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Discussion: Making numbers dance

in: iansmith; iansmith > 2016-09-13

Sep 15, 2016 2:08 AM # 
Question on numbers. There are members and then there are members. Or starts.
I was briefly on an O Canada Committee focused on attracting new members. I asked what kind of members OCan was after and was met with silence. There's a difference between random guy and say Ed Despard. Is there a way of sorting these? I have no answers but just checking if you've mulled it over.
Sep 15, 2016 2:24 AM # 
That's a great question, Nev. Certainly I can imagine that the definition of some of these members may have changed materially over time - if a big club changes how they deal with membership, that can have dramatic effects on the national numbers.

I think an analysis - a census of the orienteering community in the US - would be very informative. Given the lack of unified database for this analysis, I think a survey would be most appropriate. From the data in my club, NEOC, I believe starts are approximately pareto distributed - highly unequally, with a small number of orienteers at the top accounting for a large number of starts. Equivalently, we have a large group of casually or weakly engaged orienteers. The membership breakdown is speculation at best right now.

Ultimately, the data doesn't really support the idea that OUSA is on the rise.
Sep 15, 2016 2:29 AM # 
Hmm like the survey idea. Maybe the next Ed is already a casual member but needs vacuum or push to take more of an active role?
For CND I think the focus was on pure masses, leading a few clubs to try to game the system.
Sep 15, 2016 2:59 AM # 
We have less of an incentive to try to maximize membership in the US, as I'm not aware of any government funding that is contingent on raw participation (or really any at all). It would be interesting to collaborate with Orienteering Canada on successful approaches to growing the sport.
Sep 15, 2016 3:01 AM # 
Like all the international promotion going into the NAOC?
Sep 15, 2016 3:26 AM # 
Don't you read ONA? There were some pictures of the woods printed there. Doesn't that entice you to come to the event!
Sep 15, 2016 4:02 AM # 
This is what I get for using The Ed Despard as best case as a new club member. Good thing I didn't say anything about Alex or strong IPAs.
Sep 15, 2016 8:23 AM # 
What's NAOC?
Sep 15, 2016 8:33 AM # 
what's ONA? i haven't see an issue in 20+'years. ;-)

Nev, clubs didn't game the system per se for membership but asked OC if we should to help their cause. DGL has something like 2,000+ members now and 20% of OC members are ARK.
Sep 15, 2016 1:21 PM # 
The Ed started as a casual member, but an obsessive girlfriend pushed him over the edge.
Sep 15, 2016 2:25 PM # 
Hammer: DGL was not the club I was thinking about. There is another one which has many members on paper, but come the AGM, always the same small group of people.
Sep 15, 2016 7:47 PM # 
@Nev-Monster --Do you happen to know what the attendance was at the 2014 NAOC up on your side of the border? There did seem to be more extensive advertising for that event in the months leading up to it than I have been aware of for this year's edition, but I'm curious whether it got a lot more attendance than the 500+ registrants for our upcoming version. If it did, it would be interesting to know whether that was because there was a more continual stream of reminders to the already engaged orienteering community, or whether there was also a successful marketing to the general public. In this period of concerns (at least south of the border) about declining attendance, it could be of use to know where best to direct advertising efforts.
Sep 15, 2016 9:17 PM # 
Not a full census of US orienteers, but it recently occurred to me it might be useful to add some questions to the rechartering form, the first such set being to ask for numbers and a demographic breakdown of the club leadership (basically, people with an official sounding title like president, VP, secretary, mapping coordinator, equipment manager, etc) and of the people who designed courses and directed events in the last calendar year. We know there are clubs out there that are being run mostly or entirely by a non-self-renewing old guard but I don't think anyone really knows how severe and widespread a problem it is.
Sep 15, 2016 10:25 PM # 
Interesting numbers but the most intriguing to me is the one you don’t mention in your summary but is shown in the spreadsheet. That is National meet revs which grew 80% over the period (from 17.2k to 31.4k) for a CAGR of almost 8%. A remarkable rate well in excess of inflation.

