By Mike Ferring
It’s a classic marketing question. It’s that “Bell Curve” thing.
The Arizona Yacht Club currently serves over 270 member families. Roughly 85 entered a boat in either our fall or spring racing series at one of our two lakes. Some entered at both lakes. Many more crewed with those 85. You can imagine that there could be 85 or so different opinions on when and how we race. And there are.
Here’s the problem in brief. This spring, when the club’s nine fleet captains tried to come up with a racing calendar to represent the opinions of all racers, they couldn’t do it. Some wanted more racing starting earlier and some wanted less racing and so on.
In early May, we surveyed the racing entrants to try to define the outline of the Bell Curve and, frankly, to make sure the “long tail” of the curve doesn’t wag the dog.
To summarize the club marketing conundrum: We have more members than ever, but participation in racing is slipping, particularly at Lake Pleasant. Yes, we need to find ways to get more people on boats. Yes, we need to make sure we put on good, fun events. But then, should we present a different type, number, or schedule of events?
Why not simply put on as many races as the “we want more” people say they want? Aren’t more choices better? But you can see the issues.
1. Can we effectively/economically make more racing? Do we have the people to create the races and staff the race committees?
2. By offering more choices, do we dilute the core product? There are only so many racing “customers” and those customers have only so much time to devote to our sport.
3. Racing is better and more fun when there are more boatscompeting against each other.
The epicenter of this is Lake Pleasant Sunday morning racingand it’s a good case study. The 9 am (and earlier) wind is often the best of the weekend. Some racers who trailered boats to the lake still have them rigged and ready. Traditionally, people camped overnight and enjoyed a group campfire. Serious racers enjoy another shot at competing and scoring for the series. Our bunch on Melissa Kay, our J/70, truly enjoy Sunday mornings, even though it means getting up really early.
But. The turnout is always smaller than on Saturday and it’s been diminishing. There was a Sunday morning last fall when I think there were five boats altogether and as many people on race committee as on racing boats.
The people who choose to skip racing Sunday morning know they’re forfeiting any chance for a good season finish. So,sometimes they may decide to skip Saturday, too. Or just skip it all. Call it a major disincentive. Where’s the tipping point where you don’t have enough boats in your fleet to make racing fun?
But. What about those stalwarts who like Sunday morning? Ignore them? Backtrack on decades of AYC Sunday morning tradition? That’s a major disincentive for them. Several Santana 20s, Spin boats, Sport Boats, and the Thistles want to race then. Is there enough interest to create an alternative for Sunday morning?
The survey was very helpful in identifying when racers want to race and how often. The Rules Committee (the nine Fleet Captains) will meet June 2 to decide exactly how to use the results to cut through the conflicting choices and make some hard decisions. At that point we’ll post the calendar and move ahead.
Here’s a complete rundown on the results of the survey and a link to the Google Forms results page for further data diving.