Starting more than a year in advance, assembling the annual 50+ day Drum Corps International Summer Tour schedule involves a complex process that is centered on one underlying theme – creating an exceptional experience for the participating corps and their remarkable performers.
“Beyond the nuts and bolts of putting shows into stadiums across the country, we consider a bigger picture of what it is that each corps and each corps member might experience along the way,” DCI CEO Dan Acheson said. “Drum Corps International is operating events for its participating organizations, and that's why the tour has shaped itself into what it is now.”
“Touring is one of the most significant aspects of what we do, and this fact has been underscored by the performers through extensive survey input,” Acheson said. “The quality of the tour is a key attribute to defining what we know to be the drum corps experience.”
📆 May – The process begins
Drum Corps International’s leadership and events staff will begin drafting next year’s tour schedule in the spring before the current year’s tour has even kicked off.
Utilizing last year’s schedule as a starting point, typically in May, DCI will present a draft of the coming year’s schedule to the corps for their consideration. Informal one-on-one conversations with corps directors will begin at this point to start to better understand their unique wants, needs and preferences for the following year.
“This is a point where we’ll ask, ‘What are you thinking for the coming year?’ and inevitably we’ll hear things like, ‘Well, we never want to travel to X, Y or Z location ever again,’ Acheson said. “But digging a little deeper into that we’ll start to get to the root of things, ‘We need to go fewer miles,’ or ‘We need a couple of days off here or there to make that trip work,’ or ‘We need to be in our hometown over these specific dates for our corps’ anniversary celebration.’”
As one year’s schedule typically mirrors the next, once the current year’s tour gets underway in June and July, it’ll give corps a chance to evaluate and take stock of the touring experience in real time as they crisscross the country.
This is also a time that DCI staff is looking at the operations of current events to evaluate what’s working or not working at various venues and how improvements can be made in the future.
“There are some stadiums that might not check every box for everybody,” Acheson said. “But in those situations what we can do is work on plans to optimize the opportunities they present, whether that’s by fixing a parking plan, or budgeting more for additional services to improve the experience of fans and the participating corps, whatever the case may be.”
SCHEDULING MYTH: DCI has an unlimited number of venues to utilize anywhere at anytime.
SCHEDULING FACT: A DCI Tour event is a far cry from a Taylor Swift concert.
DCI considers venues for DCI Tour events based on a number of factors not limited to availability and cost of corps housing, cost of the stadium rental and services, and logistics like parking capacity for spectators and corps. On the other hand, the driving force behind a major stadium even opening its doors to DCI events is typically the venue’s own business and economic considerations.
“The business of concerts is well documented in today's world with artists like Taylor Swift selling out huge sports stadiums across the country,” Acheson said. “But even a second-tier act at a large venue is often going to generate millions in revenue for a stadium. At best we’ll generate maybe half a million for them.”
“Keep in mind that when we rent a stadium for the day, we’re only using half of it,” Acheson continued. “It may not be profitable for the stadium to open doors and rent only half of it, as well as conversely, it might be out of reach for DCI regarding the expense of the rental. When they have an opportunity to fill all of the stadium for a concert or a soccer game, we get bumped.”
As stadiums look to seize every opportunity to maximize revenue, it sometimes means that the scheduling process could drift into the spring before DCI can get a firm answer if a venue is available. This creates tremendous challenges, especially when one considers that the largest venues DCI aims to utilize are for the biggest events of the season – and consequently the most significant revenue streams for DCI and its corps.
“Whenever possible, we try to book as far in advance so we’re able to focus on the experience of the performers and fans, as well as to maximize our own revenue,” Acheson said. “We want to lock-in facilities as early as we can so we can put tickets on sale, and so that we can organize and build the optimal logistics of the event. It’s understandable that stadiums want to wait as long as they can to book the best option for their business, but it sometimes creates enormous complexities for our situation.”
The tremendous infrastructure needed to host a DCI event can at times also be a challenge when seeking available venues. Even familiar facilities that have been longtime hosts of DCI events in previous years may take a pass on a return visit if they can no longer accommodate the logistical footprint required to operate a successful visit on the DCI Tour.
