Vetting New Events: A Cautionary Tale

When Jam’s Athletics owner Elizabeth Marsh and her cheerleaders arrived at the Cheer Nation Nationals, they were looking forward to the opportunity to compete; in fact, one of the Jam’s Athletics teams was preparing for their first-ever performance. Instead, they got a heartbreaking surprise.

“The day of the competition, we came in, and there were no mats, pretty much nothing set up,” says Marsh, who was approached by a representative for event organizer Halee Yates to see if they could borrow Jam’s Athletics mats and spring floor at the last minute. This was not only an unusual request from an event producer, but a tall order, according to Marsh. “I don’t have Velcro strips for my spring floor; we actually screw ours in. But I was willing to do it so that the children would have an opportunity to perform. [However,] things went awry from there.”

As reported widely in the media, it turned out the venue wasn’t suited to hold a cheer competition—the ceilings weren’t high enough. Arguments erupted between frustrated coaches, parents and the event organizer, and ultimately, the hotel asked attendees to evacuate because the event hadn’t fulfilled its financial agreement. Teams did not receive a refund. “I had to eat the cost, because I can’t charge my parents for that. I refunded their money,” says Marsh.

Before a big cheer event, there’s often a lot of buzz, but the Cheer Nation Nationals aren’t the only event that turned out to be purely hype. For instance, last year’s Revolution Cheer event sounded like it was destined for success—with powerhouse gyms like Cheer Athletics, Cheer Extreme and Maryland Twisters set to compete—but when the event lost its backer, it ended up getting canceled. Moral of the story? Investing energy, money and faith in new events can often be a risky roll of the dice for any all-star gym.

So how can you vet events properly? Get some pointers from those who’ve learned the hard way:

Do your research. Craig El, co-owner of Ultimate Athletics, prides himself on paying attention to the details before signing his teams up for an event. That’s why he was thrown when the Revolution event went sideways: “I thought The Revolution was a good option,” he shares. “When they chose to come out to the NACCC event that we held at our gym and spoke and did a phenomenal presentation, we bought in 100 percent—not only for the team that they invited, but also with multiple other teams in our gym.”

Is there any way El could’ve foreseen The Revolution’s cancellation? He doesn’t believe so. Even though he always does due diligence, it doesn’t come with any guarantees. “With a lot of these newer competitions, it’s kind of a crapshoot,” admits El. “There really isn’t very much to go off other than previous history of the actual event, and general word of mouth from coaches, owners and industry insiders.” For first-time events, he’s now especially cautious: “If you do support that event, maybe send a few of your teams, not all.

Checking out the event’s background wouldn’t have helped in the case of Cheer Nation. Elizabeth Marsh explains, “There was no way to foretell that this competition wasn’t going to go well or wasn’t going to happen…this was not a brand new event. [Halee Yates’] dad had put on Cheer Nation [events] for years, and it was very successful.”

Trust your instincts. When Elizabeth Marsh was late signing Jam’s Athletics up for the Cheer Nation event, Yates told Marsh that a check would take too long to clear and she didn’t have the ability to process a credit card. Marsh says, “Unfortunately for the first time in all of these years, I paid cash,” shares Marsh. “I never should’ve done that. It was going against every fiber in my whole being, but I did do it.” Other coaches that signed teams up for Cheer Nation reported making checks out directly to Yates, which could be another red flag.   

If an event is having funding issues, they may ask cheer gyms to participate at a higher level than they feel comfortable. Craig El says when The Revolution lost its backer and teams started pulling out, they came to gym owners and asked if they’d be willing to participate at different levels, as well as offering part ownership of the event. At that point, he says, “It was just was something that we were like, ‘Nope, no. Not interested.’” The event ended up getting cancelled because so many gyms pulled out.

With any big event, there’s always a chance something could go wrong—event producers and backers are human, after all. Get as much information as you can beforehand, and you’ll be more likely to protect yourself and your teams from disappointment. 

Editor’s Note: Both Cheer Nation and The Revolution were contacted for comment on this article. The Revolution’s phone number has been disconnected, and Cheer Nation did not respond. A statement on the Cheer Nation website says that they are “working around the clock” to try to compensate those who paid for the cancelled event.