Join Bridge Winners
What can Units and Districts Do?
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The range of involvement of Units and Districts in recruiting new members varies broadly.  I've heard from some on this forum that Units and Districts do nothing for clubs or teachers.  I've heard elsewhere on this site that Units and Districts do support clubs and teachers in several ways:

  • Cash compensation for tables lost during tournaments;
  • District/Unit sponsored Bridge sites subleased by clubs and teachers;
  • Unit and District websites and newsletters and e-mails sharing upcoming events with membership;
  • Olli Osher classes attracting newer 50+ yr olds (back) to the game, and more.

I've decided not to make this a poll because the Q/A format is too limiting.  The business landscape across the ACBL Zone varies greatly.  

What I am interested in is your thoughts on what "services" would be interesting to small, medium, and large clubs and all teachers were Units and Districts to provide them at fair cost to you.

So I've come up with several ideas that I hope will provoke discussion here.  To ease my typing, everywhere you see U/D read Unit or District.

We'll look at:

  • Promotion and Communication
  • Planning
  • Overhead mitigation (Risk and Cost)
  • Services

By way of background, and to frame the salient points for our discussion, let me describe bridge in Cincinnati:

We have 3 large sites and several small sites.  The large sites are 1) a Unit leased center (6000+ ft sq) with full electronic equipment, kitchenette, and storage holding 8 games most weeks; 1 Community Center with 2 games per week and a Senior center with 4 games per week.  You can see the table counts by sanction here: 

Restating the table counts by LOCATION (or Bridge Center if you will) says:

          2017 Tables

CBC          6623.5

Elsmere    1896

Anderson  1165

Others        433.5 (6 locations)

TOTAL     10118

About Unit 124 and the Cincinnati Metro Area

We had 20 sanctions in the Unit in 2017. Our big games/sites are three.   

The Anderson Community Center game is member owned and run by a director.  There are many non-ACBL Members playing.  They are less interested in special games and NAP/GNT competitions.  They are price sensitive. $5 entry fee.

The Elsmere KY NKy BC runs in a senior center room.  They actively recruit new players.  The state compensates the senior center for every senior the bridge club brings to the location.  Entry fees are $5 +1 for special games.  

The Cincinnati Bridge Center (CBC) is the Unit leased club location.  There are 9 sanctions for 8 sessions of bridge (a dwindling homestyle game runs in parallel with a "4 is enough" pairs game).  The center is accessible to the Interstate and is in the north central suburbs.  We provide dealing machines, game management software, immediate results posting results to the Unit website, 3 computers, a multimedia teaching room, and coffee/tea provided by the Unit (a reverse osmosis water supply and an automated Bunn brewer makes superb coffee.  Members can bring their own K-cups too).  

The Thursday and Friday games serve a light lunch (cold cuts) at the director's expense.  The Unit has one grandfathered sanction for Tuesday Evening.  This used to be a very strong open and 0-50 game, but has transitioned to NLM only, in part because newer players were off put by some "sharks" behavior, and because our better players no longer want to play at night.

The Unit pays roughly $60K per year (I, know Jeff, small potatoes) for the lease we are in the first year of a 10 year lease (our 21st year at this location).  (We estimate the buyout for the lease to be $250K).   We have just spend close to $50K in leasehold renovations to modernize the facility.  The CBC has become a location for D11 NAP Finals and for some GNT finals.  We get a modes income from the District for those 2-4 days.  On the whole the center runs at a slight deficit that we support from funds earned in our secitonal and our regional.  (Space cost for tournaments has become difficult here.  NKy ran a summer sectional at a CVG airport hotel.  They doubled their space fee this year and NKy cancelled).  Our cash balance covers our leas liability and builds toward a possible future where the Unit could own a facility instead of lease one.  Our Unit is a 501c4.  

I understand there are only 110 or so U/D owned facilities like ours.  Lexington has a member owned facility that leases space to sanction holders.  That way their Unit is not involved in the decision making and the current separation of Unit and Club influence on business is maintained.  In Cincinnati we have lease agreements that sell out rights and responsibilities of each party.  We work hard to keep business decisions where they belong.  

One result of this arrangement is that the Unit Volunteers at the CBC do most of the new member recruiting.  We have 14 teachers who participate. 

Our membership mirrors the ACBL as a whole.  Few participate in Facebook, and only 65% give us e-mail addresses.  We depend on word of mouth and websites, and information at the Bridge Center itself.  Facebook has been a bust for us.  However we might not be looking in the right place.  

Attracting New Players / Members

We have had to work very hard to find a volunteer supported model we could sustain that gives newest players low risk, fun ways to enjoy the game while they build their skills.  While we have a number of daytime and evening NLM games and a "4 is enough Game", we lack 0-5, 0-10, 0-20 type game for the very beginners.  Directors find the response is too small and don't want the hassle of making a second (or third) set of boards. 

