USBC President Jeff Bojé answers 10 Questions before USBC Convention Opens in Reno

    04/26/10

    Column

    By Dick Evans

    ColumnistDickEvans.jpgUSBCJeffBoje.jpgJeff Bojé (pictured right) delivered the most inspirational speech I have ever heard at Bowl Expo when he was elected president of the Bowling Proprietors' Association of America during the 2004 convention in Las Vegas.

    That was the beginning of a long series of Email exchanges with a man who thrives on challenges and apparently hates any down time.

    Under the old American Bowling Congress' procedures, the president was more of a ceremonial honor in my opinion when it came to running the ABC. That role fell to astute executive directors like Frank Baker, Roger Tessman, Darold Dobs and Roger Dalkin.

    But when the ABC and WIBC delegates voted to merge the two associations during the Knoxville convention, it was decided the United States Bowling Congress Board of Directors would elect the USBC president.

    Mike Carroll, who was well respected by ABC leaders before the merger, was elected as the first president of the USBC and did an astute job.

    Since Bojé's two year term as BPAA president was over and he had idle seconds in his life, he ran for president of the USBC and the board elected him to the position. His term ends Aug. 1 and he will preside over his final USBC convention April 27-May 1 in Reno, Nev.

    In my opinion, Jeff Bojé has been the most electrifying president in the history of any bowling membership organization. He has managed to get the membership organization and the bowling proprietors on the same page when it comes to growing the sport and that was a feat in my opinion.

    He has made some controversial changes, which I think eventually will be a blessing for the sport.

    What I like about Jeff is that he won't avoid a question. You may not agree with his answers but they always are informative and he speaks his mind and explains his beliefs. Somehow he found time just before the USBC convention to answer 10 questions I sent him. If you read them all with an open mind, you will get an education.

    You may not agree, but you will be informed. I know I was.

     


    Question: "Can you list your three greatest accomplishments during your three years as USBC president?

    Playing a role in centralizing the industry in one spot, where dreams really can become realities, is without a doubt number one. The face and voice of the industry was scattered around the country and now it has a place that is truly a home for "all that is bowling". It is humbling to have been a part of this. You cannot help but be inspired by the possibilities that are now far more achievable. The outcome of this accomplishment will not fully be known for a number of years.

    Operationally bringing the USBC through the transition from long time veteran CEO thru an interim Executive Director and finally to a new Board selected Executive Director. This was not a path that I ever thought that I would stand guard over. There were many days that I felt the weight of the world was on my shoulders.

    Initiating the process of changing a loose, often cavalier, even adversarial, relationship between the BPAA and the USBC from an "idealistic vision of working together for the collective good of bowling", to what is now a pragmatic understanding of what this union fundamentally means to each organization individually and for the future of bowling. That relationship has fundamentally changed and their destinies forever linked.

     


    Question: Can you list your three biggest disappointments?

    I was not able to accomplish growing membership. I sincerely thought that during my term we would see the implementation of a variety of new memberships, which met the diverse needs of more people and that our membership numbers would start to grow.

    Technology problems and resulting setbacks have plagued me at nearly every juncture.

    I failed to make any headway in changing the mind set of our members in two important ways. The first is changing it from a "what's in it for me" attitude to one of pride in being part of the governing body and supporting our sport. The second is my apparent inability to convince the masses that awards are simply trinkets, unless they are joined with "credible recognition of a meaningful accomplishment" in the minds of the recipient and their peers. Our award system has become a hollow justification to rationalize the value of belonging to the USBC.

     


    Question: Do you think the 2010 convention in Reno will be informative from a delegate's standpoint and will some of the information presented them come as a surprise?

    I do not believe there are any surprises. Perhaps that will prove to be the most surprising thing at the convention. I get the feeling that some of the delegates believe there is a "smoking gun" and are seeking to expose it.

    We are well aware of the mistakes that we have made. Stu (Upson) and I both will candidly admit this in our opening remarks. If the delegates wish to pound on us for a while, they deserve the right to do a bit of venting. After all, some of the mistakes that we made have affected them directly causing them extra work, time and frustration. As for the future, we already have said that we are not seeking a dues increase. We simply do not deserve one for one thing and quite frankly we need to "tighten our belt a bit". That is not a bad thing from time to time for any organization.

    Being short of funds has made us rethink what we are doing and how we were doing it. The current economic crisis in our country is forcing almost everyone to do the very same thing in their own personal lives.

    Here is a fact for you: During 2009, the average price of a game of bowling in the US declined by 1.7 percent. That is the first time that the average price per game decreased in at least a decade. Probably much longer. Thank God for proprietors that the number of games actually bowled per lane increased by 1.5 percent during that same year. The numbers still do not offset each other in dollars and cents. The average bowling center lost a tad over one percent of total bowling revenues during 2009. Fixed cost of operating a bowling center is high and profit margins are slim for many centers. One percent is a lot.

    Given this information, if you start adding issues like increased taxes, government mandates, minimum wage increases and so on, bowling centers are facing volatile times.

    The USBC is doing exactly what the average person and the average bowling center proprietor is doing. It is working harder and focusing on every penny that we spend. We have a lot more focusing yet to do. I advise the same for every local and state association as well. Welcome to the here and now.

    On the flip side, the USBC is also doing what most people and corporate America is doing. We are thinking outside the box and finding new revenue streams. That will mean even more change. Some of it controversial and some of it not. Most people are uncomfortable with change. I am not one of those people. I see opportunities everywhere I look.

