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The future of the ACBL- The next 10 years

The Board of Directors has little real accountability to the membership. Board elections are typically either not contested, or proceed with very small voter turnout and little membership interest. The president of the ACBL is picked by the board of directors and not by the membership at large. The membership is provided little information on board initiatives and activities (case in point being the disaster with ACBL Score where little if any of the details of what happened were communicated to the membership). It would be very difficult if not impossible for the membership at large to organize and change the board leadership and focus of the board, even if the leadership did something egregious.

The Board of Directors’ narrative is that the ACBL is doing well and has a bright future. They argue that membership level is now stable at around 165,000 and there are several board committees at work, with initiatives to enhance the bridge experience in North America and to increase membership. They view those who criticize the ACBL board and think the ACBL is about to “fall off a cliff” in terms of membership and tournament attendance as ignorant of the facts and believe the best strategy is just to ignore them.

The Board of Directors has a vested interest in maintaining their narrative. It allows them to continue doing the things they like and are comfortable doing, all the while enjoying the spoils of their position (e.g. prestige, trips to tournaments, free plays etc.).

The problem is that the Board’s narrative is likely false. A critical concern that the Board seems to dismiss is the age of the bridge population. The average age of ACBL members is now around 70 years old and given continuance of past membership trends in 10 years will increase to around 75. While a person’s propensity to play tournament bridge may not be affected much as he/she goes from age 55 to 65 (and in fact it might go up), it is certainly affected negatively as that person ages from 70 to 80 and beyond.

I’ve written to President Subeck and asked that the Board consider hiring an independent outside consultant to do a 10 year projection of membership and tournament attendance (of course factoring in account the age of the membership). President Subeck has not bothered to even reply to my e-mail.So, if I am right that tournament attendance and membership are going to “fall off the cliff” in the next 10 years, my expectation is that the status quo will be maintained and the Board of Directors (and ACBL staff) will continue with business as usual as long as they can until it becomes absolutely obvious to everyone that we are at the “bottom of the ravine.” Unfortunately, and especially given the position of the Board, I believe there is very little that can be done to change the course of what will happen.

This situation that I am predicting is not unique to the ACBL. It has happened countless times before, with the details and the players being slightly different but the storyline is always much the same. The business appears to be doing great then suddenly it falls apart.I started my career as an Actuary at Confederation Life Insurance Co. Many will remember that Confed was doing great in the 1980’s. It was one of the fastest growing and most well respected life insurance companies in North America. Then the real estate slowdown happened in the late 80’s/early 90’s and the fact that Confed had made a giant bet on the real estate market became evident. By 1994, the company was in receivership. There are countless similar stories. In virtually all of them there were early warning signs of issues which were ignored by the establishment until the situation became just too obvious to ignore.I hope I am wrong about the ACBL, but just don’t think so.

 

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