Hacking Bagpipe Competitions: Idea 3—The Adjudicator Fee Cap
Highland games and cultural festivals in general sit on a financial precipice. They serve an extremely narrow subset of the public in spite of every effort to make them more generally appealing. And as hard as they try, these games have an annual challenge to draw the crowds needed to sustain themselves. One or two rainy years and these games are suddenly faced with the prospect of shutting down completely. Add to this already stress-inducing burden spending money on a bagpiping competition for soloists and bands all imposed by the governing policy of the EUSPBA, and the games suddenly have one more boulder to roll uphill.
The EUSPBA is in a position to provide quite a bit more than just advice to back up the imposition it places on Highland games. Anything beyond that advice is naturally going to take the form of some sort of funding or spending. In lieu of any other brainstorming for solutions, we’ll tackle the subject here at Pipehacker with ideas that are hopefully actionable and concrete (such as Idea 1 and Idea 2). Here is Idea 3 for hacking bagpipe competitions: The Adjudicator Fee Cap.
The Adjudicator Fee Cap
Current trends show more and more bagpiping competitions showing up on the EUSPBA schedule. It’s clearly good for piping and drumming to see the expansion of our craft. But that expansion comes at a cost and is clearly unsustainable even in the best of economic conditions. Expanding piping and drumming competitions means an expanding competitor field which inevitably means a need for more piping and drumming judges on a typical games day.
Piping and drumming adjudicator fees are probably the largest single expense a Highland games has to pay. A typical season of 60 games using an average of 9 judges each brings a cost of $108,000 in adjudicator fees overall. Total prize money awarded for pipe bands reaches $150,000 to $175,000 per season on average. As a measure of value, it needs to be asked: Is it reasonable that judge fees nearly equal the prize money offered to pipe bands? In an expanding piping and drumming universe, it is not impossible to imagine those judge fees disproportionately surpassing prize money if nothing changes.
At the single games level, a typical Highland games can employ 6 to 15 judges for bagpipes, drums, and pipe bands. Judges currently receive a stipend of $200 as recommended by the EUSPBA. That is $1,200 to $3,000 for the day just for the adjudicators alone. Add travel expense, hotel rooms, and food and the judge portion is clearly a good part of the financial burden currently fronted by Highland games. But why must the games be forced to fork over such cash? It’s amazing that many games don’t just say: “You want us to hire your judges for competitions in your system, then you pay for them.” Like a lot of things we do, it is mostly habit that governs our decisions. The current model of Highland games fronting all costs for our bagpiping competitions is a habit out of control. Forcing games to pay for more and more judges at expanding competitions is no different. Why not have the EUSPBA itself pay adjudicators a flat fee and take that financial burden off the shoulders of the games?
The Adjudicator Fee Cap removes a hefty chunk of the financial burden from the Highland games who would still be left to dutifully feed and lodge our judges for their events. Piping and drumming judges work very hard during a typical summer’s day on the games grounds. Bagpiping competitions are grueling affairs to be sure. A mere $200 is but a meager reward for the amount of work and dedication shown by a typical judge out on the pitch. But, like the playing pipers and drummers, judges are not doing this competition thing for the money. It’s nice, sure, but any judge who considers the competition season a series of paydays probably needs to rethink their priorities. Under the Fee Cap, the EUSPBA would be responsible for fronting the actual fees for judges per season in a capped, flat payment based on the number of competitions judged.
We already consider piping and drumming adjudicators to be accountable to the EUSPBA. The Adjudicator Fee Cap cements that relationship and provides more direct accountability to the membership—i.e., those musicians who are adjudicated—whose dues funds would be used for this purpose. The idea also requires the adjudicators themselves to take responsibility for the number of times they are out on the field.
How would the fees in the Adjudicator Fee Cap be structured? I’m glad you asked. The amounts can be debated, but here is a start:
- One competition judged per season: $200
- Two competitions judged per season: $300
- Three competitions judged per season: $500
- More than three competitions: an extra $200 flat
Any judge out on the field more than three different times receives a capped fee of $700 for the season. Yes, this significantly reduces the possible amount of money any bagpiping or drumming judge can pull in during a typical eastern competition season. As I said, reasonable amounts can be debated as could be the cutoff for the cap. Also, as I said, any judge who would then consider limiting their adjudicating activity to only four games per season (or refuse to judge at all) facing such a cap should probably think hard about the reasons they do this bagpiping or drumming thing.
Now, before I hear grunts of disproval and snorts of disregard, I would point out that we’re talking about ensuring the longevity of bagpipe competitions at Highland games. If it means removing unwieldy fees that only put negative pressure on our network of Highland games in favor of something more sustainable, then I would think that our entire judges panel should support it. Asking Highland games to compensate judges twenty years ago, when the number of competitors in the EUSPBA was half the current size or less, was clearly not asking what it is asking now. Progress in eastern piping and drumming means growth, and the spread of piping and drumming competition in the eastern US region and can only mean the need for more adjudicators at more competitions. The current fee model—forcing games to front all of the cost for EUSPBA adjudicators—works against that progress like a strong wind. Establishing an Adjudicator Fee Cap that sets the maximum per season paid in full by the EUSPBA itself clears the path for the progress we would all like to see.