It is unclear to me that more than one SH of the 8 at the CBC have supported 0-10 duplicate learning games in the past 3 years.  I am certain we have under 100 tables in that time period.  What we have instead is Come and Play - a social rubber bridge game meant to attract social groups and newest players to the bridge center.  We offer modest Q&A support and all benefits the center offers for $3 pp.  We also offer Supervised Play twice a week for $5 pp.  This attracts many member volunteers and supports a wide range of skill (beginners taking lessons at the CBC to people with under 100 MPs wanting to improve their game). 

We have tried LBIAD, but did not have the landing spot and path forward for newbies, so we only created 2 members out of 200 attendees.  Olli Osher classes have filled to capacity several times - too early to tell if we are creating new players and potential members yet.  

There are two issues with supervised play we haven't solved.  We appreciate the volunteer effort that makes this work, but the coaching is to the coaches preferences and you know what that means in bridge.  Also there is no assessment of the student's learning style.  The instruction dos not follow a standard curricula - it is what the volunteers want to teach.  We have a thriving mentor program.  Players play 4-6 times in the summer months with an experienced mentor.  Done well, the mentor concentrates on the player's learning goals and is supportive and encouraging.  Mostly that works.  We take great care in matching players to mentors by known personality.

U124 does not have a college program, though some teaching at high schools happens from time to time.  

NKy is very active at attracting newer players.  They run 4 games under one sanction and many directors help direct.  There is always beaucoup homemade goodies available and many party games where the food is superb.  They run their own mentor program and have been running a summer sectional until this year. They have a supervised play evening session that is well attended. 

Anderson BC is member owned and run by its own board.  They are very focused on their own player preferences and do not run many special games.  Several players are not ACBL members.  They care more about fun and social interaction.   I am personally unaware of recruiting efforts by this club and suspect word of mouth is their primary tool.

When all is said and done, we continue to lose members at about 1-2% per year.  We also lose 50+ or so member snow birds from November to April.   

What Looks Like Support?

Now that I've shared U124 experience for background, I'd like to hear your thoughts about what might be useful services that Units and Districts could provide Clubs and Teachers.  I am going to leave cash aside because that is a separate discussion.  Instead I'd like to understand what non-cash help looks like.

It is important when you respond to let us know if you are a teacher or club owner (or both) and if your club/class is small, medium, or large.   

Please post ideas that you have for others to discuss.  Here is a list of ideas to support Clubs and Teachers:

  • Provide a bridge center for club owners to lease so that space overhead is dedicated and manageable and people have one place to play/learn.
  • Peer Conferences at tournaments for sharing best practices, learning new skills, demonstrating new tools (pianola, wbe-based teaching)
  • Recruiting sessions at tournaments (e.g. LBIAD, etc.) where teacher and club owners can introduce the game, and benefit from promotion by the U/D as well as their own.  Requires coordination and reservations for planning success.
  • Free publicity for U/D wide club events and classes in periodic newsletters and websites.
  • Training on Facebook and Google advertising.  How to do it, how much it costs, etc.
  • Train Teachers and Sanction holders in alternative ways to reach, teach and retain newet players.
  • Free plays to students and players joining within the year. Have 0-20 0-49, 0-199, and NLM events just for them.
  • Train newest players in what to expect at bridge tournaments.  
  • Train newest players in the proprieties of the game (small bite size sessions please)
  • Provide a clearing house for clubs and teachers to share services 
  • Share/lease prospect lists for teachers and clubs to follow-up on. 
  • Coordinate Club, Teacher, Unit, and District offerings to newest players so they see the range of choices in their area.
  • Engage membership committees to bring newest players up to speed more quickly.  
  • Provide personal partnership service that creates a group or network of peers that a player can join for future club and tournament games.
  • Provide mentoring events so newest players can play with experienced partners and teammates in a meaningful fair competition (4 is enough pairs, 8 is enough teams, pro-Am pairs, etc.)
  • Have tournaments promote bridge to the community; track response and provide a teacher/club-led information session about trial options from teachers and clubs at the tournament.  Have U/D tournaments promote bridge in press releases to community newspapers and online (Facebook etc.)
  • Create video assets on you tube that teachers and clubs can use for newest players.  
  • Focus on creating recruiting and supporting bridge clubs/teams at colleges and universities.
  • Focus on creating and supporting after school bridge programs for middle and high school children
  • Offer training and certification for bridge teachers underwritten by the U/D.  Requires teacher support a minimum number of students in an agreed period of time (reimburse results, not activity).
  • Offer training for new directors who are also interested in owning their on sanction.
  • Manage stock teaching material (e.g. hands) that teachers can subscribe to so they work less on preparing lessons and more on teaching.
  • more.....

What do you think?

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