With 100 pickleball registrants battling it out indoors at the Court Yard Sportsplex in Greater Cincinnati, the 3rd annual WinterMAX Pickleball Tournament is now in the books. As most tournament directors can attest, managing registrations, creating brackets, managing game-day tasks — including court assignments and results (not to mention last minute withdrawals and sign-ups) — can be a headache.
For each of the three years of the tournament, I managed registrations and “game-day” tasks differently. In the first year, we used manual registrations and Excel spreadsheets. Although “free,” using manual registrations and Excel spreadsheets was the least effective, and, as you can probably guess, most time-consuming.
Last year, however, we automated many of the tasks by using PickleballTournaments.com to manage the tournament. Self-described by PickleballTournaments.com as “the gold standard for pickleball tournament software and services” and because they have an extraordinarily high market share in the pickleball tournament management space, my expectations were equally high. As you can read here, however, my personal experience using the platform fell well short of expectations.
Background Information about my Review of PickleballBrackets.com
Shortly after writing my review on PickleballTournaments.com last year, Jason Santerre, owner of PickleballBrackets.com, contacted me and shared information about his platform — one that similarly handles online registrations, game-day management and more. I agreed to give his platform a spin for the next WinterMAX tournament.
Before reading any further, please understand that I have absolutely no horse in this race. I had no preconceived opinions about which platform I would prefer. Furthermore, I have not been compensated in any way to write this review. I just feel like I am uniquely qualified to provide an opinion as I have now managed tournaments using both PickleballTournaments.com and PickleballBrackets.com.
This review is not intended to be an exhaustive side-by-side comparison of every feature in each of the platforms. Rather, it is intended simply to provide you and pickleball tournament directors with a 30,000 foot view of PickleballBrackets.com — and, on some of the features, how they compare to those of PickleballTournaments.com.
So without further ado, here is my review of PickleballBrackets.com, from the 2019 WinterMAX Pickleball Tournament.
Similar to last year, we used the PickleballBrackets software for registrations, payments, waiver management, bracket creation, player check-ins, court assignments and the recording of results. We did not use the software for referee management, volunteer management nor for printing and scanning the score sheets — although all could be done with PickleballBrackets.com.
Name Recognition & Tournament Numbers
There’s no debate that PickleballTournaments.com has much better name recognition — thanks in large part to its exclusive arrangement with the USAPA. With that name recognition comes a more comprehensive listing of tournaments on their website for prospective tournament players.
We initially thought the number of players registering for WinterMAX was going to be significantly lower using PickleballBrackets this year because the tournament would not be listed on PickleballTournaments.com. However, the tournament size was only down by 10 players compared to the previous year. This could be attributed to two factors — Ohio State’s participation in the College Football Playoffs on the same day as men’s & women’s doubles as well as a competing tournament just two hours away on that same weekend. So, given those two constraints, I firmly believe that the participation numbers were just as strong as the previous year when the tournament was listed on PickleballTournaments.com.
Let’s start our comparison with platform documentation. Any new tournament director is likely stressed and overwhelmed when trying to learn new tournament management software. Having solid, user-friendly documentation is critical for overarching tournament management success.
Both PickleballTournaments.com and PickleballBrackets.com have “opportunity” to improve their documentation — particularly for new tournament directors. Last year, PickleballTournaments.com “allowed” me an approximate 30-minute phone call with them to familiarize myself with their platform. Any additional time beyond that 30-minute initial consultation on the phone, however, I felt as if I was “bothering” them. PickleballTournaments also had a library of “how-to” YouTube videos that, frankly, were not terribly helpful.
PickleballBrackets also provided pre-tournament phone support. I spoke with PickleballBrackets on a couple of occasions — perhaps an hour each time — and never felt as if I was “bothering” them. They were very helpful. PickleballBrackets did not have a library of “how-to” YouTube videos. That would have been very helpful. However, they have begun putting together online, text documentation. They also provided me access to a demo tournament before-hand so that I would be familiar with how to execute the various tasks on game-day. That was beneficial.
Account Creation & Event Registrations
One inconvenience of using a new platform (any new platform), such as PickleballBrackets.com, for event registrations is the fact that most, if not all, tournament players had to create a PickleballBrackets account as this was their first time using the platform. A minor inconvenience for players, sure. A big deal, no.
Creating a PickleballBrackets account was a simple process (60-90 seconds), but a perceived “inconvenience,” nevertheless. It should be noted that, once created, this newly created PickleballBrackets account can now be used to register for any listed event on PickleballBrackets.com going forward.
Helpful Features in PickleballBrackets
There were several features PickleballBrackets.com had that were not available on PickleballTournaments.com that made life as the tournament director easier.
Discount Codes @ Checkout
As tournament administrator, I could create any number of unique discount codes and specify the number issued, amount and the expiration date. This was a great option. For WinterMAX, I provided select individuals with $10 discount codes that they could use at checkout to reduce their total registration cost by $10.
Automated Wait List Management
Automated. Not a manual process. Oh, how I love that!!! As administrator I could specify the maximum number of teams that could register for an event. Teams that registered after this maximum number was reached were automatically placed on the waiting list. No need to create a separate waiting list “event.”
Additionally, we took advantage of a time limit within which a teammate must register before that team is automatically moved to the waiting list. We allowed 7 days within which a partner must register. If a player registered for an event and their partner did not register within the next 7 days, then the original registered player was automatically moved to the waiting list.
If their teammate subsequently registered — and there was still room in the event — then both were automatically moved from the waiting list and into the event. Waiting list management was not a manual process — it was totally automatic. No additional events had to be created to be placed on the waiting list.