📆 August – Dialing in the details
Soon after the DCI World Championships conclude in Indianapolis, in-depth conversations begin on the ensuing year’s draft schedule which has been adjusted on-the-fly throughout the summer to further refine details.
Acheson says that DCI staff will work with corps individually to determine which shows they wish to add to their schedules based on the draft of dates and locations in front of them. Initial lineups can then be filled out with that feedback taken into consideration.
“We schedule from the top competitive corps down, but all participating groups are important to the equation to ensure that the ‘act’ is filled out,” Acheson said. “It’s important whenever and wherever possible for us to produce events that have a strong depth of lineup, that are attractive for fans to travel to, and that are entertaining for audiences.”
📆 September – World Class lineups confirmed
By DCI’s fall membership meeting, attended by leaders of DCI’s World Class corps, the draft of the coming year’s tour schedule now includes dates, locations and a draft of corps lineups for each event.
One of the main agenda items during the two-day session, typically held the last week of September, is to go through the schedule one event at a time to confirm each lineup. This will also be a time to double check different logistical items, for example, ensuring that mileage distances and travel times for corps between events are in compliance with driver hour regulations set by the U.S. Department of Transportation.
What is believed to be the tentative World Class schedule will be set coming out of that meeting. Some additional refinement is likely to take place in the weeks following as corps continue to evaluate their own organizational needs for the summer season ahead and lineups are tweaked and balanced for the best possible audience experience.
SCHEDULING MYTH: Corps are told by DCI when and where to travel.
SCHEDULING FACT: Scheduling is a collaborative process with corps who are in control of their individual touring needs.
Drum Corps International builds each year’s schedule based on a corps’ wishes and with lines of communication continually open to make adjustments.
In 2019, the average number of shows a World Class corps performed in was between 24 and 25. In 2024 the number will be closer to 19 and 20. That thinning out of performances comes as corps continue to put focus on their corps member experience, allowing for additional rest and recovery throughout the tour.
“Corps are choosing to pay more attention to the student experience, the health and safety of all involved, the recovery, the downtime, all those things,” said Sue Kuehnhold, DCI senior director of ensemble services. “Quality of life and the experience of the performers, staff and volunteers continues to be highly important. As a result, there’s a natural attrition in the number of shows due to being able to put together a sufficient lineup to produce a great event for everyone involved.”
Corps are focused on what creates the best touring experience for their own individual organizations.
In 2023, for example, the Jersey Surf made the decision, based on the needs of its members, to cut back on its total number of appearances and travel miles across the DCI Tour. In another example of scheduling flexibility, the Bluecoats made the decision in 2023 to start their spring training later than some other participating ensembles, and start touring after the Fourth of July.
“Their decision-making process has everything to do with the amount of hours and miles (between tour stops), the costs and the overall experience of the length of the tour for their performers,” Acheson said.
📆 October – Open & All-Age Class corps are added
After the World Class portion of the schedule is more or less set, DCI staff will reach out to Open and All-Age Class corps to start confirming their schedules.
The addition of the DCI All-Age Class to the DCI Tour in 2024 will help to create new performance opportunities for ensembles across all divisions.
A draft schedule is presented to those groups including Open and All-Age-centric show lineups. Additional opportunities for those corps and SoundSport teams will also be identified to be slotted into other World Class tour events across the schedule where opportunities exist.
“There’s been a shift in recent years for a number of our Open Class corps to tour more regionally or focus their travel on weekend events, and we've adapted some things with how we lay out this portion of the schedule,” Kuehnhold said. “There are a number of variables to work through and as we adjust accordingly, we aim to have this portion of the schedule set before November.”
📆 Early November – Commitments and contracts
Before Thanksgiving, DCI sends out tour commitment letters to each corps that outlines each event on their schedule that they are agreeing to do. Up to this point the scheduling process is relatively fluid and this process begins to lock down each corps’ plans for the summer.
Annually, the logistics, production and promotion for events on the nearly 100-show DCI Tour are handled by several different entities.
Approximately 33% of DCI Tour events
Typically the biggest and highest-profile events of the tour with logistics and promotion handled by Drum Corps International corporate staff like the DCI Southwestern Championship in San Antonio and the DCI World Championships in Indianapolis.
