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Lake Dogs
05-17-2010, 07:53 AM
The purpose of a BBQ Contest/Competition


I'm not certain that many BBQ competitors have thought about
this or think about it often, and I think understanding this
really helps put a lot of it in perspective.

The BBQ competition itself is no more than a means to an end,
another end having little or nothing to do with BBQ or the
contest. Most if not all are events that exist to raise
money for a charity, bring people together in a town to raise
awareness of town facilities, etc. The organizer then looks
around and thinks to themselves: How can I get people to come
to this area to accomplish my objective? Enter the BBQ cookoff.

We, as contestants, dont really like to think of it this way,
as we're all in to the competition and improving our Q, etc.
However, we're merely the vehicle to accomplish the goal. Our
goal may be to win the competition, however THE goal of the
event is usually not BBQ associated whatsoever.

Losing sight of this is where we lose many an enjoyable
competition. I know of many of my favorite chili and/or BBQ
competitions are no longer held/hosted because it either became
to much of a pain in the tail to organize for the small amount
of $$$ returned to the cause, or the competition got so big
that it became more important than the original cause (the tail
began to wag the dog).



To sanction, or not

I've had the wonderful opportunity over the past 5 or so years
to work very closely with event planners/sponsors who are
considering having a cookoff of one type or another. Once
they decide to do it (have the cookoff) the next question is
to have a sanctioned cookoff or not. Remember the goal above.
They all ask one very simple question: What does sanctioning
do for me (the event)?

BTW: The day any sanctioning body loses sight of this is the
day that they've sealed their doom.


The sanctioning body brings organization (hopefully), but also
requires additional tasks be brought to bear on behalf of the
organizer/planner. There are costs involved beyond the specific
amounts paid to the sanctioning body. The sanctioning body
brings "clout" and "advertising", but frankly unless you're in
an area where the event attendee (yes, the ATTENDEE) knows
about the sanctioning body and attends the event because it's
sanctioned by that particular sanctioning body*, sanctioning
brings one and only one thing: T E A M S.

*Note: My experience so far is that most event attendees have
no clue as to what a sanctioning body is and have never heard
of KCBS, MIM, MBN, FBA, GBA, IBCA, etc. As a result, around
here, sanctioning offers teams; nothing more.


I know of a few cookoffs around this area, chili and bbq cookoffs,
that are not an probably never will be sanctioned. Why? Because
they max out teams every year. Their event is already as big
as they can handle. They, quite literally, have no need for
sanctioning. They meet their goals easily without any sanctioning
body; no extra costs whatsoever.



As competitors, what does this mean?


I'm assuming we all enjoy cooking BBQ and enjoy the aspects of
competing. It's what we do.

Every year, sometimes weekly, others monthly, some quarterly,
and those of us with a yearly budget once a year, we sit with
our team mates and decide whether to enter a competition or not.
The determining factors of why or why not attend a particular
competition are as varied as the teams themselves. Along the
way we look at whether it's sanctioned or not and what that
means to us as a team. Some teams participate only in sanctioned
comps, some only sanctioned by one particular sanctioning body,
and other teams dont care either way.

I cannot speak for all. Our team will never be in a points
chase for a national trophy; we simply dont have the time or
the money to devote to a hobby like this. Sanctioning, for us,
offers one thing; consistency. Consistency in judging. This
way we know the mark to hit. They've provided trained and
certified judges who enforce rules evenly without regard to
team name, etc. Otherwise, to our team, who cares? The
sanctioning body offers nothing if not consistency.



When we go to a competition, I take a few minutes to remind
my teammates the purpose of the event and to make sure that
we have a good time, but not to cross purposes. We're there
to have fun, compete, help the organizer(s) fulfill their
goals, and with any luck enjoy a walk or two to the podium
at the end of the day.

daedalus
05-17-2010, 08:33 AM
Great post...I appreciate your perspective on this, and I have not had much experience organizing events, so I must defer to your expertise. I do, however, have one question about a point you made related to sanctioning.

