How the USBGF Works

Learn about the USBGF vision and how the ABT tour is helping to grow backgammon.
President's Corner with John Pirner

The mission of the U.S. Backgammon Federation (USBGF) is to grow backgammon. As a not-for-profit organization, we invest in services that enhance the backgammon community and draw new players. We have recently instituted a player fee and a membership requirement for American Backgammon Tour (ABT) sanctioned events. The purpose of this message is to tell you tell you how we raise money, and how it is spent in support of the mission.

If the USBGF is going to grow the game, it is clear that strategic changes are necessary.

Who We Are

The USBGF was founded in 2009 by players participating in the American Backgammon Tour (ABT). Our founders developed a governance structure that is still in place today. Our Board is elected by Federation members. Board members are unpaid, receive no reimbursement for expenses, and are expected to contribute significant time and cash. In fact, in 2020 and 2021 alone, Board members donated more than $55,000. Additionally, Board members contributed more than that in pro bono time for essential business, economic, financial, legal, marketing, statistical, technology, writing/editing, and other expertise. Many Board members are Beaver ($12,800), Diamond ($6,400), Platinum ($3,200), and Gold ($1,600) level Founding Sponsors. As with any not-for-profit organization, Board members are expected to contribute significant time and cash as part of their Board responsibilities.

We are grateful to the 245 Founding Sponsors who have donated over $460,000 to the organization since its founding in 2009. Board members have contributed over 40 percent of that support with total giving from current or former Board members of over $180,000 since its founding.

Lifting a Barrier to Growth

For our first ten years, most of the work to provide member services was done by volunteers. While volunteerism was necessary to get the USBGF off the ground, it proved difficult to sustain high levels of consistent quality. Many volunteers give their time and expertise because they believe in the mission. However, they don’t prioritize their time as paid staff will. Volunteers feel underappreciated and get burned out, so turnover is frequent, and consistency suffers.

If the USBGF is going to grow the game, it is clear that strategic changes are necessary. In 2020 we increased our total compensation for important positions. Staff positions that receive compensation include:

  • Tournament services, both online and live play.
  • Education to all levels of players from beginner to expert.
  • Marketing to reach new and existing players.
  • Membership services to help players get and stay involved.
  • Editorial resources to produce content in USBGF PrimeTime Backgammon Magazine and on the website.
  • Educational, informative, and entertaining video streaming with commentary.
  • Technology services that support the efficient running of the organization, and research future opportunities to modernize tournaments.

While we offer compensation to essential staff, please understand that they work at well below market rates. Some staff members also do double duty as Board members.

In 2020 we hired a Production Editor to produce PrimeTime Backgammon. He is the only person on staff paid something close to market rates, but he is not a backgammon player and has no other affiliation with us. As President and Executive Director, I receive no compensation, and none of my expenses are reimbursed. The same was true for Karen Davis, my predecessor. We are both Beaver Founding Sponsors.

Your participation in the ABT helps us invest in key initiatives.

Need For the $10 ABT Fee!

Historically, the USBGF has relied solely on membership dues, volunteers and undercompensated staff, and donations. Nevertheless, we have been able to provide financial and logistical support to ABT events and local clubs; and we are now one of the world’s largest backgammon federations, recognized for our premier magazine and attractive tournaments. However, the amount of time and energy that we have spent on this growth is not sustainable.

Because the volunteer workload was unsustainable, we lost staff due to burnout. To fund paid staff positions, we have instituted a $10 fee with a membership requirement for those participating in ABT tournaments. We made this big decision with a great deal of thought and feedback.

An example of how the ABT fee has benefited our members is the establishment of the ABT Online! tour. It takes 80-120 hours to produce a single online tournament. ABT Online! could not exist if we had to rely on volunteers. Through ABT Online!, we see opportunities to bring more people into our backgammon community. There are thousands of social players who dabble in both live and online play but are not ready to compete at ABT events or even local tournaments. We are finding players who are willing to try backgammon if we invite them and give them resources to learn and have fun. If we want to grow our community, we must reach out to audiences beyond ABT tournament players.