DCI-produced events utilizing a local organizing committee
Approximately 7% of DCI Tour events
Events run by DCI corporate staff in partnership with a local organizing committee serving as “boots on the ground” to provide pre-event planning and logistical support and recruitment of event volunteers.
Corps-produced Tour Event Partner events
Approximately 49% of DCI Tour events
Events run by DCI corps like the Bluecoats’ Innovations in Brass hosted as part of Canton, Ohio’s Pro Football Hall of Fame festivities.
Other benefactor-produced Tour Event Partner events
Approximately 11% of DCI Tour events
Events run by independent organizations or band programs. The annual Summer Music Games in Cincinnati event, for example, supports the Fairfield High School Marching Band, while the Kiwanis Thunder of Drums event in Minnesota is run by the Mankato Downtown Kiwanis Club who utilizes proceeds to support their local initiatives.
Once corps schedules are locked in, DCI can execute contracts for each event and begin communicating to Tour Event Partners which corps will be in their shows so that they can take the next steps in the planning, logistics, organization and promotion of their respective events.
📆 Mid-November – Schedule release
As schedule details are finalized, DCI’s internal staff works to get all of the pertinent data loaded into its event management database, which ultimately feeds the information displayed in the schedule section of DCI.org. Dates, locations, venue addresses, corps lineups, graphics and more are added into individual event records prior to the schedule’s release.
The DCI Tour schedule is typically revealed to the public just prior to the Thanksgiving holiday. In 2024, plans are for the schedule to “go live” on DCI.org on Wednesday, November 15.
“The timeframe of the schedule release is a tradition that dates back decades,” Kuehnhold said. “While things have certainly changed over the years with how corps conduct their auditions and rehearsals, the Thanksgiving holiday has always unofficially marked the start of the new drum corps season as corps begin to host their audition and rehearsal camps across the country. Getting the schedule out then gives them a chance to promote their summer tour schedule with their current and prospective members as a recruitment tool for the summer season ahead.”
The release of the schedule also provides a marker for DCI’s events, travel and judge administration teams to begin assigning staff for each show as well as to start making reservations including airfare, ground transportation and hotels.
📆 December through the DCI Tour – Continued refinements if necessary
Change is a constant when it comes to the DCI Tour schedule.
“The lighthearted statement that I always make is that we're not sure a show is going to happen until after it happened,” says Acheson.
Many scheduling variables remain in play throughout the winter and spring months, sometimes even into the summer. Projected timelines and delayed progress on stadium renovations, current weather conditions, or other completely unforeseen issues may play into DCI’s ability to host an event as planned.
In 2008 for example, storms and flooding created a sinkhole in the endzone of Indiana University’s Memorial Stadium putting the ability to host the DCI World Championships into jeopardy. More recently in 2023, an unforeseen delay in field resurfacing at Eastern Illinois University caused a last-minute relocation to a high school stadium within a matter of days, and a prolonged heat wave necessitated a shift in the start times of a number of events throughout the Southwestern United States.
“Other times we may have thought we were all set with a venue, but then a venue changes leadership during our scheduling process or a school facility brings on a new superintendent, or a band director or an athletic director that affects our ability to host an event,” Acheson said. “That obviously frustrates the process, but that’s just part of the challenging dynamics behind our tour that we deal with on an annual basis.”
SCHEDULING MYTH: DCI ignores certain geographic areas when building the schedule.
SCHEDULING FACT: Until the invention and perfection of teleportation, miles matter.
The decision to travel, or not travel, to certain locations when assembling the DCI Tour schedule comes down to the relation of time, distance and cost.
“Take Florida for example,” says Acheson. “We have one Open Class drum corps located in Florida and the closest World Class corps are in Georgia and South Carolina. There’s a finite time we have to bring those corps and more from further north down and across the southeast to create an attractive event, and there’s just not enough time to get them where they need to go. Because of costs and shortening the tour overall, we've had to tighten the distance between one tour stop and the next.”
“Things become untenable when it’s a long trip to get into somewhere and a long trip to get out of there,” Acheson added. “And that has direct ties back to our focus on the corps member experience.”
Although it’s not possible for the tour to go everywhere, DCI works with the corps to create opportunities to ensure that they get the maximum amount of meaningful performance opportunities in alignment with their touring capabilities and wishes.