CrossFit Games 2010 NorCal Sectionals: Gripes

20:57 Mon 29 Mar 2010
[, , ]

I had a great time at Sectionals, and I was very happy both to compete in the event and to take part in it with the rest of the CrossFit KMSF team. Great team, great coaching, great support. I plan to do it again next year.

That being said, I had a number of issues with the organization of the event.

Before getting into those, I should lay out what my expectations were. I paid $100 to compete, as did every other competitor. The results list 278 male and 125 female competitors, for a total of 403. Counting only entrant fees, that’s $40,300.

Northern California is the home of CrossFit. Having seen highlight videos of other Sectionals on crossfit.com, I figured our competition—the largest of any of the sectionals—would be similar.

In addition, while competitors got to bring one spectator for free, other spectators had to pay to attend. The ticket price was initially set at $50.

My understanding is that the judges and other people helping to run the event were all volunteers.

So: largest Sectionals in the country; in the “home of CrossFit” region; $40,000 to run it with a staff of volunteers; the organizers thought it was worth $50 to come watch.

While not terrible, it wasn’t a great sign that the workouts weren’t posted particularly far in advance, while it seemed that other Sectionals had that (rather important) information up earlier. Or that the “NorCal Sectionals 101” post didn’t include the address or directions to the location—this info was up on another post, but obviously should be in there with a post devoted to basic information. I also didn’t like the fact that the day two workouts weren’t posted in advance at all; it seems obvious that that should have been locked down and made public well in advance. Still, these were minor things and would have been forgotten had everything else gone well.

As a competitor, I had really considered trying to get non-CrossFit friends to come down to watch/support me. I didn’t do this partly because of the expense and because I wasn’t sure how it would be as an event for people without some background to appreciate what was going on.

As it turns out, I’m rather glad that I didn’t get anyone to come to it. The spectating experience on Saturday was appalling. Spectators were confined to stands that were rather distant from where the overhead squats were taking place in the first workout—and that workout was scored by the number of overhead squats you did. So spectators could watch the 800m run that was the start of that workout, but not the important part. The second workout was in a fenced-off area off the running track, and the only way people could watch that was to either find a gap in the fence and peer through it, or find a spot on a box and look over it. I don’t think there was more than 20 meters of fence that you could look over, either, so that’s not a lot of room for spectators.

In other words, spectators could rely on seeing the least important part of the workouts, and that’s it. Appalling, and, frankly, close to unforgivable. Particularly when you consider that community is a really significant part of CrossFit, and this was the major community event of the year for all of the CrossFitters in Northern California. As a competitor, I found it unbelievably sad—and angering—that I couldn’t watch or support the rest of my team during their heats, and that the conditions made it so hard to watch other athletes. I found the atmosphere strangely subdued while competing, because I couldn’t hear any encouragement (except from my judges, both of whom were great). I thought I’d be talking to other competitors/spectators saying things like, “is that who you’re supporting, they’re doing really well” instead of “could you move out of the way so I have a chance to see my teammate”.

The story is apparently that the high school changed how the facility could be used at the last minute. I don’t have any information on that, but it seems like a bad failure in preparation for that to be possible. Since the high school were presumably paid quite a lot of money for use of the facility, it seems like there should have been some leverage there on the part of the organizers. In addition, spectators were allowed on the field to watch from a reasonable distance on day two, so I just don’t get why this couldn’t have been allowed on day one.

If that were all, I might be able to chalk it up purely to bad luck in running up against a terrible obstacle in the facility owners. But it wasn’t. Prior to the event, the organizers stated that those “with a mathematical chance of making the top 20” would go through to Sunday. However, there was no information (that I could find, anyway) about how the scoring system worked, or what kinds of results would make one eligible for day two. The scoring system should clearly have been public, and announced well in advance, and at least some estimate given at the end of day one to indicate whether or not a competitor could expect to get to day two. Plenty of people had been training a long time for this event, and if they weren’t going to get through, they were going to cut loose. Indeed, I know some who did just that—only to discover later that they had in fact made it to the second day and were supposed to compete early on Sunday morning. The competitors and heats for day two were posted after 23:00 on Saturday night. Ridiculous. Even those who felt like they had a good chance of making day two couldn’t schedule their sleep properly because they had to wait for that information to be posted.

Day two was much, much better. The spectating situation was fine, and despite some delays it seemed like things flowed better. They did post “final results” that were later updated—with some significant changes in ranking order—but compared to the rest of the screw-ups that too seems minor.

