Bridge surges

A recent article in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune touted the resurgence of contract bridge in America. The statistics certainly back this up. ACBL membership is now more than 164,000, compared to close to 150,000 just twenty years ago. Tournament and club attendance continues to increase.

And then there is the internet activity. At 7 a.m. this morning almost 8,000 people were playing on Bridge Base Online, which is only one of several internet sites. Many of these players were competing for ACBL masterpoints, but a large number were not counted among ACBL members, and hopefully they'll eventually join us

District 17 has been surging also. Our ACBL membership is up a solid 15% since the 1980's, and our tournaments continue to set attendance records.

Most importantly, our tournaments are almost always profitable and everyone involved enjoys financial viability.

It wasn't more than 15 years ago that the constant refrain was that "bridge is a dying game". Indeed, in 1991 the district organization was effectively bankrupt, and there was talk of downsizing. We now have a $150,000 treasury. In the mid 1990's the Western Conference was living off borrowed money, but they now have a net worth of roughly $50,000.

We are one of only three ACBL districts still providing a free monthly newspaper mailed to all our members. This is not only a benefit to our members, but an effective means of promoting regional tournaments and all bridge activity in our district. Statistics demonstrate that Western Conference regionals are on average 35% larger than the ACBL average, and this converts to money.

The internet is still not as effective as direct mail for advertising purposes. Our newspaper has been posted on the internet for about seven years, and the "hits" are nowhere close to the printed circulation. Nationwide, expenditures for direct mail are still double those for internet ads. Maybe some day, but not today.

District 17 regionals are the result of a partnership between the district and a host unit. It takes a lot of work by a lot of volunteers to produce a successful regional, and our host units are often, but not always, rewarded by profits up to $10,000. All our players benefit from first-class regionals, which pay for the newspapers and other district benefits. District 17's entry fees and hotel prices continue to be well below the national average.

Although most ACBL districts are allowed but four annual regionals, we currently get six. In addition, we'll have an NABC in Phoenix in 2013, another in Las Vegas in 2014, Denver in 2015 and plans for a twenty-day world championship in Las Vegas in 2018 are in the preliminary stages.

The District's Role
The ACBL's grand scheme gives each district the right to run and profit from regional. (Units get sectionals.) While most district organizations operate their allocated regionals without the involvement of any unit, in District 17 we have always relied heavily on a host unit. Basically, the district allocates our six regionals to our various units, sets the standards, reviews and approves a schedule of events, and is always standing by ready to help.

The usual formula for success is that our playing space is (mostly) paid for by bridge players renting rooms at the host hotel. About 65% of our regional players come from out-of-town, so it's essential that their interests are recognized. Occasionally their needs and preferences are slightly different than those of the locals. Schedules of events are reviewed by a district committee composed of those board members with the most knowledge and experience in this area, and then approved by the full district board. We are fortunate to have the expertise of Director-in-Charge Gary Zeiger.

We also try to make our decisions based on the huge amount of information posted on the internet. We can closely monitor the success or failure of new events that have been tried in other districts, or in other regionals within our own. A phone call or email usually results in useful information and/or advice, since we all face the same problems.

The district's finance committee closely scrutinizes proposed budgets and financial reports. Comparing costs from one tournament to another is an effective way to help control expenses. And the emphasis on accurate financial reporting increases everyone's awareness of the constant need to pay attention to the dollars.

The bridge rate
Hotel contracts have recently become an area of major concern. Most include a room-night guarantee, and in most cases if bridge players don't buy all the guaranteed rooms the tournament does. One hundred rooms short can easily result in a $10,000 penalty. And two or three hundred short.

In these economic times the "bridge rate" isn't always what it used to be. Players can shop on the internet and find rates substantially less. Often a hotel or motel in the area can be found for half the price offered by the host hotel, including free wireless and free breakfast. Many players are willing to give up the comfort and convenience of staying at the host hotel in order to save three or four hundred dollars for the week.

In recent months the district has stepped up by requiring that all hotel contracts be reviewed by a district committee composed entirely of lawyers (shudder). The lawyers are free (un-shudder). In addition to often providing immediate assistance, the committee's ultimate goal is to produce a list of the best of contract clauses from all our regionals which should be useful for everyone. "We get by with a little help from our friends".

Ironically, it's those tournaments that had the foresight to sign multi-year contracts that are now getting bitten by the changed economy. Room rates that seemed reasonable before the bubble collapsed have become simply too expensive in today's market. Some of our regional people have gone back to the hotel and obtained significant reductions in the bridge rate. The Phoenix Regional (August 9 to 15) just got the price reduced from $90 a night to $71 for the four diamond DoubleTree hotel. The official deadline will have passed by the time you read this, but the hotel has agreed to keep the offer open on a "space-available" basis, so give them a call at 800-446-8667.

Right after the Phoenix Regional you can be part of the Western Conference's Sectional Tournament at Clubs from August 16 to 22. It's billed as the world's largest sectional tournament and you play in your own home club.

The last District 17 regional of the year will be in Tucson October 4-10. The room rate is an attractive $82 a night, including free wifi and breakfast. With average daytime highs of 84 degrees, this is a great deal. The bridge rate is alive and well.

That's all for now. I've got to go play some bridge.

As always, your comments are appreciated. 970-923-2500, johnvanness@comcast.net.



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