The OUSA pricing strategy appears to be to increase NatMeet fees sharply, drive out the marginal members and users (who have a cost) and drive up revenue dramatically. This makes sense for a mature product which orienteering in the USA may be. The point being that a drop in membership shouldn’t be looked at in a vacuum. Membership down slightly but revenues up a lot may not be a bad thing.
Of course, membership and revenues up is better but the options don’t seem great. Rollback of prices should increase membership but reduce revenue. Or OUSA can try to convince the time-constrained 5k or 10k runner (who gets a mass start early in the morning, free t-shirt and home for lunch) that paying more money to drive a long distance, walk a half hour to the start, require a start time and wait most of the day for results is more fun. National meets require more time commitment than a round of golf, which is another sport with growth problems due in large part to the time commitment. Other options have been tried but not met with much success.

Perhaps there are more options which the coalition can reveal, if elected.
Sep 15, 2016 11:43 PM # 
I'm not sure why you see the revenue strategy as effective; OUSA doubled its taxes on national meets. That revenues only went up 80% reflects either the declining participation in orienteering in the US or frustration with meet fees. It is imposing undue burden on clubs, and I speculate it might be discouraging clubs to host national meets.

And to what end? What is the point of additional revenues? What is OUSA getting for that money? It seems to me that rather than added revenue stimulating activity, excessive and fiscally unsustainable budget deficits are forcing OUSA to scrounge for revenues wherever they can. In some Board minutes in the past, there are notes that all efforts are to be made to curtail expenses to address the fiscal problem.

Consequently, OUSA is reducing spending on programs - some of which presumably promote growth of orienteering, increases taxes on clubs, and ineffectually combating the decline of the sport in the US. Where's this strategy you speak of? As I see it, doubling national meet fees was born of necessity, not strategy.

It also goes without saying that the revenue will decline if participation continues its trend, unless OUSA again increases fees. The reductio ad absurdum scenario is OUSA will have one national meet start by a very wealthy individual who can afford the $50k surcharge on national meet entries. Then we can laud our great fiscal vision.
Sep 16, 2016 1:55 AM # 
The Ed has good taste! Have to admit got into this sport in rather a similar fashion...

I think the most revealing moment for me about the "tax" on national (especially championship) starts was drawing up a cost analysis of what it takes to run a national competition as part of an entrepreneurship seminar I was in. Under our current fee structure, it's all work and almost no reward for clubs. If you have lots of starts for local events, they're less work, less headache, and more profit. There's also no incentive to get ranked nationally that I can think of, except perhaps bragging rights. I'm not too sure why clubs put in the effort for national competitions, and perhaps clubs are reaching that conclusion, too. Or is this year just a fluke?
Sep 16, 2016 4:52 AM # 
While I agree that these statistics don't support the idea that OUSA is on the rise, I'm not convinced they support the idea that OUSA is in decline either. Or at least that orienteering in the USA is in decline (which might be different than OUSA being in decline).

In particular, the data don't tell you anything about why the numbers have gone down and the reason may or may not be that people are orienteering less. I'd definitely want to do some drill down and ask some questions before coming to conclusions.

e.g. local starts have remained steady or may even be increasing slightly - why hasn't this translated into similar patterns for membership and National Meets?

One possibility - Membership and National meets are down because of technological advances. You no longer need to join a club to stay informed of the schedule - it's free on the web. You no longer need to attend a National meet to run on quality ISOM maps with pre-drawn courses and epunch. Many clubs offer this regularly at their local meets. Why pay two or three times as much for the same thing just because it's sanctioned?

I know some clubs have grown their starts. If the numbers are remaining steady, this means there must have been corresponding decrease in some other clubs. How do these numbers pan out? What can we learn by talking to the specific clubs involved?

