May 5, 1997

Grand Slam Bridge Strikes Out In Chicago!

A special meeting of the ACBL Board of Directors (BOD) was held in Chicago on Saturday, May 3, 1997. The sole item on the agenda was to vote on a proposed contract between Grand Slam Bridge, Inc. (GSB) and the BOD.

  1. History:
  2. About nine months ago, it occurred to several people that the ACBL was in dire need of professional marketing and public relations help.

    The league was in a state of steady decline. Membership was dropping, NABC attendance was down, and the average age of ACBL members continued to rise.

    Our current management was clearly incapable of taking the strong, yet vital steps necessary to reverse the downward trend. Tinkering would not help. A major initiative was required.

    Former ACBL President Jim Zimmerman was one of the key players who started investigating the possibility of a major deal.

  3. Grand Slam Bridge:
  4. Grand Slam Bridge Inc. was formed to give the ACBL the professional help we so badly need. In addition, GSB has plans to produce a television show; create a Pro Bridge Tour with large cash prizes and sponsorship; and market CARDS, a software program which is a type of player rating system designed for the club player. CARDS has been a success in Australia and was to be test marketed by the ACBL.

    Robert C. Nargassans, a successful businessman whose background and experience is in marketing, advertising, and promotion joined forces with Paul Marston, an Australian bridge player and club owner.

  5. Dallas Presentation:
  6. At the Dallas NABC, the ACBL BOD was presented with a vision of the future as perceived by GSB. This was to be a multi-faceted program to promote the game big time, attempt to create television exposure, and increase ACBL membership. What they offered could be likened to radical or open heart surgery. There would be major expenditures but the goal was to create the kind of excitement and exposure that the game of bridge had during the Culbertson and Goren eras.

    Perhaps the scope of GSB's proposal as well as their desire for a "partnership" with the ACBL was too much too quickly for our BOD to grapple with or accept.

    Nonetheless, by a vote of 22-3, a letter of intent was signed which:

    "confirms the intention of ACBL and GSB to negotiate a possible contract whereby GSB would provide public relations, marketing, sales, and other service to ACBL for compensation".

  7. The Contract:
  8. The ACBL formed a negotiating team that came to an agreement with GSB to move forward on all fronts. The two year contract called for GSB to hire and train a Sales Director, Marketing Director, and a Public Relations Director. These key people would help GSB implement:

    1. National public relations programs and special events (NABCs, World Championships, ITT events, etc).

    2. Membership retention and new member programs.

    3. New bridge club programs including the test trial of the CARDS player rating system.

    4. Education by computer programs.

    5. Corporate sponsorship programs.

    6. Telemarketing programs.

    7. Volunteer training programs.

    In addition, there were plans to hire a public relations firm to do a major market analysis; and to produce a television show to air in 1998.

    GSB would also review ACBL operations, consult with management, and suggest ways of achieving cost efficiencies. The Bridge Bulletin would be redesigned and major savings were forecast.

    All of this would take time, which is why a two year contract was sought. Time frames and benchmarks were provided.

  9. World Scholar-Athlete Games:
  10. Acting on good faith, and without a contract, Bob Nargassans succeeded in adding the sport of bridge to the World Scholar Athlete Games agenda. This exciting event for 16-19 year old participants is being held June 22 to July 2nd, 1997 at the University of Rhode Island. All eligible junior players have been notified and it appears the ACBL will be sending about 30 young people. It is expected to generate substantial media coverage for the ACBL.

    I would personally like to thank Bob Nargassans for his efforts on our behalf.

  11. Chicago -- May 3rd, 1997:
  12. The BOD convened in a special meeting to discuss and vote upon the proposed contract with GSB. I am distressed to report that the contract with GSB was rejected by a 15-10 vote.

    There were some who just did not trust GSB. Other board members wanted more time to study, to investigate, to search for alternatives. Quite frankly, I believe many were just afraid to take the necessary financial risks. "It was too much money"; "We could deplete our entire cash reserves"; "All their programs might fail"; "Why do we need to hire three new employees?"; and "Does Bob Nargassans know how to play bridge?" were just some of the comments that were made.

    It has become clear to me that the present structure of our twenty-five member BOD makes decisive, innovative action virtually impossible. The BOD can handle bridge decisions somewhat effectively but is at a loss outside of their narrow area of expertise.

    Analyzing the vote, it is interesting to note that the two first year board members, along with the 1996 and 1997 ACBL Presidents, the defeated candidate for President in 1997, and the sole declared candidate for ACBL President in 1998 all voted to accept the contract!

    On the "No" side were all the senior members of the board who, coincidentally, (in Dallas) all voted against term limits for the BOD! I am pleased to report that District 2 has voted to accept the term limit bylaw amendment (the first district to do so since the Board of Governors meeting in Dallas).

    A senior member of the board who argued vehemently against the contract (just before the final no vote) asked the question, "What is the difference between a Sales Director and a Marketing Director?" You may draw your own conclusions.

  13. The Vote:
  14. To accept the contract, voting YES were:

    District  2: Jonathan J Steinberg, Toronto, ON
    District  5: Jay M. Apfelbaum, Pittsburgh, PA
    District  6: Nadine K. Wood, Silver Spring, MD
    District 12: Joan Remey-Moore, Troy, MI
    District 17: Robert O. Wingeard, Colorado Springs, CO
    District 18: Richard G. Anderson, Regina, SK
    District 19: Dudley B. Brown, Grandview, WA
    District 21: Roger L. Smith, Sacramento, CA
    District 22: Jim Kirkham, San Bernardino, CA
    District 25: Howard J. Piltch, Andover, MA
    Voting NO to defeat the contract with GSB were:

    District  1: George Retek, Montreal PQ
    District  3: Joan Levy Gerard, White Plains, NY
    District  4: Raymond L. Raskin, Gulph Mills, PA
    District  7: Robert F. McMahan, Columbia, SC
    District  8: Glenn F. Smith, Creve Coeur, MO
    District  9: Jayne Thomas, Tampa, FL
    District 10: Charles D. Wilkinson, Jackson, MS
    District 11: Donald A. Moeller, Dayton, OH
    District 13: Barbara Nudelman, Chicago, IL
    District 14: Val Covalciuc, Omaha, NE
    District 15: Virgil V. Anderson, Jr., Springfield, MO
    District 16: Dan Morse, Houston, TX
    District 20: Robert E. Lix, Brownsville, CA
    District 23: Cecil Q. Cook, Long Beach, CA
    District 24: Alvin Levy, Stony Brook, NY

  15. The Last Word:
  16. Many of you are aware that thousands of erroneous or incomplete masterpoint confirmation cards were mailed out with the March Bridge Bulletin. We heard from you -- over 200 hundred phone calls daily in early March!

    It was brought to our attention in Chicago that the May masterpoint confirmation cards also contain errors! Please do NOT call the ACBL -- management is aware of the problem and assures us that they have the situation under control!

Lest you think that the ACBL wasted $20,000 to fly, house, and feed the ACBL BOD (plus our CEO and league counsel) in Chicago, I must report that the BOD wanted to end the meeting on an upbeat note!

A motion was passed to the effect that management shall prepare a marketing and public relations program to present to the BOD in Albuquerque this summer.

Once the above motion was approved the board quickly reviewed some financial cost saving items; deferred them to the Albuquerque summer meetings, and then retired to drink and play cards.

And To All A Good Night!