USATT Club Affiliation Fee
On Tuesday night and into the early Wednesday morning hours I was involved in an extensive email discussion with USATT people and others regarding the USATT affiliation fee. For many years, it was kept low because we wanted clubs on the USATT club listing, since that's a primary way USATT gets members - through potential players who find a local club. If a local club isn't listed in the USATT club listing, then they don't find the club, don't get into table tennis, and never join USATT.
But a number of years ago, when USATT had a budget crunch, it raised the rates rapidly, and in just a few years it went from $15 to $75. We lost at least 100 affiliated clubs, and "coincidentally," about 2000 members. Alas, many clubs are happy with their current membership - more players mean crowded tables - and so getting onto the USATT club listing isn't a priority for them - but it needs to be a priority for USATT. (Alas, I can't post emails received, as they are confidential, but I can post what I wrote. Will Shortz, who owns the Westchester Club in NY, is also arguing for lowering the club affiliation fee, for the same reasons.) Below are excerpts from my emails.
When we argue that they [clubs] are getting all these wonderful things (i.e. insurance) for the money, we have to remember that many of these clubs don't need that insurance. (This is why we've discussed the idea of perhaps having two levels, a low standard one, no more than $25/year, and $75 for those who wish insurance.) As I've said, we went from $15/year to $75/year in just a few years, and that's when we lost about 100 clubs, and untold numbers of potential members who went to our club listing, didn't see a club near them because the local club wasn't listed, and so we lost it. (And now our membership, which broke 9500 shortly before we began raising the club affiliation fee, is down something like 2000 members to about 7500.) Think about it - every time a potential player from Baltimore finds our club listing, he doesn't see the Baltimore Club, and so we lose him as a member. If we lose 100 clubs on our listing, and lose just two members per year as a result, that's $15,000/year, far more than what we'd get from the higher affiliation fee - and those members accumulate year after year so it's really a lot more per year.
Actually, when you write, "I believe some of those clubs simply don't care about USATT, don't care about being listed on our website, don't care about our insurance, and don't care about using our products (tournaments, leagues)," we are almost in complete agreement. It's not that they don't care about USATT or being listed on our website, they just aren't high on their priority list. [Technically I'm quoting someone else's email, but since we both agree on it, I don't think that's a problem.]
My point is that we need most of them more than they need us. When the price was low, they joined because it's inexpensive, and we gained members from players who join their club. It's pretty much a fact that a much larger percentage of clubs in the past were USATT affiliated than now; it's 100% true in Maryland, and it's what I hear regularly all over the country, that we have more and more non-affiliated clubs. (Alas, while we want more members, many clubs aren't actively looking for more - they are happy as they are, and so affiliate only if the price is low. We offer them value, just not $75 worth.) [Note - in one of the emails I pointed out that only two of the eight clubs I know of in Maryland are USATT affiliated, when all of them were previously before we dramatically raised the rates.]
I've been "out in the trenches" running or helping to run numerous clubs since the late 1970s (New Carrollton TTC where I started, Prince Georges TTC, Butterfly Wilson TTC, Univ. of MD TTC, Northern Virginia TTC, Beltsville TTC, Club JOOLA, and MDTTC, plus working with dozens of others), and talking to other club leaders regularly, and I guarantee that the price absolutely does make a difference. If you really truly believe there's no difference between $15 and $75, then you've just rewritten the rules of economics. :) More seriously, there was a very noticeable drop in clubs affiliating as the price went up, which was predicted in advance, and now we're down at least 100 clubs and 2000 members for no seeming reason, other than paralleling our dramatically rising cost. The reasons you give about the clubs not caring about USATT, etc., are no different than before, except we now offer more - insurance, which we didn't do before - and yet many joined before, but not now. Sure, there might be other factors, but the quintupling of the affiliation fee is by far the biggest.
If you were running a business, and decided to quintuple your rates, and you were told in advance that if you did this your sales would go down a lot, and you still quintupled them, and sales went down a lot, what would you conclude was the most likely factor in sales going down? I don't think one needs an MBA to answer this. The ONLY serious question here, IMHO, is whether it's worth the loss of club affiliation revenue to regain those 100 or so clubs. I think that's rather obvious as well, though using a two-fold system (more for those who need insurance) is the best idea.
Most of our members come from tournament players, but nearly 100% of tournament players start out as club players. When there are fewer clubs, we have fewer club players, and then we have fewer tournament players, and so fewer USATT members. It's a simple cause and effect relationship.
