Ooooo a gathering invite on Facebook! Let’s see the details… Ah. Way too far away. Ain’t nobody got time fo dat. And I’d need to buy a plane ticket anyway… Never mind. Guess I’m missing this one too. If only I could throw my own gathering… But how would I do it?
Well I’m glad you asked! And so is Matt Milhoan, cofounder of Ohio-based tricking team Samurai Gator TaskForce, better known as SGTF. A tricker of nine years, Matt is the driving force behind the annual Northeast Ohio (NEO) Tricking Gatherings. With the NEO3 gathering coming up this summer, I wanted to ask Matt what we’ve all been wondering: how do you throw a fun, popular, legendary gathering?
So you’re the mastermind behind the NEO Gatherings. Talk to me about the original idea for NEO and why you decided to make it happen.
The first NEO gathering took place from June 29 to July 1, 2012 in Mentor, Ohio. Honestly, I’m not really sure what made me want to throw a gathering. At that point, I had been to a fair number of gatherings and had fallen completely in love with the atmosphere they provided, the good times that naturally accompanied them, and perhaps most of all, the sheer energy generated by so many people in one spot that share a common passion. Around the same time, my team, SGTF, had started going to more gatherings together, and we gained some recognition thanks mainly to the young up-and-comers at the time (Drew Donnelly, Ryan Posipanka, etc.). So I felt that we had gotten to a place where we could throw a decent-sized gathering and that people would be interested enough to come.
How did you pick a time and place for the gathering?
I wanted to have the gathering at All-Around Gymnastics Academy, where we trained most of the time. The gym was close by, well lit and furnished, and most importantly, had a fantastic floor. I also wanted to have it in the summer when more people would be out of school and able to attend. Additionally, summer time in Ohio is the only time we could do this with decent weather. Plenty of people aren’t used to the icy conditions we experience in the colder months of the year, and I wanted everyone to make it to and from the gym safely. I settled on late June, after people had started their summer break and before the other major gatherings happened that summer.
How did you publicize it and get people interested?
Publicity for the gathering was surprisingly easy. Like I mentioned earlier, my team had started to build a reputation, and we reached out to quite a few people and assured our possible attendants that they’d be coming. I had chosen Phill Gibbs as the official international guest, which served to further interest people. I remember that Nick Vail also supported our efforts with his RSVP and destruction of tricks at the gathering. So really, it was the confirmed guest list that intrigued people and drew such a large turnout.
So did you pay for Phill or other big-name trickers to come? If so, where did the cash come from?
My team and I had our hearts set on having Phill Gibbs attend, as he had never been to America before. I coordinated with three other gathering hosts to set up a tour for Phill over the month and a half that he spent in North America. The money for his various flights came out of my own pocket, though we eventually split the cost between gathering hosts. And fortunately, I recovered that expense thanks to the attendance at NEO. By flying in popular trickers, you can not only increase attendance with the promise of a “big-name” tricker, but also give someone the opportunity to travel somewhere new, which is an entirely worthwhile effort.
Did you sell SGTF merchandise? How did you convince trickers to buy it?
Yes, we sold gathering t-shirts that were included with pre-registration or sold separately at the gathering. The design was relatively simple compared to other gathering shirts I’ve seen, but I believe it accomplished its purpose of commemorating the weekend’s events into a tangible item that one could keep forever. I didn’t try too hard to get trickers to buy it because everyone is on a different budget, and not everyone even wants a shirt. They were announced and made available for those who were interested.
What about stuff like sleeping arrangements, food, etc.? How did you work that out?
One thing that I maintain is absolutely crucial to any gathering is a central location around which to organize the weekend’s events. For example, both NEOs included two overnight stays at one main gym. People that had their own cars could go about and explore as they pleased, but for those that flew in or perhaps didn’t know as many people, the gym was available to them at all times. This is crucial because it not only makes things easier for the trickers, but it also helps keep costs low and the need for a larger staff to a minimum, as we don’t need to worry about group transportation or complicated itineraries. I’ve been to events where these types of things have been handled very well, but in my experience in dealing with 100+ attendants, it’s most efficient to have one place for people to train, sleep, congregate, etc. Food is always tricky because it’s difficult to estimate how much you’ll need and how to factor that into the budget. Naturally, many people make trips to Walmart to stock up for the weekend or visit the myriad fast food restaurants nearby. This works just fine, though it’s almost a necessity to have food provided for the attendants, for similar reasons as having a central location. Fortunately, with the second NEO gathering, the gym owner’s wife was used to organize large-scale catering, so it was easy to give her an attendance estimate and a budget.
What sort of events have you included in NEO and why?
Many trickers have different interests and appreciations for these types of things. For example, there is a large faction of the community that doesn’t believe battling deserves a spot in tricking at all, let alone at a gathering that people are paying to attend. On the other hand, there are plenty of trickers that may ONLY attend a gathering if there are battles with cash prizes. So a successful gathering finds a middle ground so that everyone feels they’re getting their money’s worth, as well as having a kick-butt time in general. I do not put a lot of effort into large, grandiose night shows and battles because that’s not everyone’s cup of tea. However, at both NEOs, I’ve dedicated about an hour to clearing some floor space and letting people engage in call-out/individual/team battles, or whatever else they want to do in front of everyone. This keeps things fun and light, and having events like this on the schedule gives structure to the gathering.
One thing I definitely support is running seminars. I was shocked that many people at NEO2 had never even been to a session of their own accord; NEO was literally their first exposure to tricking. Offering seminars gives these people a chance to learn a few things, meet some people, and build up some confidence, rather than hiding on the back floor. In addition, charging a very modest amount (i.e. $5 for a half hour seminar) allows the leader of the seminar to offset travel expenses. This is fair because this person is taking time out of their own gathering experience to help others get a head start. But you don’t want to interrupt the flow of a session, so I would only recommend running seminars if the gym has multiple floors, or if the aim of the gathering is to be more of a learning experience. As a bit of fun, I also tried a Super Smash Bros tournament in the lobby of the gym, as quite a few trickers had been talking some smack on the Interwebs… lol. So it’s fun to have plenty of things planned, but keep in mind that people are coming and paying primarily to TRICK. Focus your gathering with that concept in mind, and your event should be solid.
What do you want trickers to take away from NEO?
The point of NEO has always been to help spread the passion and love that so many people have found for this sport. It’s awesome to have tons of “big-name” trickers throwing down in one room, but it’s equally (if not more) awesome to see all the up-and-comers having a great time alongside them. So really, I want each and every person to meet some new friends, learn some new things, and have an outstanding weekend that they’ll remember forever.
Any other crucial advice for all the teams and trickers out there who want to throw their own gatherings?
Gatherings have traditionally been about bringing people together to progress the sport and strengthen the community. The bells and whistles can make your event flash and sparkle, but at the end of the day, what’s important is that everyone is having a great time. People don’t spend their hard-earned money so you can make the fanciest shirts or have someone “professionally” film the event and release a single edit six months later. When someone travels to YOU and pays to attend YOUR gathering, it is because they believe in YOU and what YOU are doing for the community. So plan carefully and prepare for anything. Throw an event that you would want to attend, and above all… have fun with it! 🙂
Be sure to check out the “NORTHEAST OHIO TRICKING GATHERING – NEO3” page on Facebook for what SGTF will be up to this summer! Happy trainings to everyone and keep tricking!