Meeting Future Challenges

A developing vision for the future.
President's Corner with John Pirner

I had hoped that this issue of PrimeTime would announce the resumption of live tournament play. That good news will have to wait for a future issue. When will live tournament play resume? The decision will be made by the tournament directors, the hotels that we play in, and a community consensus that we will be safe. 

COVID has had an economic impact on the tournament directors, and the USBGF. Hotel space must be reserved six to twelve months before the tournament date. The directors sign a contract that personally guarantees income for the hotel whether or not the tournament is held or canceled. Fortunately, all of our directors were able to cancel their contracts this year given the circumstances, but the same may not be true for 2021 cancellations. Many directors fear having to pay thousands of dollars in cancellation fees. The directors still lost money on printing brochures, trophies, marketing, and many hours of work that came to nothing. In a good year some directors make a little and some lose more than a little. They manage a great deal of risk that many of us do not appreciate. 

COVID has had an economic impact on the tournament directors, and the USBGF.

The USBGF is entering our second decade of existence. Until now, ninety percent of USBGF income has come from membership dues and generous donations. More importantly, the USBGF would not exist without thousands of hours donated by volunteers. The few people receiving monthly stipends have contributed time far below market value. Incorporating the services of a new volunteer into any of our roles is not smooth or easy. The customer service demands from our members are intense. Volunteers can feel that the work is unremitting and they are not appreciated. Turnover is a problem. 

We will continue to rely on volunteers and membership dues for the foreseeable future, but it is time to begin a transition from a club model relying on volunteers to a professional organization with paid staff. Professional staff can be held accountable for performance in a way that we cannot expect from volunteers. 

With the dues increase last March, we were able to add Ben Friesen as a part-time Tournament Support Director and Cary Hoarty as a part-time Education Director. Ed Corey came on board as a volunteer Membership Director and Dan Minardi as a volunteer Chief Operating Officer and Treasurer. As has been the case in recent years, I am a volunteer Executive Director. 

We will continue to rely on volunteers and membership dues for the foreseeable future, but it is time to begin a transition from a club model relying on volunteers to a professional organization with paid staff.

As the next priority, I would like to hire a professional marketing director. The mission of the USBGF is to be a not-for-profit organization devoted to advancing the awareness, participation, education, and enjoyment of the skill-based game of backgammon. We seek growth and opportunities for players at all levels. 

To accomplish this we would benefit from a marketing professional who can: 

  • Provide continuity in customer support and communications. 
  • Support local clubs as they build their memberships. 
  • Support ABT directors to help with scheduling, technology, marketing, staffing, and providing a continuity of experience across our ABT events. 
  • Attract casual players who are not ready for tournaments. 
  • Roll out new products like ABT Online! 
  • Organize educational materials of all kinds. 
  • Ensure that our website is fresh, relevant and 
  • modern. 
  • Organize our social media outlets so that they are 
  • fresh and relevant. 
  • Solicit feedback from all of our stakeholders. 

In addition to hiring staff, we need additional revenue sources for a new website and other initiatives that will require capital. 

I belong to a golf club. I pay a yearly membership fee which gives me access to tee times. However, special events and club tournaments are an additional fee. The club offers my kids youth classes for a fee. I can hire a pro to help me with my fade. I pay extra for a locker and club storage. Walking is included in my membership but I can rent a cart if I want to ride. I pay a yearly fee to track my handicap. This à la carte model is how the USBGF will raise additional revenues. 

The launch of ABT Online! was well timed. We have depended on live tournaments to sign up new memberships and renew existing memberships. Membership numbers were struggling pre-COVID. The shutdown could have accelerated a steeper decline. Fortunately we launched ABT Online! just as the shutdown created a demand for online tournaments. Because of ABT Online! memberships have increased and are holding steady. 

With the launch of ABT Online! we required USBGF membership and a per-player tournament fee to participate. We received complaints, mostly from equity calculators. It has bewildered me why some players won’t play in a live tournament because the rake is 10% instead of 5%. After hotel, air travel, meals, lost time at work, etc., the difference seems negligible, and you still have to cash! I don’t win enough in golf competitions to pay for my membership but my equity calculation includes an entertainment factor, so the decision to renew is easy. 

We have been asked to justify the USBGF fees. Like any other business we have to manage risk or potentially experience tragedy. We commit to expenses with the promise to pay. Our members expect better products and services. We cannot operate and grow without a surplus. Being a not-for- profit organization means that our profits remain in the organization and are not paid out to individuals as dividends. Our future surpluses will be invested in our mission and your experience. 

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