You say that sanctioning only brings teams. Wouldn't sanctioning also brings sponsorship that would be more difficult(though clearly not impossible) to get with an unsanctioned contest? I would think that most companies willing to sponsor such an event want to know for sure that it will be run smoothly. The inherent organization that comes with sanctioning seems like a good way to help convince them of that.

Lake Dogs
05-17-2010, 08:57 AM
Great post...I appreciate your perspective on this, and I have not had much experience organizing events, so I must defer to your expertise. I do, however, have one question about a point you made related to sanctioning.

You say that sanctioning only brings teams. Wouldn't sanctioning also brings sponsorship that would be more difficult(though clearly not impossible) to get with an unsanctioned contest? I would think that most companies willing to sponsor such an event want to know for sure that it will be run smoothly. The inherent organization that comes with sanctioning seems like a good way to help convince them of that.

Yes, and no, kinda... :-) For the pre-existing competitions that I've
tried, hard in some cases, to get them sanctioned, as they already
have huge/enough sponsors, it doesn't do anything for them. For the
others, the answer is maybe/kinda/perhaps. That's one portion
that I haven't personally worked with closely a lot (a little, but not
a lot). From what I've seen of sponsors, they're simply there to get
their name out. They're interested in the size of the crowd (draw) vs.
any particular sanctioning body or not. However, the smoothly part,
yes. They dont want to be associated with a cluster-fluff...

For the ones that I've been successful in getting to go "sanctioned",
the organization is helpful, but frankly it's not the selling point that
gets them to "buy in", if you will. At least not until they feel the pain(s)
of disorganization and cluster-fluffing. :-D

For new ones, it's about the "if you build it, they will come" factor;
meaning TEAMS. For the existing cookoffs that converted, all the ones
that I've seen, it's about growth, again TEAMS. They want to increase
the revenue stream and to do it they saw increased team attendance
as a key.

Alexa RnQ
05-17-2010, 10:30 AM
Sanctioning, for us, offers one thing; consistency. Consistency in judging. This way we know the mark to hit. They've provided trained and certified judges who enforce rules evenly without regard to team name, etc.
This part is why sanctioning is priceless to us.

However, I've got to wonder: If the purpose of a competition is not to compete, why isn't it called a "BBQ get-together"?

Alexa RnQ
05-17-2010, 10:34 AM
cluster-fluff
This is my new favorite euphemism.

Lake Dogs
05-17-2010, 11:09 AM
This part is why sanctioning is priceless to us.

However, I've got to wonder: If the purpose of a competition is not to compete, why isn't it called a "BBQ get-together"?


Certainly the purpose for US as competitors its the competition. However,
we (as competitors) tend to either think this is the purpose of the
event or forget the real purpose, which is to what/why the organizer
decided to host a competition in the first place. Normally, from what I've
seen, its either to promote a small town (downtown development authority
type of thing) and bring the locals out to do something, or it's to raise
money for a charity, or sometimes both. A few (like the DegaQue things)
are to raise money ala. make a profit. If a competition doesnt work as
a vehicle to meet their non-BBQ objective, odds are about 98% that the
BBQ competition there (at that particular place) will cease to exist.

There are the few competitions that are there purely for the
sake of competition, but usually they're a national or regional championship of one kind or another. Even a few of these started and are still
dedicated to raise money or awareness for their cause (something other
than BBQ), they just happen to be hosting one of the big Kahuna's.

Probably the biggest one I can think of where the tail was wagging the
dog and the dog shed that tail was MIM dumping the entire sanctioning
body altogether. They were there to promote Memphis, in May :-D. Along
the way they created a sanctioning body so as to be qualifiers for their
"International Championship". It grew and even they said it was bigger
and more of a *PAIN* than it was worth and something they weren't
prepared to continue. So, folks stepped up and created MBN; the result
of disbanded/dumped MIM sanctioning body.


