Five-Part Plan for USATT

5 replies [Last post]
nopips
Offline
Joined: 01/12/2013
Larry,
just as you repeat yourself, I feel compelled to repeat myself. 
I believe you continue to put the cart before the horse. Over the past few years three full time clubs attempted to open and operate in my region of Florida. One never even opened, and the other two closed after only months of operation. Why did they fail? They had certified coaches. They offered league play. They offered very inexpensive tournaments with cash prizes. They had evening, afternoon, and weekend hours. They had very reasonable membership fees and coaching rates. So why did they fail? There just was not enough people interested in playing table tennis. 
Until the USATT gets out of its office and into the athletic directors office of every school, from elementary through college, to promote the sport participation in the sport will go nowhere.
End of story!
nopips
Offline
Joined: 01/12/2013
Re: Five-Part Plan for USATT
 
Larry,
I cannot speak for all three of the clubs but I know for certain that one of the clubs tried each item you mention on what should be done to promote a club, except maybe for contacting local Asian communities. He may have but I am not aware of it. The club was registered with the USATT.  No matter how much you market your product, if there is no demand for it, it will not sell. 
 
We are in agreement that you do not build it until you are sure there is demand.  The issue is how you build demand.  My answer is you bring the sport to the school systems. The leaders in the sport, USATT and the equipment vendors need to reach out to the schools. Why are there computers in schools today? They are there because IBM and Apple went to the schools and gave them computers. They invested in the future of their business.  Not only are schools now buying computers but every kid has one in his home.  
It is a sad state that the students in Erica Wu's school did not know she was on the Olympic team until she participated in the documentary on Table Tennis, Topspin. The USATT should be showcasing our team in the schools. I know they cannot go to every school but at least the school the team members are attending.  China saw the market value of Ariel Hsing and gave her a place in the China super league, admitting she was not at that level of play. USATT needs to market its sport. They have the credibility as the official representative of the sport for the US Olympic committee. They need to convince the equipment vendors to support their effort by providing equipment to schools.  Will it take a long time to get students involved in the sport? It may, but right now the top players in my region are all over forty years old. We have one 11 year old girl who recently emigrated from Cuba that is a 1900 player in our region. Her local competition is men in their late 60’s and 70’s, by the way; beat her on many occasions.
 
Kids need to compete with other kids not senior citizens. Have you ever seen a little league team made up of 11 year olds and 60 year olds? 
mts288
Offline
Joined: 03/05/2011
Re: Five-Part Plan for USATT

One of the reasons clubs and the USATT fail is because they don't have a clue about marketing.  If two clubs opened at the same time and one had certified coaches, leagues, etc. and the other didn't have a certified coach or good tables but had someone who knew how to market,  I would bet on the club that knew how to market the product.

Getting people excited about table tennis is the key.  Build on that and you've got a successrul club.

 

 

Larry Hodges
Larry Hodges's picture
Offline
Joined: 11/19/2010
Re: Five-Part Plan for USATT

If two clubs opened at the same time and one had certified coaches, leagues, etc. and the other didn't have a certified coach or good tables but had someone who knew how to market,  I would bet on the club that knew how to market the product.

Bingo. Ideally we'd have both, as marketers might not be able to sustain a successful program without the expertise of coaches and league directors, etc.

Larry Hodges
Larry Hodges's picture
Offline
Joined: 11/19/2010
Re: Five-Part Plan for USATT

"No matter how much you market your product, if there is no demand for it, it will not sell."

The point is that you build the demand. When a full-time table tennis center opens, there is rarely an existing demand for it. Over and over successful full-time clubs build up the demand. The clubs you mentioned apparently failed to go to both the table tennis market (no mention that I saw in the table tennis forums, and they likely didn't do local mass mailings via USATT contact info), and they didn't go the Asian community (by far the biggest demographic). Since so many clubs have done these things and succeeded, perhaps the few who fail did so because they didn't do the things needed to develop the demand? As you noted, one club didn't even open, the other two were only open a short time, they didn't do the obviously marketing to the table tennis community and the Asian community, and since they didn't even try in those areas, I suspect they didn't try very hard elsewhere. 

