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All comments by Robert Hartman
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I would like to take a moment to clarify some comments that were made regarding ACBL financials. While the ACBL is on solid financial ground, the majority of the gains were actually reductions in long-term liabilities due to freezing pension benefits. The following chart summarizes the categories that resulted in the change in net assets:

2012 ———- 2011 ————- 2010

Change in Net Assets
from “Operations”
$351,511 —– $252,250 —– $(61,017)

Change in Market Value
of Investments
$80,341 —— $88,004 —— $(66,375)

Pension Related
Changes
$986,376 —– $307,959 —– $(456,266)

Change in Net Assets -GAAP
$1,420,228 —- $648,213 —- $(583,658)

The improvement in our financial position has allowed us not to raise fees in 2013 – this was the first time in over a decade where no fees have been increased.

With that being said, we need to invest in our future. The ACBL has embarked on an aggressive five-year strategic plan to make sure our game is around for decades to come –and this will only be possible with investment spending in both Technology and Marketing.

Three of the five Strategic Projects that we’re working on in 2013 are rooted in improving our technology – we are planning to spend over $1,000,000 in technology improvements in 2013 alone. Marketing is also a critical component to our success and we are laying the groundwork with the recent hire of a new Marketing Director and a strategic project centered on market research.

We pride ourselves as being as transparent as possible. As a Member, the ACBL is your organization. Should you have any specific questions about our finances or any other matter, please do not hesitate to drop me a line at ceo@acbl.org.

Thanks,
Robert
May 8, 2013
Robert Hartman edited this comment May 8, 2013
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Thank you all for some great questions. I've enjoyed my time in The Well!
Feb. 10, 2012
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Robert,

Here are some challenges that we face as an organization:

1. We need to build up our technology infrastructure including the modernization of the ACBLscore program.

2. Bridge is thriving in certain areas and struggling in other parts of the country. I foresee this gap widening in the future.

3. Our organization needs a solid strategic plan to guide our growth.

4. We need to build stronger relationships with our fellow bridge organizations including the USBF, WBF, CBF, etc.

5. We need a succession plan as our Headquarter employees and Tournament Directors reach retirement age. We expect a large turnover in staff over the next decade.

6. By far, the number one complaint I receive is regarding negative experiences at Club games. Unfortunately, we have no control over the treatment of our Members at our sanctioned Clubs.

7. We are a volunteer organization. We have Volunteers at every level who work so hard on behalf of bridge. We are reliant on their continued support.
Feb. 10, 2012
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Peg,

My favorite bridge memory was playing in my first NABC in Atlantic City in 1991. I had been practicing at home with my friend Isaac and we were excited to test our bridge skills in the 0-5 game! At the time I had little Club playing experience and we were both amazed at the massive number of players at that tournament. It was experience I will never forget.
Feb. 9, 2012
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Mark,

We currently sign up between 10,000 and 12,000 new Members per year. Unfortunately, we are losing about an equal number every year. I've been told that if we can keep Members for three years, our retention rate of those Members going forward is extraordinarily high.

We need to work on conducting more meaningful research. We need to better understand the satisfaction levels of our Members and the reasons they decide to cancel their Membership. Our Marketing and Membership Departments have taken this on as a primary goal for 2012.
Feb. 9, 2012
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Gilbert,

Once again we come back to technology playing a key role in helping our current Members and prospective Members. Through the use of the internet and apps, we currently offer “find a club” and “find a teacher” functionality. It is now as easy as typing in your zip code to receive both a list of clubs and teachers offering lessons in your area. A partnership finder will be developed in the near future to help our Members as well.
Feb. 9, 2012
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Brad,

Online bridge is going to be a key piece of the puzzle to both introduce new players to bridge and provide a platform for continued learning. One of my earliest meetings as CEO was with Fred and Uday of BBO to see if we could find ways to work together to support our game, rather than working against one another. The meeting was a positive one. It will be a win-win if we can find ways to cross pollinate and have our online players visit face-to-face clubs and vice versa.
Feb. 9, 2012
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Josh,

Excellent question. I haven't given much thought to cash tournaments and I am not aware of the history on this subject. I'd like to do some research and get back with you.
Feb. 9, 2012
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Sorry I was away from the internet, but now I am back!
Feb. 9, 2012
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Hendrik,

You make an excellent point. The effect that I/N games, strata-flighting and bracketed events have on the field is that it creates separate events where players of different skill levels rarely interact. It is unfortunate that less experienced players are afraid to “play up”.


I'm sure that this segmentation was created in response to the wants of the newer customers, giving them a place where they can compete. I'm not sure what can be done now, except a strong continuing education effort to these players.

