By T. Wayne Waters
Christine Hames had a big smile on her face the last weekend of January 2014. Hames, director of the Knoxville, Tennessee-based K2 Volleyball Club, was at the Sevierville Convention Center overseeing the K2 Elite Invitational Tournament her club was hosting and things were going smoothly. An energetic buzz of athletic exertion, cheers, good-natured exhortations, and conversation filled the air of the exhibit hall turned volleyball facility.
Middle school- and high school-aged girls making up 132 teams from around the South had come to East Tennessee for the event, the fourth to be held at the Sevierville facility, which is attached to the 240-room Wilderness at the Smokies Stone Hill Lodge and located across the street from the kid-friendly resort best known for its waterparks.
“If you’re staying on site then you’re just walking through the covered passageway to get here,” said Hames. “You don’t even need to go outside. It’s a great facility and a great location.”
The K2 volleyball action took place on the 108,000 square feet of the two exhibit halls in the nearly 200,000-square-foot Sevierville Convention Center. Spirited competition played out on 21courts set up in the large space, all used simultaneously throughout the two-day event.
K2’s second event of the year, the K2 Wilderness at the Smokies Tournament, drew more than 230 teams, bringing in as many as 10,000 total participants and spectators. K2’s Summer Blast event will take place May 10-11.
Hames played volleyball for about 20 years, most of it at an elite level in her homeland of Australia, and spent nearly that much time coaching the sport. But she had never organized a tournament event until four years ago when Wilderness of the Smokies approached her about doing just that at what was then known as the Sevierville Events Center. Hames has since hosted four annual K2 Elite Invitational Tournaments at the resort-area location, and the sports club now holds two additional annual events there. Along the way, she learned a few things about hosting tournaments and offered some general advice for others planning an event.
Be Prepared: We want it to be a great experience for the teams and be really well organized. It takes a lot of planning. We started planning that first event six months out and continue to work with a similar time period. Think of all the little things that can go wrong because chances are that they may. Make sure you’re prepared.
Ask for help: A lot of times people are willing to help, to support you, so make sure to ask for help – family, friends, colleagues. With any big event, people want to become a part of it and I think it’s okay to kind of look to those people for guidance. For us, it creates more of a family atmosphere for the event.
Ask those who’ve done it themselves: Talk to people who have done it before. They’re a great resource.
Think strategically about the timing of the event: Our event is often the first event of the season for a lot of clubs. This will kind of be their opener for the season. I think that’s one reason our event is very popular.
Think strategically about the location of the event: Wilderness at the Smokies is a huge draw for families, particularly those with younger brothers and sisters who can come and have fun instead of just watching their sibling play volleyball.
Leverage your own success: People knew who we were because of the success of our club on the volleyball court. We’ve been ranked nationally. That helped us bring teams into the tournament.
Bail, if necessary: You have to run the numbers right. You have to be careful. If the facility rental is too high or you can’t get the courts, or the participating teams, you may have to just decide the event won’t work. There’s always a risk that you aren’t going to get teams coming. You’ve got to make sure you can get the teams.
Reach Out: Something like 99 percent of the teams participating in our events are not from Knoxville so we really have to reach out to them. For us, there’s no point in advertising in our local area.
Use a personal approach: I think calling rather than emailing invitations has more of a personal touch so that’s what we mostly did for the first tournament. The clubs feel like we really want them to be a part of this new event. At six months out, you’re calling teams, inviting them to the tournament.
Use a website: Everything is on our website. People can go online and look at the information, including schedules.
Consider using an outside event management service provider: We evolved into using Advanced Event Systems, which is exclusively for volleyball. Participants sign up for the tournament through that, and Advanced Event Systems provides additional management and communications services. We found that’s the easiest way to do it.
Get covered: We have insurance through our sport’s governing body, USA Volleyball, but the Wilderness at the Smokies and the convention center each have insurance, as well. We have cancellation insurance, too, which is a separate insurance. The risk of having to cancel it due to weather is always there, particularly for a winter event. You still have to pay the convention center and the hotel even if weather creates problems. You’ve got to cover all your bases.
Involve vendors; they add value: A lot of vendors approach us to be involved in an event. It’s just been word-of-mouth. We manage all of that. We like to invite vendors with products that we think will appeal to our participants.
Be ready to work: When we’re running an event, I work 16-hour days. It’s a lot but that’s what it takes. Often, the work that we do and the amount of effort we put into it, a lot of others don’t see. But it keeps things running smoothly.
Do it well: Running an event well gets repeat participation. If you do a good job then people will come back. We make sure we do a good job and that participants have a good time.