We must invest in our communications and marketing capabilities, including our website, social media, teaching, and streaming. We must reach the thousands of social players who are unaware of local clubs and national tournaments. We must continue to develop online playing opportunities for players who cannot travel.

Your participation in the ABT, and the ABT fee, helps us invest in these initiatives. Membership fees are not enough. Ideally, operations are funded by membership fees and participation fees, and capital projects are funded by generous donors and sponsors. The following are core activities that are funded through the ABT fee:

  • Better Tournaments – ABT sanctioning guarantees a level of quality. We partner with directors to ensure that they have everything they need to be successful. This includes providing expertise and practical resources such as staffing and promotion that they need to be successful. A tremendous amount of work is done behind the scenes: creating a yearly schedule, assessing player eligibility, providing website help, and meeting technical needs.
  • Larger Tournaments – We invest in marketing, including email, social media, streaming ads, and our website. We work to expand our reach to new players, which increases attendance.
  • Quality Streaming – We have created a team that produces a consistent, quality video stream at ABT tournaments. This includes commentary for key matches.
  • More Recognition – Players like to be recognized for the work they put into their game. We hold an annual USBGF award ceremony and dinner, presenting plaques to the top 10 finishers in our point races. Throughout the year we recognize the winners of all ABT tournaments on the ABT Facebook page, the USBGF website, and PrimeTime Backgammon Magazine.
  • Education, Analysis, and Coverage – Subscribers to PrimeTime Backgammon Magazine get expanded coverage of ABT events, including in-depth analysis of selected matches by top experts. Premium Membership gives electronic access to all PrimeTime issues, going back to 2010.
  • Improved Points Race – The work of calculating and posting the ABT and USBGF point races on our website and social media involves a significant effort. Our new website will make it faster and easier to view this data, and make it easier for our Ratings Team to keep it updated. Beginning in 2022, we will enhance our recognition of advanced/intermediate players with their own points race!
  • Fairness and Integrity – The USBGF devotes considerable thought and attention to keeping the game fair. The principles of fairness govern all ABT and ABT Online! events. We have created a rule set, and we have developed anti-cheating safeguards. We use metrics to assess the skill level of all players to determine ABT division eligibility. To protect the integrity of online play, we collect and analyze match files to find inconsistencies between skill level and performance. We closely investigate those inconsistencies for possible cheating, and take corrective action if necessary.

Technology And Program Investments

 In 2020 we found that would have to replace our Online Tournament Circuit (OTC) by the end of the year. With a heroic effort by Board member Rich Munitz, we successfully launched the new Online Tournament Series (OTS) in January, 2021. It was functional enough at launch, but much more development was needed, and it continues to be an ongoing project. To date, we have invested more than $20,000 in the OTS, and we incur $1,000 of development expenses every month. This is likely to continue for another two to three years. In the end, we will have an OTS with more features and expanded capability.

We launched the development of a much-needed new website in 2020. Generous contributions to our Capital Campaign have covered this cost.

In 2020, as a response to the suspension of live play due to COVID, we launched ABT Online! It proved to be very popular, drawing players from around the world, and new tournament players who we had not heard from before. The ABT Online! is a permanent member benefit.

Revenues and Expenditures

In accordance with good nonprofit governance practices and in the interest of transparency and accountability, the USBGF annual financial statements are posted on our website.

Please let me know if you would like more information about our financial statements. Some tournament players make an equity calculation before they decide to enter a tournament. Other players view backgammon as a hobby, an entertainment opportunity. We can’t run the USBGF as part of an equity calculation in a tournament. Our mission is to grow backgammon. Supporting tournaments is an important part of our activities, but we believe that if we fund and follow our mission —to grow backgammon—tournament growth will naturally follow.

A recent Facebook poster said that the USBGF seems to be more money-focused in the past year. Yes, I hope so! We have to be if we are to have adequate resources to advance our mission. Every young, not-for-profit organization struggles to fund their mission. It can’t happen with membership fees alone, or rely on donors and sponsors, which is not sustainable. I am open to ideas, but at this time the $10 ABT user fee is the obvious way to diversify our revenue sources.

Please let me know your thoughts and questions. Also let me know if you would like to make a contribution of time or money to help us with the mission!

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