Business of Curling: Raising fees and gaining members?

Earlier this year, Warren Hansen (CCA Director, Event Operations) wrote an article in the Extra End magazine (delivered to all the buildings in our country). The article focused on the “frugality” of the recreational player and the real threat of their quitting if fees were raised even a few bucks. Liz Goldenberg from Vancouver responded to Warren about what she faced in Vancouver and how the facility met little resistance when fees were raised! Operating expenses are climbing especially the cost of electricity used to power our compressors. And wouldn’t some of us love to have the revenue to hire a full time manager, maybe pay the ice tech a little more or pay cash for a new chiller? I guess our point with this story is the new curler who wants to join our club does not know he is supposed to be cheap and they are willing to pay market value because the sport does have value! But don’t just go and add 50% to your fees and expect to be embraced. Look at the business as a whole and determine what is needed in the way of fees to operate efficiently and with a profit. Then sell it to the long time members who will still need convincing but your presentation should do just that. Danny Lamoureux This article was written by Jean Mills on behalf of the Business of Curling blog. Thank you Jean!
The 2010 Olympic curling event drew record numbers of noisy, enthusiastic fans paying hundreds of dollars a ticket to watch the action. But the Games also inspired record numbers of enthusiastic fans to consider joining a local club to give the sport a try.  Learn-to-Curl sessions and club Open Houses flourished throughout the spring of 2010 and into the new season. Enthusiasm is clearly running high among new curlers. What isn’t always running high, however, are membership fees, and that’s an area that some curling clubs are beginning to address. Costs continue to rise, but revenue – particularly revenue from membership fees – is not. What’s the story? “ I think [clubs] are hesitant to raise fees because of the old view that curling was a pretty inexpensive sport to join,” says Abbie Darnley, Manager of the Richmond Hill Curling Club just north of Toronto. “They’re afraid that if you raise fees, people will not curl.” Liz Goldenberg, Director of Curling and Marketing at the North Shore Winter Club in North Vancouver, understands that view but is tackling the issue head-on in her operation. “The number one reason [for raising membership rates] is the cost of running a curling rink with escalating hydro, gas and labour costs,” she says. “The second reason is that rates have been too low for too long.  There were no surprises in having to raise our fees – it was glaringly obvious when I took over four seasons ago that our rates were way too low to support our expenses.” Richmond Hill’s Darnley points out that aging – or growing – facilities need repairs or renovations, another area that raises overall club costs. Also, salaried employees are now doing the work that used to be done by club volunteers: in particular, keeping clubs open during the day. But will higher fees drive members away? Goldenberg reports that even though the NSWC has raised its fees roughly 40 percent over the past three years, membership numbers continue to increase. “In the 2009/10 season, our curling membership was 579 (including juniors and rental leagues) and this year, we have realized 606 members, with our greatest growth in juniors – a gain of 24.  So raising the fees does not mean you are going to lose curlers,” she says, noting that losses were minimal.  “One team of ladies, for instance, was lost because the team was comprised of employees of the 2010 Olympics and they have moved on to their next venue!” By providing updates on how negotiations were going with the Winter Club’s Board of Directors, Goldenberg was able to keep membership informed and smooth the way to raising fees. “The reaction from curlers was 98 percent positive with a few of our old holdouts chirping about the high cost of curling,” she says. But even that small resistance was easily overcome. “ When I suggest to these folks that they pay more in a month for their golf fees in summer than they do for six months of curling, they generally stop chirping!” The bottom line? “The problem with curling is that we are giving the sport away,” says Darnley. “At Richmond Hill we will do a full corporate outing, meeting space, curling, instruction, lunch and taxes for only $35 a person. Find a golf course or any other group outing that can compete for the same price.” Goldenberg agrees. “I have been a curler for 35 years and have always maintained (as a business person) that we undervalue our sport and have done forever.  I believe we have a great sport that provides value to its participants not only in the physical portion of the game, but also in the unending social contributions and belonging to our vast curling community.  We need to ensure we charge what our sport is worth.”