Here are the things they should concentrate on next year:

  • Ensure the venue actually works as a venue.
  • Announce day two competitors and heats before 19:00 on day one. If this seems too hard, improve the data entry systems—and test them beforehand—until it’s not too hard. Or change the cutoff. Do something so that competitors aren’t forced to wait forever to find out whether they made it to day two or not.
  • Do not charge spectators. That’s right, nothing at all. That might possibly earn back a little of the goodwill that was burned away this year.
  • Announce all of the workouts two weeks in advance. (They can start thinking about them right now, and two weeks is unlikely to be enough to allow any competitor to specialize for an advantage.)
  • Announce how the scoring will work two weeks in advance. Include sample result sets so that people have some idea how it works in practice.
  • Announce movement standards, with video, and video where the demonstration movements all pass muster according to the standards, two weeks in advance.
  • Announce something, in advance, about who the judges are and how they’re chosen.
  • Be public about where the money is going. Right now I have no idea whatsoever about what happened to the money that entrants and spectators paid. That would probably have been fine if everything had gone smoothly, but when things go wrong people start to get quite suspicious and cynical about things like that.
  • Have vendors of some kind at the venue. It’s pretty weird to have a field of 400, plus their supporters, at an event and have almost nothing to sell them. It should be clear that concession stands would have made quite a lot of money and would also have been received well by competitors and spectators. (Note: if the venue won’t let you have those, it’s probably not a suitable venue.)

All of the competitors did really well and showed tremendous heart. The spectators did the best they could to support them. But the event organizers need to do a lot better.

7 Responses to “CrossFit Games 2010 NorCal Sectionals: Gripes”

  1. Harry Says:

    Great post Tadhg! Such a shame that this event was organized so poorly, hopefully they fix it next year.

  2. Jerry Says:

    You got ripped off.

  3. Austin Says:

    Hey there. You have some great ideas and I’m sorry we didn’t meet your expectations. All of the organizers do this because we love crossfit and want to see it grow as a sport. This is the second year in a row that I and the other organizers have spent countless hours and not made a dime. In fact Mike lost $7000 last year a fact he’s too humble to throw around. Would you like to help out next year? I’m not saying this in a negative “you think you could do it” way. Also if you or anyone would like to know where the money went I’m sure if you email Mike he will have no problem sharing. If you’re down to help shoot me an email.

  4. Anonymous Says:

    Please excuse the fact that I’ve chosen to remain anonymous. I’ve just had too many people send me hateful emails when I use my real name and I’m tired of it.

    First thing, thanks to Mike and all the volunteers. Your effort and devotion to Crossfit is not in question. I am grateful for the effort put forth.
    Second, $40,000 doesn’t go as far as some people might think, the custom pull-up structure alone could easily have eaten up a quarter of that, then you have facilities fees, liability insurance, T-shirts, etc. Long story short, I have some experience with event programming and I know how much expenses add up.
    Third, Despite the good intentions and my understanding of difficulties, I had a rather negative experience. The first event went well but my few friends who could afford to watch couldn’t really see me because of the whole spectator debacle. I didn’t really have an issue until the second event however. For one thing, there was no usable pull-up bar in the warm up area. As soon as the event began, it was clear that there was a serious disparity in the judging criteria. My judges in the first event were quick and decisive. My judge in the second was not to say the least. At the top of every rep he would make me pause for as long as I have in weightlifting competitions to get three whites before he would slowly say good or no good. At one point, I was holding a thruster locked out over head waiting for a reply. I eventually turned my head, looked him in the eye and asked what else I had to do. On every single set of every single exercise I had to a minimum of two extra reps. In the end, I got a full round less than I had in any practice run. I then waited around trying in vain to find out what scores would qualify for Sunday. No one had a clue. Eventually I got fed up and went home, assuming that if only the people with a real shot at making the top 20 would be invited I probably didn’t have a great chance and couldn’t really afford to spend the money on a hotel. I got back home and discovered two things. That my score in the AMRAP WOD was recorded incorrectly, I had some how lost an entire round of reps and, in the morning, that even with my bungled score card, I still would have been eligible to compete on Sunday.
    I can’t say how disappointing the whole thing was. It is absolutely critical to let the athletes know what is going on. At the moment, I’m still very frustrated, there are more little things but I guess I’ll leave it at that.

  5. Zac Says:

    Pretty accurate description. Disappointing logistics, but a fun experience. At LEAST day two had these issues somewhat sorted. My sister was able to get in for free and get pretty close to the action.

  6. Alex Says:

    This is incredible. Any other major event, be it a running event or a endurance MTB event, does not charge spectators. I cannot understand how they can charge $50 to enter, its amazing – and then they could not even see. You say you want to grow crossfit, use some of that $$ and hire a proper event organiser, or find someone who can actually do it for free who knows what the hell they are doing. This sounds like an amazing level of incompetence – not even having vendors on site is bizarre, not to mention the judging fiasco and letting athletes know if they were competing the next day.

    If you can’t run an event like this, DONT HOST IT. Let someone else do it.

  7. Austin Says:

    Hey Alex the same group of people ran it last year and it went off without a a hitch. We made a big mistake with the venue choice this year as well as some other errors. We won’t make those errors again. It flat out hurts to poor your energy and time into something like this and be seen by some as “imcompentent”. Everyone makes mistakes, I’m sure you have, but impcomptence is shown when those mistakes happen again and you don’t learn from them. I guess what I’m asking here is to give us a break and come back next year with high expectations. If you have questions on why certain things went down how they did and have suggestions to fix them here’s my personal cell number 510-676-9191. Give me a call.

Leave a Reply