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What Influences New Members to Join the ACBL?

(I hope that the discussion and data is useful to everyone and not just those on this site who belong to the ACBL.  I would be very interested in hearing data and strategy from other parts of the world regarding introduction, trial, adoption, and growth by newer players of duplicate bridge.  There are over 25 MM Households in the ACBL Zone that have at least one person who knows how to play bridge, yet we have only 167,000 or so members.  There's plenty of room for growth.)

We've engaged in some discussion regarding the recent cuts int he ACBL cooperative advertising program (Reno BoD).  One open question is how effective is advertising spending on the recruitment and retention of new members?  No doubt advertising on behalf of member recruitment activities has its place. So too does advertisement by teachers for the classes they teach.  Surely Bridge Teachers rarely have a budget that can provide adequate media reach in markets where membership growth is greatest.  Units (and perhaps Districts) may be more able to sustain advertising with an eye toward growth.

I do not address advertising efficacy, media choice, and ad design here.  Frankly, this can be an effort as great or greater than the simple coordination of an effective local ad campaign.  

Beth Reid (BoD D11) got some interesting data from the ACBL that I want to share with you who are looking to build membership in your clubs and Districts.  My preconceptions have been shattered. ACBL New Member Referral Data 2010-2015 

The data clearly demonstrates that the Personal Touch - Friends, Club Managers/Directors, and Bridge Clubs are the primary reason that new members state that got them to join the ACBL.  These three factors account for 85% of new member referrals over the past 5 years.  Teachers account for 9%.  

No, the data doesn't speak to finer details, nor does it point to on-line bridge specifically.  I cannot know if that is real or perhaps an effect of an unintended bias in the question.  I do not even know what per cent of all new members completed this question when they joined.  The numbers seem convincing.

This squares with our experience in Cincinnati. Community and News print ads, and Ads on National Public Radio drew very little response.  

Events like Learn Bridge in a Day work if and only if there is a motivated teacher who takes new players into a learning track.  That learning track must point toward duplicate bridge, and not just home bridge (some teachers deter players from early exposure to duplicate - perhaps there is a conflict of interest here).  There needs to be a game or two that allows people to play with their peers and to learn with coaching.  There should be a lesson cycle that helps bring newer players through a curriculum that gets them to proficiency in Club Games (and perhaps equipped for Sectionals).  

We have found that word of mouth - engaging the newer players to bring friends - a networking process that takes time - supported by a welcoming learning environment brings a nice stream of newer players.

I can't help but imagine member recruitment would improve were we to:

1) Have a meaningful presence on College Campuses (including courses for minor credit), and

2) Have Olli Osher Classes for the 50+ Crowd and an integrated Unit program behind it in Universities/Community Colleges across the Country.

The point is we need to get to the point of personal interaction if we are to grow our game substantially.  Yes, apps and downloaded games for a rage of media have some appeal.  However they are not what draws new members to the rolls.  At least not yet - Yes, I recognize that those tools have not been executed with excellence so the comparison is faulty.  But what is true - we need more members recruiting friends and friends of friends if we are to grow our members.

Perhaps a focus on a standard tool kit/curriculum for both venues would allow Units and Clubs drive membership in an appropriate setting, where people want to learn and challenge themselves while having fun.  I Know I learned Bridge as a Freshman in College.  I played for 5 years then dropped out for 20. Careers do that.  But like many others I renewed my interest as family demands waned.  There are many more of us out there.  

What do you think?  What ideas does this data suggest we do?

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