We've already gone over the case of quintupling the club affiliation fee and losing 100 clubs and 2000 members. Here's another example. In the early 1990s, I chaired the club committee. I introduced the Club Catalyst and Creation Program (yes, CCCP, an inside joke), whose goal was to create clubs in every city in the country with a population over 100,000, then 50,000. We set up club directors in I believe 43 states. While there were screams and cries that USATT was trying to take over the clubs and that the program wouldn't work (sound familiar?), we went from 226 to 301 clubs in two years – and membership went up about 2000, from about 5500 to 7500.
Then a new administration came in and wanted to do their own things, and cancelled the program (which had a $500 annual budget for postage and phone calls – no Internet those days), and clubs and membership numbers went back to static for years. But gradually, with the club fee staying the same, its relative price went down, and gradually the number of clubs increased to over 350, and membership to over 9500 – we were on the verge of breaking 10,000. And then USATT had a budget crunch, and took the "easy" way out, increasing the club affiliation fees while assuming that they wouldn't lose any clubs or members, which of course were silly assumptions. (I was at the meeting arguing strongly that they'd lose clubs, members and money this way, to no avail – it's in the minutes if I search around for them.) Anyway, the result was exactly as described above, and now we're back to around 250 clubs and 7500 or so members.
The strange thing is that, despite these facts, I can't seem to get people to understand that it is the number of clubs that has driven the number of members. When we did something that increased the number of clubs, but no change for members, membership shot up 2000. When we did something that lowered the number of clubs, but no change for members, we lost 2000 members. Let's learn from our history.
The first thing we need to do is get info – primarily, how many clubs use or need the insurance. Once we have that, then we can work from there to see what the cost would have to be for clubs that want insurance. As to the values listed below, until we add something new that many clubs want, or lower the cost, we won't get back to 350 clubs, or the 450 that we should be at, or the corresponding members we lose by not having them on our club listing.
Why not do a survey of clubs, and explain that we have to go to a two-tier system, and need to know how many clubs need the insurance? Then we might be able to charge those clubs more than $75/year. Ideally, we would include former clubs in the survey – hopefully we still have contact info for former affiliated clubs?
Some of these increases may have been rationalized because of the insurance – not sure. But as I keep pointing out, if we raise the club rate to pay for insurance, and end up LOSING money by doing so (from lost clubs and memberships), then the proper thing to have done would have been to keep the rates lower so as NOT to lose that money.
Ideally, I'd still like to see the two-track method ($25 for non-insurance club affiliation), $75 (or more) for the insurance option. Or perhaps sell them separately - $25 for the affiliation [which puts them on the USATT Club listing - which will soon have an interactive map], and whatever more is needed to make the insurance cost-effective, taking into account how important it is that we get them on the club listing.
I was told how much money USATT made when they raised the club affiliation fee. My response was to ask how much money we made when we lost 2000 members after raising the club fee. We have to look at the big picture.
Sid and Nandan Naresh on Ellen DeGeneres Show TODAY
Here's a Facebook photo gallery (6 pictures - click on each to see the next) of the taping. It airs on the Ellen DeGeneres Show today at 3-4PM on NBC. (Check your local listing to verify the time in your region.) Someone nobody with a weak forehand named Emma Watson is also on the show. (Hermione from Harry Potter, Belle/Beauty in the upcoming Beauty and the Beast.) Sid, 13 (on Feb. 13, probably after the taping), is rated 2260, and was on last year's USA Mini-Cadet Team; Nandan, 10, is rated 2014. (Let's not forget father Arcot, who has been rated as high as 2066!)
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15 years ago (March 2, 2002) today marks a very memorable day for me. I did not only play well in the 2002 German National Championships, but the tournament was also held in my hometown Koblenz in front of my parents, family and friends. Back then my parents didn't get to see me play much and I will never forget this special day. After years of sacrifices for me from my parents, it was their first time seeing me play in a professional tournament. With the tremendous support of my Coach Andrzej Grubba guiding me through all my matches, I had an incredible run with a third-place finish in Men's Singles, eventually losing to Timo Boll.
In the Doubles, I finished second in Mixed Doubles with Nicole Struse. In Men's Doubles, I had an early exit with my partner, former Men's Doubles World Champion Steffen Fetzner, in the round of 16. Check out some of my highlights with the players below. In this video, we were still playing with the 38mm ball, old service rules, and speed glue, representing our state federations at the German Nationals.
Singles: Round of 32: Nico Christ 4:1; Round of 16: Lars Hielscher WR#68 4:0; Quarterfinals: David Daus WR#120 4:0; Semifinal: Timo Boll WR#3 0:4.
Mixed Doubles: Final: Nicole Struse Wr#41 & Stefan Feth WR#156 vs. Elke Schall WR#55 & Torben Wosik WR#40 1:3.
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