We, as a team, definitely prefer sanctioned competitions. Without
getting into the politics and differences and our preferences, we compete
a little in MBN and KCBS comps, and each year consider local IBCA, GBA,
and FBA competitions. We try to enjoy them all and enjoy the differences
that the different sanctioning bodies bring to the plate. However, more
than anything, I try to find the promoter/manager and thank them
personally and to spend a few dollars on local *stuff* so as to further
assist them in meeting the objective of event.

CivilWarBBQ
05-17-2010, 11:36 AM
Sanctioning does NOT only bring teams to an event, it also brings certified judges, a consistent set of rules and scoring system, and a organization that backs all this up with Reps, training, promotion, etc.

Unsanctioned events can be successful for organizers, but for cooks the experience is often like playing pin the tail on the donkey, with the results depending largely on luck and popularity.

As an as-yet unreformed organizer, the first thing I tell folks who approach me about starting a new contest is that it is a poor way to raise money. There are myriad other things a charity can do that will be more profitable and require less work. A BBQ contest is a good way to build community and promote tourism, but if the main goal is dollars you will be disappointed.

Alexa RnQ
05-17-2010, 12:07 PM
Certainly the purpose for US as competitors its the competition. However,
we (as competitors) tend to either think this is the purpose of the
event or forget the real purpose, which is to what/why the organizer
decided to host a competition in the first place. Normally, from what I've
seen, its either to promote a small town (downtown development authority
type of thing) and bring the locals out to do something, or it's to raise
money for a charity, or sometimes both. A few (like the DegaQue things)
are to raise money ala. make a profit. If a competition doesnt work as
a vehicle to meet their non-BBQ objective, odds are about 98% that the
BBQ competition there (at that particular place) will cease to exist.

Absolutely, we are well aware that the organizer has other reasons for hosting a competition. However, those events could draw the public just as well by having a "BBQ sampling", or whatever you want to call it -- there are plenty of teams (here, at least) who are happy to come out and turn samples to offset their costs, support a charity, etc.

So, the question remains -- why is it a competition? Interesting to mull over.

Lake Dogs
05-17-2010, 12:42 PM
Absolutely, we are well aware that the organizer has other reasons for hosting a competition. However, those events could draw the public just as well by having a "BBQ sampling", or whatever you want to call it -- there are plenty of teams (here, at least) who are happy to come out and turn samples to offset their costs, support a charity, etc.

So, the question remains -- why is it a competition? Interesting to mull over.

> we are well aware ...

Some are. Most, from what I've seen and read [complete personal
observation], aren't, hence the write-up. We've lost more than a
few competitions around this area largely because, as Civil had stated,
they realized that as a money raising effort it's hardly worth the effort,
and they no longer have competitions. The ones that stick with it,
as Civil also stated, tend to be those out to develop/promote an area and
attract a crowd; with break-even as more of a goal.

And that gets to your question of why is it a competition; for the
draw, of teams and crowd. 1 or 2 guys cooking some Q might draw
50 people, maybe. Whether the goal is raising money or promotion
of an area, 50 people isn't usually considered a successful event.
However, 40 teams competing can draw 10,000 people with
the right promotion and a warm sunny day.

Coming back: I wrote the original post because it's seemed to me that
we're all so focused on BBQ, competing, being successful in competing,
that somewhere along the way we didnt pause and see the whole thing
from the organizers/promoters/hosts perspective. Obviously you do,
and I KNOW CivilWar DOES. For that matter, I have team mates that
don't understand...

landarc
05-17-2010, 01:25 PM
Although I am not a member of a regular team, here is a point of view from yet another angle. I used to work for a county agency that amongst other things ran street and park festivals for various cities and communities. These were most definitely fund raisers. The idea was hatched to run BBQ contests, or some other food contest. This was largely based on the success of the Gilroy Garlic Festival and it's county fair approach of both a food competition and entertainment/eating component. What we found was the unless we tied it to a known group or organizers, we ended up with mostly corporate BBQ places competing, or worse, no competitors. Further, there is a perception amongst many people that if you have teams that are known competitors, you are going to get better food. This is the same mentality that if you have a street food festival and you can point to restaurants serving food, people assume the food will be better.

