I recently took part in the Kansas Auctioneers Association bid-call contest at the Kansas State Fair. This was my third time competing, having also done so in 2002 and 2006. I’ve also seen other contests, such as the National Auctioneers Association International Auctioneer Championship and the Oklahoma State Auctioneers Association competition.
The NAA IAC this year used a computerized scoring system, with a computer for each judge and a large display that showed the leaderboard. As a contestant finished and left the stage, the display would update before the next contestant began, showing the score as well as the new ranking. A boo or cheer from the crowd would usually accompany both the addition of new leaders as well as the departure of previous leaders from the rankings who were liked by the crowd.
The challenges faced by the local auction contests are many. Kansas, for example, uses paper score sheets from each of its – this year – five judges. These sheets must be tabulated by hand for each contestant, so after each round of the competition, there is a delay between the last contestant and the announcement of the rankings as someone uses a calculator at a breakneck pace. This manual tabulation begs – nay, demands – errors to be made at some point. I know that last year a friend of mine added the scores on his sheets and came up with a number 65 points greater than the sum total written and circled on the top sheet of his stack that was used when ranking the finalists.
Another challenge is always one of politics. With many associations choosing judges from within their ranks, losing contestants seem always to be found grumbling after the awards have been distributed about how political or preferential the judging was that particular year.
How can these challenges be overcome? Unfortunately, I don’t expect that they will be any time soon. The old guard in charge of many of the associations may see a different way as a more difficult or arduous way, even if a different way may actually be easier, faster and fairer.
I’m sure that not every local contest has the budget for change. In fact, I’d wager that the local contests have little if any budget at all, relying on donations for the items sold or mandating that the contestants themselves bring three items. This latter procedure makes the contest even more unfair, affording some more affluent auctioneers the luxury of bringing more expensive items to sell and sounding better for achieving a higher price. I know that I’ve been in contests when I didn’t have much disposable income and was forced to sell things I already owned as I watched others go buy new items to sell.
I’m sure that the software system used by the NAA is expensive. I’m not advocating its use, nor am I advocating the distribution of computers to each judge. I believe a system can be devised that would require only Internet access. This access is already available for those auction contests held at conventions in hotels. For contests held at the outdoor events and fairs, it would merely be something to require from the event staff.
The software part is the easy part. Something as simple as Google Spreadsheets could be used, with each judge sharing the spreadsheet with the scorekeeper so that each judge didn’t have access to the scores of others, but that the scorekeeper or person in charge of tabulation could see the scores from all the judges. As simple as the requirements are, it would be feasible to have a system custom made using www.rentacoder.com that was tailor-made to the association’s requirements and judging criteria. Such a web-based solution could be built in four or five hours. Either Google Spreadsheets or the custom solution would allow for rapid tabulation. From a contestant’s point of view, being able to take a print-out of the performance scores would be an invaluable resource to reflect on how to be better in the future while the performance is still in recent memory.
One added benefit to such a system would be that it would require the rules and procedures to be thought-out and dictated ahead of the competition. It would not allow for late-in-the-game rule changes made after the contest had started as happened in Kansas this year.
Requiring the judges to bring their own laptops would solve the computer problem. The Internet access, should it be deemed too expensive or not possible by the event staff at an outdoor event, could easily be provided through the use of a wireless cell router. Many models are now being sold directly by the wireless carriers.
Finally, using foreign judges, judges who are not a member of the local association holding the contest, would reduce the propensity for contestants to hold questions about the political nature of the scores. The only thing bigger than an auctioneer’s voice is his ego, and being asked to judge a competition in another state would be seen my most as a compliment. The use of one or two non-auctioneer judges would also be something worth consideration, as I often wonder if judges reward the contestants who sound like them or their ideal auctioneer sound and discount those contestants who many not sound ideal but may perhaps annunciate better or have a clearer or faster chant.
I had a great time at the contest this year and I intend to compete in many more, both in Kansas and perhaps at the IAC. I think that by using electronic tabulation and foreign judges, as well as a predetermined and published set of rules that aren’t changed or determined after the competition starts, the local contests can be faster, smoother, easier and fairer.
Do you agree with me? Do I have it all wrong? Let me know in the comments.