Thursday, February 20, 2014

3 Questions when associations in same industry/profession compete

I enjoy reading John Paul Newport’s golf column headlined The USGA and the Game’s Odd Governance in the weekend Wall Street Journal. 

Since I am both a golfer and an association professional, last weekend’s edition hit home.

My interest is not about golf but about how competing associations within the same industry or profession. 

As one who has worked with several associations which are part of the same industry or profession, I’ve worked for/with some associations in the same boat.

Here are selected parts of Newport’s story:
  • Golf’s three main ruling bodies in North America — the USGA (U.S. Golf Association), the PGA (Professional Golfers’ Association) of America and the PGA Tour — have overlapping interests, but their individual mandates are entirely different. Because golf, unlike other sports, has no strong-willed über-commissioner to force concerted action, each organization has to figure out independently what it can do best.
  • Last week, at the U.S. Golf Association's annual meeting, incoming President Thomas O'Toole Jr. spent a good portion of his inaugural remarks trying to nail down exactly what it is that the USGA does and should be doing. For an esteemed, 120-year-old organization, that may seem like a curious thing to have to focus on. But it reflects the strange, haphazard way that golf is organized and the desire of the USGA to reach beyond its traditional functions to address some pressing problems, in particular the slow leakage in the number of golfers.
  • The PGA of America, with its 28,000 club and teaching pros, has the closest personal connection to recreational golfers and should be their biggest advocate. The more happy golfers in the world, the more lessons, tee times, gloves and shirts PGA members can sell. As a practical matter, however, individual PGA pros are too busy to spend much time focusing on long-term, good-of-the-game initiatives. Most work for mom-and-pop courses, driving ranges, municipal agencies (your local muni) and private clubs, many with rotating, shorter
    m volunteer leadership. The PGA of America itself is a kind of trade association with no compulsory power.
  • The PGA Tour is essentially a labor union devoted to the interests of its few player-members. Yes, it would love to see more everyday golfers: That might increase attendance at tournaments and the size of its television audience. But the connection is indirect and, in any case, the Tour has little sway over the recreational game except as a role model—an awful one, when it comes to speed of play.
  • If the USGA is golf's priesthood, the PGA of America is commerce and the PGA Tour is showbiz.
  • What might a single, hypothetical golf authority be able to accomplish? It could force PGA Tour pros to play faster. It could shut down the weakest golf courses and organize the rest to better serve their communities: luxury courses for those who could afford it, midprice but challenging courses for avid low-handicappers, laid-back tracks for casual golfers and fun short courses for kids and beginners, with loss-leader introductory programs to fill the pipeline.
  • It isn't going to happen, of course. Nor should it. Golf's hodgepodge structure is part of its charm. But maybe it is useful to think about.
Well, despite millions or billions of dollars in the industry, golf continues to decline (in number of members and number of rounds played) ... Not sure I would label its hodgepodge structure as charming!

Having each association performing specific functions seems to make sense except:

  • They compete for public recognition.
  • Their roles often overlap and create confusion.
  • They compete for money, volunteers and members.
  • Few seem to ask, “Who is looking out for the interests of those within this industry?”
  1. Does your association function inside an industry or profession with competing associations?
  2. How does your organization work with the other associations in that field?
  3. Would combining associations benefit members within the overall industry or profession?

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