Feb. 9, 2012
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Phil,

Rather than a marketing opportunity, Team Bathurst was a great publicity opportunity. Our team put together a press release that was sent through a press distribution company at a national level and to the hometowns of each member on the team. Even with strong follow up, we didn't get much traction with the story outside of the bridge world.
Unfortunately, it is difficult to change the perception of the news gatekeepers who don’t seem to appreciate that our game has an appeal to a mass audience. We need to do a better job of changing these attitudes. Publicity is critical to the League and we are researching outside resources to assist us with the efforts.
Feb. 9, 2012
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Steve,

That is what most people say – the dog is the cute one in the photo! She is a cattle dog and actually belongs to the photographer. She was adopted from Peru and we just hit it off during the shoot.

Growing up, my family took me to the races at Belmont Park and I've always had a love of horses. After college, I worked in a marketing capacity at race tracks in New York as well as Santa Anita Park in Southern California. Then, I left horse racing for about a decade until I rejoined Golden Gate Fields as their Vice President and General Manager.

Thanks for the invite to the well. I'm enjoying the interaction with our Members.

Feb. 9, 2012
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Candance,

Thanks for the information and sending the Marketing package to my email address. I will review it and get back with you.
Feb. 9, 2012
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Richard,

You are spot on when looking at the mean versus median. The age data I posted earlier was readily available to me. More detailed information will follow once we've had the chance to pull it together.
Feb. 9, 2012
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Hanan,

I respectfully disagree. There needs to be an effort made on both fronts. The boomers present the most immediate opportunity and it would not be wise to ignore this segment.
Feb. 9, 2012
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Josh,

First off, congratulations on winning the Blue Ribbon Pairs. I was in the other room finishing 10th in the Mini Blues. To my earlier point, I had other commitments in my 20s and 30s that took me away from the bridge table and I didn’t play too often. I'm a diamond in need of some polishing. Given my new role, I hope to focus on improving my game.
Feb. 9, 2012
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Eugene,

It has long been recognized that there are drawbacks to the existing masterpoint system in which players accrue points over time. The late Paul Soloway famously joked, “Masterpoints are an attendance award, and I have a PhD in attendance.”

A rating system, similar to what golf or chess uses in which a player’s rating goes up or down based on performance, appeals to some players. The idea of rating system, therefore, to supplement (NOT replace) masterpoints has been around for a long time. Serious presentations have been made to the ACBL Board of Directors about such systems (player and author Nick Straguzzi pitched a detailed plan in 1996), but there are difficulties in implementing such a plan.

How do you compare “performance ratings” in a pairs event versus team events? Unlike golf or chess, bridge is a partnership game: How much of your “rating” is dependent on the strength of your partner? Would strong players avoid being mentors to new players for fear of damaging their ratings? Would a new player who does well with a strong mentor achieve a rating disproportionate to their actual strength? Would bad ratings discourage players from participating? These are just a few of the foreseeable problems with such a system.
It’s true that technology has improved to the point that we can track a Member’s performance much more easily than ever, but serious questions remain about how to make such a system work.
Feb. 9, 2012
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GW,

I have been made aware of the difficulties facing some of our Sectionals and Regionals. We will be meeting with our top Tournament Directors at the end of the month and this item is on the agenda. As far as the space issue is concerned, it would be beneficial is we could take advantage of our tremendous buyer power as a League.
Feb. 9, 2012
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Barry,

When I worked as the head of marketing for Athletic Department at the University of California, Berkeley, we conducted tremendous amounts of research on the attendees at our sporting events over multiple decades. We found that if, as a student, you weren’t introduced to Cal football or basketball, we lost you as a fan forever.

If you attended sporting events as a student, we still lost you as season ticket holder from age 30 to 50 as there was a shift in focus for this demographic to building a career and family. But once they had more disposable time and money (with time being the key factor), these fans came back to attending live Cal athletic events. While I do not have hard data to back me up, my guess is that a similar phenomenon happens with bridge.

Give me some time to pull together the appropriate data, and I will share it with the group. It would be most helpful to have the statisticians out there analyze the numbers. Thanks for the question.
Feb. 9, 2012
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John,

The Atlanta Junior Bridge Program has been tremendously successful. Our Members, including Patty Tucker, have taken an active role in developing and nurturing this program. We’ve had other regionalized successes, including programs in the Washington DC area. Members in these areas built these programs and they continue to thrive.

Unfortunately, the average age of our Members is increasing. In March 2001, the average age of an ACBL Member was 65.59. In 2006, the average age was 67.61 and in 2011 the average age currently stands at 69.55. The trend is not our friend. It should be noted that the average US life expectancy has also increased over the past decade (76.7 to 78.2 years of age).

We do need to do a better job connecting people in their area with a love of bridge. It is unfortunate that your daughter wishes to play but has not been able to meet others with a similar interest. Technology can go a long way in helping our Members find partners and bridge games in their area. We are working on developing this functionality for our Membership.
Feb. 9, 2012
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