In my experience, Lakedog's contention that a big part of what you get is teams when you sanction has a direct effect on the success of your event. When people see it as a competition, with people coming in with "professional" pits and team banners, there is a perception that you are going to get better BBQ. For our events we were able to allow teams to vend as well as compete, if that was their desire. Proceeds from vending were split and I believe it worked out for everyone. There is a real strong perception that competition teams make the best BBQ amongst many people, I think this stems from the idea that these teams are experts and professionals.

Sadly, we live in an urban area, and there were too many complaints about smoke in the neighborhoods so the BBQ events were closed down.

olewarthog
05-17-2010, 01:42 PM
Allow me to toss my $0.02 worth in as a BBQ contest organizer who just held its first contest (sanctioned) this past weekend (May 14-15). I have also competed in & worked on the organizing committee for an unsanctioned cooking contest (not BBQ).

As Lake Dogs & Divaherself said, sanctioning provides a new contest immediate credibility along with a stable of cook teams & qualified judges. Our first year contest drew 21 teams in the sanctioned division plus 6 teams in the backyard division. The unsanctioned contest I work with did not reach the 20 team mark until its third year. The unsanctioned contest only uses 5-6 "celebrity" judges for its contest and has to work hard to find those. The first year sanctioned contest had a mailing list of around 80 certified judges that were sent invitations with about 30 accepting. The sanctioning organization also provided experienced contest reps to assist this rookie organizer. Without their help & advice, there are many things I would have overlooked out of sheer ignorance. The contest reps help me avoid problems so our cook teams & judges had a positive experience and will not only be looking forward to come back next year, but will help your contest grow thru word of mouth at the next sanctioned event.

I am in a small town & given the cost to prepare your venue with electricty, water, etc to host a contest, there is no way we could drawn enough teams to have come close to breaking even our first year going it on our own. I haven't gotten my final numbers yet, but despite underestimating the cost of running electricy, we still should around break even for our first year.

The one part that scares most people in going the sanctioning route is having to guarantee the prize money. With the current economy, getting sponsor dollars is tough so I had to take a huge leap of faith. I know I had quite a few restless nights when we were about 2 weeks out & I had only 5-6 teams signed up.

SirPorkaLot
05-17-2010, 02:50 PM
Consistency in judging?
I have yet to see that in any contest - sanctioned or not.

look at your scores - same piece of meat can range from a 5-9 at some tables - not very consistent.
Hard to get consistency on judging when the heaviest weighted score is taste - Everyone's taste is different.

I keep looking but have yet to find a reason to renew my KCBS membership, as I can't seem to find a benefit to having that membership.

Now if KCBS made it mandatory that I join to cook - then i would, as I have with other sanctioning bodies - what is another 35-50.00 when you are spending hundreds to compete anyways. if we decide as a team to compete in a contest - it has little or nothing to do with the number of CBJs, whether or not i am a member of the sanctioning body, or which sanctioning body it is.
It has much more to do with location, timing, and potential payout on my investment. We also take a hard look at if the contest appears well organized and funded.

I will compete in 2-3 KCBS, 1-2 GBA/FBA/MBN-MIM and 1-2 non-sanctioned contests this year.
As near as I can tell there is not much difference in consistency in judging across the board.

As I mentioned in another post I was most recently as a KCBS contest that was disorganized, had very few sponsors, very little attendance, very few vendors and very few teams (READ: Did not raise much money for the fund raiser)
While I was at a first year non-sanctioned event last fall that blew it off the map.

So i guess the purpose of sanctioning in my opinion is more for the comfort level of the organizers than it is me as a cook.