Cloning of Events
PickleballBrackets allowed cloning (copying) of events. If you had created a 3.0 event — you could clone all relevant information to the 3.5, 4.0 and 4.5+ events without populating the identical information for all events. This made event set up significantly easier than on PickleballTournaments.com.
Perhaps my favorite feature of PickleballBrackets — text messaging. This was a feature that, no doubt, helped to expedite play and enhance communication amongst players and tournament director. When creating a PickleballBrackets account, players could opt in to receive “in-game” text messages. Text messaging included start time notifications letting players know their start time prior to tournament day, check-in notifications that alerted players that their partner checked in for the event, real-time court assignments, real-time score confirmations and other start time announcements.
The snapshot planner was an invaluable tool allowing me to do “test runs” on various tournament configurations (bracket play, pool play, round robin, double round robin, games to 11, games to 15, etc.) prior to game-day to assist in determining which configuration best works for the tournament — given venue time constraints.
It was really simple to make a tweak directly on the snapshot planner to see how that change impacted the length of the tournament. On game-day, our final match of the day finished within 10 minutes of what was displayed on the Snapshot Planner!!! Yahoo!!!
It should be noted that the PickleballTournaments.com daily planner was also very accurate in predicting the time for the end of the tournament. However, I don’t remember being able to easily (with just a click directly on the planner) change configurations and do various test runs.
It was relatively easy to send emails using the PickleballBrackets platform. I had no problems — regardless of number of emails sent — doing this. Campaigns could be created and emails scheduled to go out at any time. Additionally, there were multiple filters available to ensure only targeted players were emailed. Although the documentation stated that I would be able to see who opened emails — and who clicked on links embedded within the emails — that functionality didn’t seem to be available.
In addition to these features, PickleballBrackets also had a very intuitive check-in process, a sleek and modern administrative interface, multiple round robin/pool configurations with automatic advancement of players from the round robin into medal play brackets and more.
A Few Enhancements Needed… And Coming Soon
Not everything was perfect. There are a few features needed to make PickleballBrackets.com even better. Word on the street, though, is they are working on them!
Printing the Charts
On PickleballBrackets, I was not easily able to print the completed brackets/charts so that I could prominently display on the venue wall on a 11″ x 17″ poster board. I had to do some print-screening and piecing together of these print-screens to make it work. This was a bit of a painstaking effort.
Assigning Courts & Recording Scores
On PickleballBrackets, to view current matches being played, assign courts and record scores, there was not a single screen from which to do this. I had to jump (toggle) to each respective event. This process was a bit inefficient when we had multiple events competing simultaneously.
Hands down, this is what set PickleballBrackets apart from PickleballTournaments. There were, indeed, minor “hiccups” along the way — however, they were very minor and the corresponding customer service was absolutely fantastic. I felt incredibly valued as a customer.
Whether it was pre-tournament phone call support, email support or — even game-day support — PickleballBrackets was superior with its customer service. And their response time was FAST!!!
UTPR (USAPA Tournament Player Ratings)
Before concluding my review, just a note on UTPR’s. As most of you know, because of its exclusive arrangement with the USAPA, any tournament run on PickleballTournaments.com impacts a player’s USAPA Tournament Player Rating (UTPR). This UTPR is the official tournament player rating of the USAPA as of January 1, 2019.
But what about a competing platform like PickleballBrackets? For a fee of $100, tournament directors can upload results (from PickleballBrackets.com — or any other non-PickleballTournaments.com software) to the USAPA for UTPR calculation. It’s important to note that this $100 charge is charged by the USAPA — and not by PickleballBrackets.com. In fact, as of today, PickleballBrackets.com will download the necessary data for free so that this data can be uploaded to the USAPA so that UTPR’s can be appropriately modified.
For WinterMAX, we did not download the data from PickleballBrackets and upload the results to the USAPA.
After all-is-said-and-done, both platforms excelled in various facets — including the actual player registrations and collecting of payments. Both were very accurate in planning the day and projecting end-of-tournament times. Both need a bit of work on platform documentation — particularly for new tournament directors.
But, I would argue that PickleballBrackets has a culture that is more innovative. Furthermore, they seem much more willing to work and collaborate with tournament directors to add features that tournament directors want.
From a customer-service perspective, there really is no comparison. Jason and PickleballBrackets.com earned additional business. It was clear from the phone support, email support and their great response times that they valued my business.
What’s a Tournament Director to Do?
As a tournament director, you, unfortunately, have zero choice in platforms if you are managing a USAPA-sanctioned tournament. Because of it’s exclusive arrangement with the USAPA, you have to run your tournament on PickleballTournaments.com.
That USAPA exclusivity, however, only applies to USAPA-sanctioned tournaments. Fortunately, there are many tournaments that are non-sanctioned. For these non-sanctioned events, tournament directors can use any platform they so choose.
So for you tournament directors out there, know there are other options. Learning any new platform requires a bit of a learning curve. I understand that. However, there are other companies out there who are willing to work hard for you. PickleballBrackets is one such company — but likely not the only company.
Want a Better Product? Remember, Competition Breeds Innovation.
It is in the sport’s best interest to have competition. Afterall, competition breeds innovation — which means the pickleball community will get a better product. As tournament directors you simply have to give others a chance to earn your business. PickleballBrackets earned mine.
Now, I would love to hear your opinions — particularly if you have used both platforms.
See you on the courts.
A Note about Pickleball Tournament Management
Would you like us (PickleballMAX) to manage your pickleball tournament – everything from registration to “game-day” management to everything-in-between? Email us today.