One of the practical considerations for a tournament director in choosing a format is how well the tournament flows. But flow is a complicated concept – ideal flow, and the steps needed to attain it, will vary from one sort of event to another.
Sometimes you want to keep the competition moving, minimizing the time that the competitors have to spend waiting around for an opponent, a playing field, a referee, or some other needful resource to become available.
Other times you want to keep the competition from moving too fast. Particularly where the competition is physically exhausting, you want to allow sufficient time for players to recover from one match before asking them to play another.
Poor flow can compromise any of the four goals in the FEPS framework.
Bad flow can seriously affect the fairness of a competition in a multitude of ways. For example, one team’s pitchers may have days to rest between baseball games while their opponent’s do not. Golfers with late tee times may play their round with stronger (or milder) winds than those who teed off early.
Bad flow can obviously be inefficient. When tournaments don’t run on time, they consume extra resources, and some resources (players, fields, officials, etc.) are likely to stand idle while waiting for some other resource to become available. And when players sit idle, waiting an opponent or something else, they’re unhappy, and the general participation value of the tourney suffers.
Tournaments that don’t flow well also lose spectator appeal. If matches don’t happen as they’re scheduled, it’s harder to sell tickets or broadcast rights for them.
Some sorts of tourney are more vulnerable to flow problems that others. Here’s a short list of factors that tend to cause trouble along these lines:
- Events when the duration of an individual match is highly variable;
- Events that require extensive resources, in the form of elaborate facilities or equipment, match officials and support personnel, and so forth;
- Events played out of doors, but not in any weather;
- Events that are physically exhausting, and prone to injury.
Tennis, at least as played in the major championships has all of these characteristics, and my perception is that tennis tournaments do have frequent flow problems. It might be interesting to take a close look at the way the powers that be in tennis wrestle with flow problems.
For now, however, I have a different problem in mind – the affect on flow of different ways of allocating byes in a bracketed tourney. More on that soon.