I have read reports lately on various forums about bbq from competitors that profess to compete for profit. I applaud those that can do it profitably. I'm jealous in fact.
Based on my experience, it's next to impossible to earn a profit from bbq contests, unless 1) you have a lucrative sponsorship relationship with a company that serves the bbq industry such as a charcoal manufacturer, cooker manufacturer, meat packing company, etc.; or 2) you win grand champion or reserve grand champion at 50% or more of the contests you attend; or 3) you manufacture a bbq related product such as cookers, smokers, grills, woods, charcoal, etc., and sell a lot of it as a direct result of competing in bbq contests.
BBQ contests have not yet reached the point where the contest itself offers a substantial enough purse to be economically feasible for more than one or two of the competitors at each event. By the time you factor in expenses for meat, travel, lodging, entry fees, wear and tear on vehicles and equipment just for starters, you're in the hole already....unless you are fortunate to win the $1,500 or $800 (average amounts, some contests pay less), you're never going to come out on the positive end of things.
Assume you receive a 3rd place at a larger than average event. It's possible that you will not receive any monetary rewards at all for your cooking effort, even though you outperformed all but two other competitors at the event. Most contests only pay prize money to 5th place and recently I've seen a trend that organizers are cutting back to 3rd place at some events, or rewarding non-monetary prizes in place of cash.
I think the bbq contest sanctioning bodies and contest organizers could take hint from NASCAR and the BASS Masters fishing tour in this regard. NASCAR has Nextel and BASS Masters has had various relationships through the years with prominent manufacturers such as Ranger Boats and others.
For barbecue to progress to a point of being profitable for the folks that provide the main attraction at the events--the cooks themselves--it's going to take a large push toward high level and high dollar corporate sponsorship. This will require professionalism at every level of the event--from organizers, judges, contest reps, and competitors--to attract the money that NASCAR and BASS Masters have enjoyed for decades now.
In my opinion, ultimately it's the sanctioning body that bears most responsibility for taking the sport the next level and no single person or sanctioning body can do it alone. The board of directors, organizers, contest reps and contestants must work in unison--pulling and pushing in the same direction and abandoning some of the in-fighting that I've witnessed first hand to progress.