Improving Quizbowl's Finances
Raising the financial floor and doing more with more resources
It should surprise no one, except perhaps the notoriously well-funded University of Chicago college quizbowl team, that funding for quizbowl purposes isn’t easy to come by. Quite simply, it seems to me that the low level of financial resources available to quizbowl organizations is hampering the game’s potential to accomplish big projects. Many local teams don’t get anything at all beyond what they can raise, and it’s hard for editors or TDs to raise more than their teams will use on travel costs. By comparison, there are speech and debate scholarships out there which get kids through college -- apart from NHBB very recently, has good quizbowl ever been able to pull this off? What should stop us from aiming that high, and getting more large projects off the ground in the interim?
Now part of the reason why this is true for debate and not for quizbowl is that organized debate competitions are at least a century older than good quizbowl, and mere longevity allows for the accumulation of experience, reputation, assets, and the like. But again, that should be no reason to throw up our hands and accept the way things are as our punishment for being new; rather, we want to get ourselves in a place now where we can work fast to try and raise the game’s “financial floor,” since we don’t have the benefit of time or the accumulation of financial interest working in our favor. It does remain true that quizbowl is generally much cheaper than many other competitions of its kind; a truly dire-straits program could find a way to get to three tournaments for $200 plus gas fare.
In today’s world of slash-and-burn school budgeting, some teams may always have to resort to the ‘bake sale/car wash’ method of raising funds, and others still will have to pay out of pocket for everything. But there should be more resources available so that happens far less often than in today’s status quo. A world with more dollars in it helps ensure that there is no shortage of buzzers in any local circuit, and helps secure some niceties such as bringing in staff for large events, providing breakfasts at tournaments, paying writers better so more people can devote time to writing/editing as a second job, getting more teams on affordable flights to nationals and high-caliber pre-nationals events, etc. Scholarships, sponsorships, trophies and real prizes are all things which improve the game’s atmosphere, and which appeal to a newcomer’s intuitive sense of what a competition ought to offer to those who succeed. If we can get to a world where we have enough resources sloshing about to do things such as awards banquets, monetary prizes, and the like -- so much the better. Speaking only for myself, I think (as NHBB’s pioneering steps in this direction have shown) that it doesn’t in any major way “corrupt” the spirit of quizbowl for something on top of eternal glory to be put on the line.
That said, we can’t create money out of nothing. Here are some of my thoughts on things we can do to try and raise more of it. I welcome others’ thoughts about same, since this isn't an area where I have much expertise at present:
- Solicit donations. Again, many serious teams do this already out of necessity; other teams and organizations can go out of their way to ensure that prominent folks in their area know wwhat they’re doing and ask for their support.
- Get local sponsors. Some tournaments and teams have managed to strike deals with local businesses to help finance themselves, either by creating a program booklet handed out to teams with advertisements. We are also beginning to see the inklings of bigger sponsorships -- NHBB with Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, The Economist partnered with Texas Quizbowl Camp this past year according to their website, etc. It will be interesting to see if and how this trend accelerates in the future. I would be glad to hear more here about how existing opportunities like this came about, if people with experience are willing to share.
- Invest in outreach to more teams and in expanding tournament fields. When fields are larger (see below), hosts take in more money, which they can in turn use to get more supplies, bring in more staff, etc. -- and expand the game further. Then, when those teams decide they really like quizbowl and go from playing 2 or 3 tournaments a year to playing 10 tournaments a year, they start joining the group of people doing what it takes to raise more money to put into the local quizbowl economy.
- Quizbowl-centric charities/grants such as the much-underadvertised Matt's Buzzers (including perhaps travel grants for new teams with few resources / first-time trips to nationals?)
- a more robust system for reimbursing staffers who travel from afar to help with local tournaments
- higher writer payment rates
- defraying costs / paying programmers to create and maintain a new generation of quizbowl software, web sites, etc.
- producing professional-looking mailers, press releases, videos, etc.
- put more resources into the hands of effective regional alliances/organizations, so they can do things that individual teams/clubs might not be able to
I readily admit that this area, unlike TDing or editing, isn’t one where I have simple solutions laid out and ready to go for circuits to use; I’m probably as in the dark about this as anyone. I don't want to be asking us to grow money on nonexistent trees; if that's the case, I'd definitely like to hear more about how best to use what we have now. That said, I want to open up this discussion, so we don’t continue to ignore our game’s financial issue and instead develop ideas which work towards fixing it. I look forward to hearing your thoughts.