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Across the Board: Report to the Membership Print E-mail
By USCF President Bill Goichberg   
November 24, 2008

Ending the adult member decline

A major USCF problem has long been declining adult membership. With the rise of the Internet in the 1990s, we lost players to online play and magazine readers to websites. Adult membership peaked 8/1/95 at 33,075, but dropped steadily to 25,415 on 1/1/03. Dues were unwisely raised from $40 to $49 effective 1/03, and in 14 months, Adult memberships plummeted to 22,070. A special rate for new and long-expired members was instituted March 2004 and slowed the decline, but by 8/06 when Youth membership was renamed Young Adult and its age limit changed from Under 20 to Under 25, we were down to 20,000.

In June 2006, our website was redesigned and improved. It became not just a USCF info site, but also an interesting place for games, analysis and recent American chess news, presented by WGM Jennifer Shahade. The paper Chess Life was also improved and a free online version offered, later restricted to members. And since October 2006, the cost of Adult dues has been well below $49 if paid online.

These changes appear to have stopped the Adult membership decline. On 10/31/08 we had 18,924 Adult members, 1,076 less than 8/1/06, but considering the redefined age limit, we have actually gained age 25/over adults in the past two years. And in the last six months (May through October), a slow season in which Adults usually decline by at least 400, we lost only 10 Adult members, the best result for this period since 1994.

Overall membership has also stabilized. When all dues were raised effective 1/1/03, USCF had 94,937 members, but by 10/31/05 had dropped to 80,519, a decline of over 15%. On 10/31/08 the total was 80,799, a slight gain over three years. The past year has shown a decline of 1,353—though these are mostly high school players; maybe the economy is hurting support for high school chess programs. Chess Life for Kids under Glenn Petersen, started in 2006, is our best scholastic publication ever, helping membership totals with younger kids.

Financial problems

Our fiscal year begins June 1, and the seasonally worst months are June through September, so early each year we report several hundred thousand in losses, and cries of “bankruptcy” appear on Internet discussion groups. As the year progresses, our finances improve and there is no disaster. In fiscal 2006-7, various posters predicted losses of $200,000 to $400,000, but we wound up with a small profit.

In 2007-8 we again heard forecasts of doom, but this time due to extraordinary circumstances the best we could do was a loss of $74,000. Most of this deficit can be attributed to unusually high legal expenses, auditor fees (to update the employees’ profit sharing plan; it was found that contributions were needed for 1999 and 2002), and losses on Life Member Asset Committee investments.

Lawsuits are expensive

USCF has incurred substantial legal expense related to the issue of whether a current executive board member made defamatory and obscene anonymous postings, impersonating a former board member and others, on an Internet newsgroup. USCF, most of its executive board, and others have also been sued for libel, slander and defamation for $25,000,000 by a different current executive board member. In my opinion, this lawsuit has no factual basis. For information regarding all USCF lawsuits, see http://www.kronenbergerlaw.com/case_documents.html.

New membership categories

Even without unusual expenses, USCF was struggling to break even, so we raised dues for memberships with magazine by $1 for adults, $6 to $8 for most other categories. We have also initiated lower cost categories without a paper magazine to appeal to the cost sensitive.

Memberships with a paper magazine are called “Premium,” those without one “Regular.” The latter includes a password to read the magazine online, plus a 16-page paper bulletin including TLAs (bimonthly for Adult, Young Adult or Youth, each four months for Scholastic). Regular Adult costs $29 online, $36 by mail or phone. Regular Young Adult is $24, Regular Youth $20, Regular Scholastic $16.

USCF expects to receive a large bequest this fiscal year or next, probably in the $200,000 to $300,000 range. We must not use its expectation to make operating losses acceptable!

Executive director contract extended

The executive board has extended the contract of Executive Director Bill Hall for another two years. Bill has done a good job of holding down office expenses and finding sponsorship. He’s also an active tournament player and rated expert.

New national tournament sponsors

Thanks to the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis for its outstanding sponsorship! The 2009 U.S. Championship will be held at the club in May with a prize fund of at least $100,000, and they will also sponsor the U.S. Women’s Championship with $65,000 in prizes, largest in its history! Other new sponsors this year include World Chess Live, funding the Grand Prix with larger prizes than before plus the new Junior Grand Prix, and the Gaylord Opryland Hotel, providing scholarship prizes good at any college for the 2009 SuperNationals and several future national elementary championships.

Member input welcome

A good place to discuss ideas is the USCF Forums at www.uschess.org/forums , often read by board members, delegates, and committee members. There are forums for discussing tournaments, clubs, and general USCF issues.