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ACBL Tournament Finances - opportunity to improve the process

Unit/District Tournament Finances

There is a window of opportunity for Unit/District Boards to voice input to ACBL on changes to the ACBL Tournament Finances process. I suspect that this will not be publicized much, but it could have a major impact on the sponsors (Units/Districts). This will impact only a very few people, all volunteers, but it could have a major impact on the amount of volunteer hours that we cumulatively spend. I don't know when this window opens or will close, but it is likely a once in a generation opportunity to make life so much easier for a large group of volunteers and to give us more control/information over the tournaments we sponseor.

Background:

ACBL use ACBLscore to generate Tournament Finance Reports (TFR) for tournaments the ACBL sanctions (Regionals/Sectionals). Ironically the tournaments that ACBL sponsors - the Nationals - do NOT use ACBLscore. I will use TFR for the generic term for all financial information for a tournament.

Typically a District will sponsor a Regional, a Unit will sponsor a Sectional, but this varies through ACBL land. In some cases a Unit sponsors a Regional, or a club/private entity will sponsor a Sectional. For the purpose of this discussion, I will just refer to the Unit/District (UD) as the sponsor but there are local differences within ACBL.

Typically the Director-In-Charge (DIC) is the one that enters all the financial information into ACBLscore. Larger tournaments (e.g. Gatlinburg) will use a dedicated resource for financials.

ACBL have announced that they will be dropping support for ACBLscore on DOS. This is the aforementioned window of opportunity.

If you talk to any DIC, they all use the DOS version of ACBLscore for Tournament Financials. The Windows version is known to be buggy, has various limitations. This forum is not the place to list all the problems, ACBL TDs are not likely to post here, the better place for this is the internal ACBL forums. The problems are well-known, just not well documented. There is little incentive to fix the current problems, because the majority of TDs all know how to work around the current problems. With DOS support being dropped, ACBL will have to make changes; what those changes are, and how they are made, is crucial.

DICs learn to use ACBLscore through informal on-the-job training. The better Field Supervisors (FS) will train a new Tournament Director (TD) in how to generate TFR. But the training is sketchy and varies throughout the country based on the FS.

If you have an accounting background, the TFR is hideously complicated and uses various accounting terms in ways that accountants never would. "Invoice" is really an expense, etc. The current interface is non-intuitive, even to TDs. The currrent system is not one that you would ever design or create, it has simply evolved over time.

With ACBL dropping support for DOS, they will have to spend resources either on improving the Windows version of ACBLscore for TFR, or, possibly (?) look at other methods of doing TFR. I would strongly recommend the latter. Tournament accounting should not be the function of a bridge scoring program.

The major problem with TFR is that they provide the sponsor (Unit/District) with very little information. Or rather, they provide that information in a format that is of little use to the sponsor.

When working on ACBLscore+, we (ACBL/Hammond Software) estimated that there are approximately 1,000 tournaments a year (900 Sectionals, 100 Regionals). There are about 200 TDs, all use ACBLscore for TFR. We estimated that there are about 300-400 volunteers that are the Tournament Chair (TC) or the Unit/District financial person (typically Treasurer). Nearly all 300-400 of these volunteers work separately, and independently. There is no communication, sharing of best practices within those volunteers. They all have their own system (typically Excel), and they will hand-enter information from the printed TFRs that the DICs give them into their own system. This is the way it has worked "for centuries".

There are many problems with the current system from the Unit/District perspective. All data from TFRs has to be hand-transcribed into a different format (typically Excel, sometimes directly into an accounting system). For larger Units/Districts you need to track information from multiple tournaments. For example, my Unit has 3,200 members and we have several sectionals throughout the year. We have enough regular caddies such that we may not need to generate a 1099 for a caddy for one tournament, but do need to generate a 1099 at the end of the year for some caddies.

When working on ACBLscore+, we had a solution for TFR that used Excel. As well as being much easier to use, maintain etc. it also meant that the sponsor (Unit/District) could get useful information about the tournament in a format that was well understood. ACBL later changed its mind and decided that they did want to use Excel "too hard for the TDs to learn something new, like Excel". I had a meeting with ACBL where I had some Unit and District officials willing to talk to ACBL as well as some TCs to explain what the various issue for the volunteers were. During discussions with ACBL, ACBL said, "we don't care about them [Unit/District volunteers]," and ACBL refused to meet with them. It was certainly not an attitude I expected, but if you are one of "them", I suggest you let your District Director know what can be done to help you as a sponsor and that this information is passed on to ACBL.

Some of the District Directors will be reading this post. Most of them have made their way up the bridge leadership chain and some will have been a TC or on a Unit/District Board. Hopefully enough of them will be able to explain to ACBL how important it is that the Unit/District sponsors have input in the functional requirements or changes to the current system.

ACBL are going to be spending resources on improving TFR, but unless something is said/done, this will only be to improve how the DICs work or make life easier for ACBL. ACBL "don't care" about the local volunteers. I don't know when the window of opportunity will open, but talk to your DD. Remember, the current system is so flawed that ACBL refuses to use it for the tournaments they sponsor (Nationals) but insist upon its use at all tournaments they do not sponsor (Regionals/Sectionals). There is a much better way of doing business, that will drastically cut down on the unnecessary volunteer hours that TCs/Sponsor Treasurers are spending. Please talk to your DD. Ideally provide the DD with a list of functional requirements that you'd like to see in a new system, e.g.

1. Ability to get all tournament financial information electronically

2. Break down of all costs of the tournament

3. Break down of all income by event

4. List of all payments to non ACBL employees for 1099 purposes

5. Ability to provide historic tracking data for events

I am sure that others that have worked more with TFR can improve upon this list.

Once "we" (sponsors) can get this more detailed information, then it can help us understand the tournaments better and be able to offer a better service to our customers.

Pointedly, the issue of TFR was not on the agenda for the new CEO Technology Oversight Committee. Club finances was listed in the minutes; but not tournament finances.

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