By Ken Monzingo
National Board Representative
Once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth. –Arthur Conan Doyle (1859-1930)
nderstanding who we truly are is certainly sustenance for philosophers and mystery writers like A.C. Doyle (Sherlock Holmes). But also for us in the governing halls of ACBL – at all levels, but especially bridge clubs. Truths and realities of the ACBL member – who he is, and who he will be – need to supersede the negative, self-serving cliches or know-it-all doomsday declarations as we continue our enviable position as a thriving multi-nation association.
• Truth: We are (on April 7) 168,744 loyal members, religiously paying our annual ACBL dues, and trekking to the bridge clubs and tournaments like swarms of insatiable lemmings.
• Truth: We now average 72 years young, of which 62.77% are women, 37.23% men, and near 90% devoted to the game.
• Truth: ACBL adds an average of 550 new juniors every year, or about 5% of all new members. Over the past five years, the league has recruited 3,000+ new juniors – about 1.8% of us – who make up 50-60% of the junior membership. Of the juniors we lose, 65% age out (too old!), and 35% just leave.
• Truth: Total membership, although maturing, remains constant. Yes, our average age has been going up lately, but not to panic; we lose about 1000/month, and gain about 1000/month (gains average age is 65 – the “Baby Boomers” demographic).
Demographics & Stats
My initial impressions of who we are came from ACBL after I requested an accounting of membership by age; receiving enlightening reports of two groups – juniors and seniors – within the following age demographics (in 25-year segments):
Membership by age (figures approximate since 27,650 members did not disclose their years – especially those turning 70)
• 2010 Members Ages 1-25 (Jr.): 1,430 0.85%
• 2010 Members Ages 56-80 (Sr.): 125,400 74.0%
Yikes! But in succeeding years, more telling numbers:
• 2016 Members Ages 1-25 (Jr.) 1,230 0.73%
• 2016 Members Ages 56-80 (Sr.) 131,400 78.0%
Yikes 2! In the six years I’ve monitored membership age we have declined by about 200 juniors (ages 1-25), while senior membership (ages 56-80) has increased by about 6000.
Now, if you had a struggling business of widgets for sale, and you were faced with the above figures of who buys your product, tell me, how would you go about marketing that product?
By the way, the next demographic age sampling of 81-100 contains an amazing 30,000 (18%), with still another 60 centenarians fessing up to be 101 or over! Like the widget man, the board of directors has chosen as our number one concern to improve (grow) and retain membership – selling our brand.
The Juniors Committee
hen first I joined the national board the president assigned me to the Juniors Committee – a noble cause lacking membership success to speak of. I asked to be re-assigned, as I was uncertain that there-in lies immediate, permanent league growth. The rationale then appeared to be not now, but later, they’ll be members. Okay. However, as their numbers remained constant, maybe it’s right to offer them new options of bridge gaming – such as improved cyber lessons/play.
As president I’ve appointed a Juniors Committee, chaired by an excellent, aggressive leader – and I expect some progressive results. I’m not so negative on the past effort, it’s been a tough sell, asking youngsters to join in the game of their grandparents instead of their ever-expanding electronic game worlds.
Maybe we should better fight battles in fields where we can win, like recruiting the Baby Boomers (allegedly born 1945+), instead of Millennials (often referred to as born c. 1982).
Clubs: The Secret Weapons
t is no secret that really successful ACBL bridge clubs and tournaments are located in Florida and California – both with senior retirement and snowbird communities. But seniors everywhere need concerted efforts. A recent pie graph by our marketing department showed new members referrals come – by a large margin – mostly from clubs and friends. Teachers also contribute, but not like clubs: our real marketing tool.
New clubs are popping up all over my world in SoCal ... nothing could be a better sight; club bridge is alive and well in our Paradise on the Pacific. Give ‘em a visit, and an attaboy.
Peace, my friends.