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School Carnivals 101: How Many Prizes Should I Buy?

Ordering prizes is one of the most difficult tasks of the carnival organizer. How does one calculate how many prizes will be won? And how can you make sure you have enough prizes, without buying too many or running out? When your budget is limited, it can be a tough call. Here are some ways to figure out your prize order.

The simplest way is to figure out the maximum number of prizes you will use, and then buy that many. You’ll have some left over, but you can always use them next year. You can calculate this number by taking the number of prize-awarding games - let’s use 8 as an example - and figuring out the “put-through” of each game, or how many people can play that game in an hour.

The Porkchop Speedway takes exactly 1 minute to run, and only awards one prize per game, so we always know its maximum prize usage is 60.

Most popular carnival games, such as the balloon pop, ring toss, and basket toss, have a maximum put-through of about 120/hour. That means 2 players per minute. Games that allow two players to play at once may have double that amount. So if you have 8 one-player games, that’s up to 960 plays an hour for your entire event. If every single person wins a prize, that means you will need 960 prizes per hour. If you spend an average of .25/prize, then your prize budget will be about $240 per hour. Here is a chart that shows this calculation:

Maximum Players Per Hour x Average Cost of Prize x Number of Games = Per Hour Prize Budget for Event

This game moves fast, and we've counted over 120 plays per hour here.

That’s your maximum. On the low side, plays will probably about 100/hour per game, maybe even less, and not all will win. However, at a wristband carnival, with unlimited games for each child, more than half will usually be winners because they have the opportunity to practice. So if 3/4 of players win and there are 100 plays for each game in each hour, you will use 600 prizes total, per hour, for your 8 games. This would be your low end. So at .25 per prize, your budget would be $150. That leaves you with a prize budget of $150-$240 per hour, with your actual number likely being somewhere in the middle.

If that is more than you feel you can spend, you can do several things to reduce your prize budget. First, you can reduce the number of prize-awarding games. We use our Giant Connect 4, Kerplunk, and Giant Jenga as “just for fun” game, that provide entertainment but don’t award prizes, but any game or activity that doesn’t award prizes will work.

Giant Kerplunk doesn't award prizes, only personal glory!

Second, you can reduce the amount spent per prize. The cheapest prizes are .10-.15 per piece, which could bring your maximum budget down below $150 per hour.


Some 10-15 cent prizes. Vampire teeth are popular year-round!

One way we do not recommend is to rely on volunteer game operators to adjust the game difficulty in order to give away a certain percentage of prizes. Volunteers often feel rushed or flustered at a busy event, and forget to take this into account or simply aren’t able to do so while supervising the game. It is best to use variables you can control to determine your prize budget, or you risk running out of prizes or going over budget.

This is our most exciting game, but it's hard work for the operator!

If you don’t use wristbands for unlimited play and use tickets per game instead, you can expect your prize usage to be on the lower end of your calculation. Likewise, a poorly attended event will lower it. On the other hand, if you sell unlimited wristbands and have a very busy event, your prize usage will probably be closer to your maximum.

If you’re in the Northern Virginia area, you can forget all about these calculations and just use our Prizes on Consignment Service instead - we help you figure out your prize budget range, and then bring you enough prizes to make sure you don’t run out, but only bill you for what you actually use. Best of both worlds!

#carnival #schoolcarnivals #prizes #carnivalprizes #howtoorganizeaschoolcarnival

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