USA Table Tennis

Feb 20 Changes for 2014

By Michael Babuin, PhD, P.G. | Feb. 20, 2014, 9 a.m. (ET)
Mike Babuin

CHAIRMAN'S BLOG    Feb. 2014

One of the most prophetic phrases found in virtually all self help programs is…”Madness is best described as doing the same things over and over again while expecting different results”. A ‘snapshot’ examination of USA Table Tennis over the past 30-years finds very little change whatsoever in our sport except perhaps for the transition from a 38mm ball to a 40mm ball in year 2000. As such, USATT has experienced little change, little growth, and much complacency for decades. Many would say that maintenance of status quo equals stagnation.  In 2004 we had about the same amount of members that we have today. Going back ten years before that (in 1994), we also had the same number of members. Likewise, our current rating system has remained virtually untouched since its inception 30+ years ago (and the list goes on and on…).

In 2014, over a 12-month period of time, we will experience more change to the way we do our core business than we have witnessed in over 30-years. While change is generally not embraced by most people it is a commodity which now is sorely needed in our organization. For those members who feel anxiety over upcoming changes to our status quo, USATT understand this, and we are empathetic towards your feelings. However, during 2014 we will be ‘throttling-down’ in a manner never witnessed before in USA Table Tennis. Here is what is on the horizon:

Polyethylene Ball
Three new polyethylene balls were recently approved by the ITTF effective for use in international ITTF competitions conducted after July 1, 2014. USATT is cautiously evaluating this new change. One possibility is that polyethylene balls may become a fixture within our organization in the future. The future of ball composition is expected to be largely controlled by supply and demand. No decisions yet, but stay tuned!

RailStation Roll-Out
USATT will be soon be unveiling ‘RailStation’ – an online portal and data management system which will automate the way we do routine business such as memberships, member demographic updates (like address changes, email account changes, etc..), and even tournament result input for rating calculations.  This will be a major milestone that will enable growth and development as well as save thousands of dollars for our organization.

Creation of A Recreational Table Tennis Division and Website
Launch of this initiative will take some time, but the end purpose is to embrace the 18 million recreational table tennis enthusiasts in the United States. Consider that at present and for the past 20+ years USATT has remained at +/- 8,000 members, and yet, we have done nothing to try and tap into the enormous recreational market that exists in our own backyard. This is akin to a farmer starving inside his house who never sets foot outside to pick the fruits and vegetables that exist in his garden and fields.   

Digital Magazine
Our USATT Magazine is being converted to a digital format that will be available online. This change will save the organization tens of thousands of dollars each year in printing and shipping costs while still providing the outstanding content that the memberships expects and deserves. This move will also enable us to reach-out to more people than we could ever dream of if restricted to printed copies. Also, internally we are discussing development of the magazine into other languages to further extend the reach of our membership. While the magazine will be digital there will be two options available for those that desire and prefer a printed copy. One will be for you to print the magazine yourself on your home or office printer. A second option will be to receive a more traditionally formal version that looks like what we currently receive in the mail, for an added (optional) fee. Details of what the fee might be, what the procedures will be, etc.. - are being worked out at this time, but that is the direction we are heading.

While this is deemed a good thing from a growth perspective we realize this singular change may strike a blow into the heart of one of the most ‘sacred pillars’ of our organization that has remained untouched for over 81 years. As mentioned above, we are offering two print options that are available for those desiring a printed version. Also, in the near term, the magazine will be available for the general public to view. We see this as a somewhat temporary and limited activity designed to allow us time to perform a statistical analysis on viewer clicks, viewer impressions, and viewer reads from a geographical and content accessibility perspective. At some point in the future after the initial digital roll-out, we are discussing the topic of member-only protection of the magazine (concurrent with the RailStation platform roll-out). So at this time, please consider the digital magazine as a process that we are not only unveiling to the membership, but also, - as an evaluation process for membership growth through a new mechanism previously unavailable to us.  

Tournament Sanction Process Roll-Out
In 2013 USATT launched an overhaul of the tournament sanctioning process from one based for decades almost entirely upon prize money amounts, to one based upon an evaluation of tournament quality through a detailed evaluation of venue conditions and tournament parameters.  We believe that the end result of this change will find better quality planning efforts and event implementation for all of our sanctioned tournaments, as well as the improvements inherent in free competition. 

Recently this year, the USATT Board of Directors acting upon the recommendations of our Tournament Advisory Committee (TAC), passed a resolution to remove all tournament sanction protection as necessary to create an ‘open market’ tournament system. Removal of sanction protection will create opportunities for more sanctioned tournaments to be conducted throughout the United States. That opportunity coupled with the enhanced quality system described above, will passively require more planning by tournament directors in advance. Tournaments will be sanctioned solely upon quality.  Wise tournament directors and affiliated clubs should seek to avoid conflicts with like-sized, already sanctioned (or known and established) events in order to maximize tournament participation – especially in situations where the two events are geographically located in close proximity to each other and/or draw upon the same population base. TD’s,  clubs, and other entities which do not opt to follow this common sense approach, are asking for limited participation, and limited entry fee revenue, due to making a poor choice in scheduling tournament dates. However, those who think that they can do better will have that opportunity.

Despite the unlikely and hopefully rare situation described above, the USATT Board believes this new open market process will promote more events throughout the USA, and, promote events which are conducted at a higher threshold of quality – which in the long run, is a growth-oriented approach to our sport.

$5-million Quad Roll-Out
A new initiative being formulated by the Board of Directors is to compile a specific plan to raise $5 million dollars over the next quad (four year period). This along with specific efforts to reach-out and partner with non-endemic corporations, and, a renewed focus on cultivating our relationship and value to ITTF are things which USA Table Tennis deems essential for continued membership growth, financial  growth, and future prosperity of our organization leading into the future.

Summary

These changes referenced today are not the only ones coming – there are more still – but all of them are designed to move USA Table Tennis into the 21st century; empower us as an organization to be more fiscally independent; and, to grow and develop our sport in ways that we have never previously embraced. I ask each of you to consider along with me the ‘bigger picture’ and a prosperous future that awaits our organization if we can just step out a bit from our comfort zone.


Michael L. Babuin, PhD, PG, Chairman of the Board

USA Table Tennis

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