Think about it. Lots and lots of clubs have done this successfully, only a few were unsuccessful and they didn't even attempt to do much of the marketing needed to be successful. What is the lesson here? 

"Kids need to compete with other kids not senior citizens. Have you ever seen a little league team made up of 11 year olds and 60 year olds? "

Which is why it is key they create junior programs, as nearly every successful full-time club does, and as we've done at MDTTC for 22 years. As to the school issues, that's a huge issue I'll get into some other time.

-Larry Hodges

Larry Hodges
Larry Hodges's picture
Offline
Joined: 11/19/2010
Re: Five-Part Plan for USATT

Of course some fail. Did they consult in advance with someone experienced at setting up and running full-time centers? If they had contacted me, I might have had some suggestions. I've consulted with the creators of about 10-15 full-time centers. How many of them have failed? Zero. 

There were about eight full-time centers in the U.S. as of 2007, and now there are about 75 of them. Think about that - 75 full-time centers, and they seem to be successful. My own club has been full-time and successful for 22 years now. When we opened (and when other centers opened), there weren't enough players either - but we and others learned how to build up the demand. It's a proven business model. Unfortunately, much of it hasn't been written down, which is why I've blogged that USATT should create a manual so those opening such centers wouldn't have to start from scratch, and perhaps fail as a result. Most learn by word of mouth, by consulting with those who have set up such centers. 

You wrote that they had "certified coaches." But just as I've always argued, USATT doesn't teach coaches how to be professional coaches, only how to coach. We need to focus equally on how to solicit students and develop a coaching practice. Similarly, they need to know how to promote leagues, tournaments, and other programs. Just setting them up and hoping people show up won't work. I know; I've tried that way as well. The key is to know how to develop the demand, as so many full-time centers have learned to do. That's why I titled the plan "Recruit and train coaches and directors to set up and run full-time centers and junior programs." (Emphasis on "train" added here.) I'd like to hear how they actually promoted the center. Here's a good slogan: "If you build it and promote it, they will come." But you have to know how to promote it. (I wrote a lot about this in the Professional Table Tennis Coaching Handbook. Did they make use of that? I often give it away for free at the Open and Nationals.) 

You also wrote, "One never even opened, and the other two closed after only months of operation." The one that never opened never had a chance, and if the other two closed after only months of operation, then they didn't really give it much of a chance either. However, a key to creating such a center is to build up much of the demand BEFORE the center opens. If you wait until it's open, then of course you are going to lose money for a time as you build up the demand. MDTTC was profitable from its first month because we promoted it in advance. 

Sure, USATT can and should help, but none of the 75 full-time centers in the U.S. had any serious help from USATT either, and somehow they managed to build up the demand, and not only are they profitable, but more of them keep popping up. Few actually close. The successful centers didn't put the cart before the horse; they built up the demand and so were successful. 

You wrote, "There just was not enough people interested in playing table tennis." The whole point is to build up the interest. That's what all these full-time centers have learned to do. I'm sorry these people didn't do this successfully, but to blame it on this doesn't hold water. I'm guessing they didn't consult with someone who actually had opened and run a full-time center, or they didn't follow the advice given. These three full-time clubs you refer to never even made my list of full-time clubs - I never heard of them. When a full-time center opens they should be screaming "We're open!" all over the place, and continuously. And yet I didn't see them on any of the table tennis forums, on Facebook, or anywhere else. How did they go about promoting these centers in the table tennis community? In local schools? Businesses? In the Asian community? In local newspapers and TV? These are all MUSTS. 

The full-time Broward TTC in Florida seems to be successful. It is run and coached by Marty Prager, Terese Terranova, and Brian Pace. Long before they opened up I had discussions with them on how to set up and run a full-time center (including a long one at the Junior Olympics a number of years ago with Marty and Terese), and Brian spent about five years at the full-time MDTTC (my club) before moving to Florida. 

Note that most businesses do fail - full-time table tennis centers actually have an incredible success rate compared to other businesses. That doesn't mean no one should open a business, especially when there is such a history of success, as is the case for full-time table tennis centers.

I could write volumes on what USATT should do, and the place schools have in that, but I'll save that for another time. (I've blogged about these already.) 

-Larry Hodges