I would also be interested in looking at the extent to which National Meet start decrease is a function of number of National meets. Are the meets still attracting good crowds and there are just fewer of them? Or are fewer people attending? Those are two totally different scenarios - the first may have more with do with factors that I discussed previously or as @campbellv mentions above. The second is a clearer sign of true decline of the sport.
Sep 16, 2016 5:42 AM # 
I'd like to see the numbers regarding local starts. It would be great if Ian or others could summarize that. Anecdotally, DVOA local starts are clearly down.

Starts aside, I think Orienteering in the US is clearly on the decline if the average age of the same cohort of participants trends inexorably up. Hard to say definitively that is happening, but you may infer it from the ages of ranked individuals. In DVOA, up and up.
Sep 16, 2016 2:17 PM # 
That and consider that it used to always be Red that needed 2 courses at A meets. That's no longer true but it moved to Green and now I've been hearing registrars saying Brown is now the one that's tightest on their start lists. What comes after Brown?

Also, "start" is a rather generic metric that leaves out a lot of data that would be useful to someone trying to figure out what's happening. There was a discussion somewhere around here not long ago where folks were saying that traditional starts were declining more than the numbers reveal. The difference was being made up by events catering to JROTC and possibly scouts. It's fantastic to have growth in starts for those and other interested groups, but it would really be useful to track them as such so we don't lose track of what's going on in the core of the schedule.
Sep 16, 2016 4:38 PM # 
Mr Wonderful:
local starts

SMOC starts

We started advertising in 2015, just somewhere on the ~$20-$40/meet level. I encourage others to try it - there is almost nothing to lose - spend $30, get four new customers, and you've broken even. Reach will be something like ~1000 ish, so we are talking less than a 0.5% conversion rate from impressions to pay off.

I haven't looked at the 2016 numbers yet - it could be rough - we had absymal temps (and rain) at a decent chunk of spring events, plus we are struggling to develop meet hosts since the numbers tanked (so we lack a good volume of up and comers) and our retirees, unlike some on the OUSA board, are too busy enjoying retirement to host as much as they used to. Or they burned out. I didn't ask. But anyways, fewer meets could very well equal fewer starts for stuff - I hope a big focus of our own AGM will be on the meet directing situation.

A friend is getting 485 people to drive at least three hours into BFE, Michigan, (five hours for me!) to run around on USGS this weekend - he spent good money on facebook ads, and very little on enhancing map quality (I imagine he'll add on a few trails that didn't make 1984's cut.)

My hypothesis is that if every club immediately started throwing a few entry fees worth of money into ads for each event, and took a few pictures at their events, they could all pop a 10% bump and you could get 2017 up 10% and crack 50k. And if they don't, they didn't spend much to try it.

there are more options which the coalition can reveal, if elected.

I thought that the general idea behind many coalition members' support of youth programs in their candidate statements, which would drive national starts if successful. Did you not see it that way?
Sep 16, 2016 4:55 PM # 
I did a lot of advertising for NAOC 2012. Not sure how effective it was (although I have some data that would help to illuminate that) but I enjoyed it and it seemed the right thing to do.
Sep 19, 2016 2:18 PM # 
I am not to sure that advertising for a big national event is the way to attract the public to orienteering. Is it likely one would show up for the national 5K championships without having attended some or likely lots of local 5K's? Local is where the effort of advertising and marketing should be, as even political candidates will tell you.
This is where OUSA has notably failed. I cannot get any support for local marketing. I have written PR for Team members which I get into local papers, but no help from OUSA there either. The Teams should be used for national marketing,but for increasing membership, "everything is local"...
Sep 19, 2016 3:43 PM # 
Claire, I definitely agree that the numbers and reality are more nuanced than "OUSA is sinking." As you say, we need to understand the flow, and members are not equal. We have a heterogeneous membership population, and understanding the structure of that membership is critical for implementing policy. However, the current state of OUSA is not as rosy as I have seen described, and while reality may have nuance, the general trend is decline.

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