dragons

To Player Pack or Not to Player Pack?

Disc golfers have been debating the player package question for years. Some people like them and others … not so much.

If TDs take the idea of loss aversion seriously, they might reasonably assume that player packs, despite the naysayers, are always a good idea. By giving all competitors a disc and a towel (or whatever), everyone wins. No one goes home empty handed. Loss aversion has been averted for all.

Unfortunately, perceived loss may linger, because some disc golfers see an undesirable disc in a player pack as a fee, a forced transaction, an unwanted retail purchase that inflates the cost of registration and decreases payouts.

There is a solution, however. To assure that neither side experiences dissatisfaction, organizers could allow the naysayers to opt out of the player pack and receive an equivalent discount on their registrations.

It’s perfect! Well … almost perfect. There’s still a loser: the TD. If most players opt out, the TD may lose revenue if there’s a decline in registration fees.

Ultimately, the best choice depends on the situation. When tournaments are filling up fast and life is good, the size and contents of player packs probably don’t matter much. Yet, in places where gripes rein and enthusiasm for disc golf sputters, a player pack dud could lead to annoying gossip, if not a red wedding.

Red wedding

Wait … How Much Was that Hot Dog?

The same theory should inform the mandatory charge for food at tournaments. On one hand, it makes perfect sense for organizers to buy in bulk, feed the troops and add the cost to everyone’s registration fee. Even when TDs make a buck or two on the sale of lunches, the charge is usually lower than what people pay when they travel to local restaurants.

Still, there are always a few people who read the phrase “lunch will be provided” as “you are charging me for a hot dog I don’t want and profiting from it.”

When everything is butterflies and rainbows in the local disc golf scene, the gripes of a few picky eaters will have no effect on a tournament’s overall good vibe. But if winter is coming and chronic complainers are afoot, beware of the overpriced hot dog.

Let the Hounds have their chicken.Let the Hounds have their chicken

No Easy Answer

From the beginning, disc golf land has been filled with volunteers who generously donate their time and money to maintaining courses and organizing tournaments. As a result, many players have come to expect tournament directors to do their jobs for little or no pay.

Such a culture creates challenges for organizers who wish to profit from their work. Whenever the price of a tournament seems high and the payouts seem low, the grumbling begins. In cooperative disc golf communities, applause and gratitude drown out complaints.

But, in communities that lack cohesion, certain charges can produce disproportionate negative reactions and reduce participation over time. For anyone running tournaments in Westeros, it may be wise to reframe fees as discounts and calm the wildlings with optional player packs and a lunch of their choice.

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Parked is underwritten in part by a grant from the Professional Disc Golf Association.

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References

(1) Irwin P. Levin, Sandra L. Schneider, and Gary J. Gaeth (1998). All frames are not created equal: A typology and critical analysis of framing effects. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 76(2): 149-188.

(2) Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky (1979). Prospect Theory: An Analysis of Decision under Risk. Econometrica, 47(2): 263-91.

(3) Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky (1992). Advances in Prospect Theory: Cumulative Representation of Uncertainty. Journal of Risk and Uncertainty. 5 (4): 297–323.

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