     


    Question: As a proprietor, do you think the BPAA could help bolster the sagging USBC's membership numbers by building USBC yearly dues for every league bowler into the league fees charged each night?

    I get asked that question quite a bit. Could it "bolster" the membership numbers? Of course it could. Unfortunately that would not help the underlying problem one bit. In fact, I believe it would be counter productive. The USBC needs a long term solution, not a patch. A quick fix would simply keep the organization from urgently focusing on the real problem.

    Credible data shows that total league play games per lane (certified and non-certified) has decreased by just under 27 percent over the past 10 years. At the same time the total number of lanes bed available in the US has decreased by 11.5 percent. Year after year, the total number of games of "total league bowling" per lane bed declines by about four percent. The number of lane beds available continues to shrinks as well. That is a double whammy from the USBC's perspective. Fewer lanes to conduct league on and fewer league bowling per lane.

    If bowling proprietors would put every league bowler into membership, there would be more members but we would still be declining at the same rate. I believe that this would do more harm than good. The sooner we focus on the underlying issues, the better off we will be in the long run. People who have known me for a very long time know that I am a fighter; I face things head on rather than try to hide in denial. There lots of answers, but the one proposed in your question is not a strategy that I believe is worth promoting at this point in time.

     


    Question: Does the USBC get more membership support from private owned bowling centers compared to the big corporate bowling centers?

    Generally speaking, the data suggests that it does. I really think that is too broad of a question. I am not sure what number of centers constitutes "big corporate bowling centers". Additionally chain centers are very diverse in terms of management and organizational philosophy. Smaller family operated centers tend to focus more on league bowling. They have the flexibility of to do so, in addition to the ability to be a truly "owner operated" part of the community that they are in. That gives them a distinct advantage. However, many of these same centers do not use the advantage they have for any number of reasons. In these cases, a well funded, well run, chain center out performs the independent center and as a result provides more support in terms of dollars to the USBC.

     


    Question: Do you think the delegates in Reno will be impressed with new executive director Stu Upson and applaud him for the decisions he has had to make since taking over the USBC reigns last August?

    I think that the delegates should blame me for anything and everything that is bad and give Stu credit for anything that has gone well. At this point, he has spent the bulk of his time reacting to fires rather than proactively creating solutions. Over the past few months I have finally witnessed him starting to have enough time to implement his own strategies for achieving the goals established by the Board.

    I have found Stu to be extremely honest and a man of genuine conviction. He thinks things through very carefully and considers a lot of possibilities. He welcomes input but hates to be told what to do. He is in no way a "yes man" to anyone. When he has formed his own opinion on something, he stands his ground and that is that. The delegates should not expect to hear him boldly tell them that he has all the answers, but he is not a pushover either. He is the kind of person that would rather leave the USBC with honor, than to be forced into something that he does not believe in. He is not afraid to stand his ground with anyone. I have witnessed it on a number of occasions with some pretty formidable people.

    I don't expect the delegate to applaud much of anything.

     


    Question: Is the USBC getting any closer to convincing all its associations to merge for the good of the sport?

    Every day more and more local and state associations are merging so in that regard, yes we are getting closer. It is interesting that you say "for the good of the sport". The real issue boils down to economic reasons and the ability to serve the members in the most efficient manner. Many locals, small and large, lack the volunteer strength to serve the members properly on a purely volunteer basis. Most locals find it necessary to hire a person. Obviously, the fewer contributing members a local has the higher the cost is on a per member basis. From a national standpoint, it costs a lot of money to provide support to a local association. Generally, the smaller the association is, the more it costs to keep it running properly. Turnover of personnel is often high in these locals and we are constantly training new people. We also have issues with improper lane inspections, rules arbitration and so on. That cost gets passed on to everyone.

    What is really troubling is that many times the reason for not merging is purely selfish and others are based on saving the "good old boys or good old girls" club. They don't care what it costs the members, they are not budging until they are at deaths door, and maybe not even then.

    Then there are territorial boundary issues. This becomes too complicated to even comprehend. Boundaries are not the same for local WBAs and BAs. You end up needing the agreement of four or even six locals to achieve one merger. One hold out and the deal is dead.

    When all is said and done, merging will take care of itself. Increasing cost of providing service and fulfilling the requirements of the IRS and other government imposed requirements will force things into balance. As a good conservative, I firmly believe that the marketplace takes care of itself if we free it up of compensating intervention.

     


    Question: Knowing what you know today about America's economy over the past two years, would you have delayed moving USBC headquarters from Greendale to Arlington?

    Well…….. Hind sight is 20/20. Obviously, purchasing a new building and then having the bottom fall out of the real estate market before we could sell the Greendale building is a multimillion dollar problem. On the other hand, if I had that kind of foresight, I would have made a fortune in the stock market or by investing in gold and would have more money than Bill Gates. The Board of the USBC made the best decisions that it could given the information that the board members had at the time.

    I do not regret the decision to move from Greendale to Arlington. In the big scheme of things, the USBC and the industry will be well served by the move. I choose to face reality and move on with the cards that we have been dealt. It is a waste of time to play "what if".

     


    Question: Do you think the USBC does a good job of getting out its message since it is losing members and do you believe that most of the USBC members are not all avid bowlers who will go to Bowl.Com on a regular bases for their bowling news?

    We have six percent few members than we did last year. I gave you the facts that are driving that decline. The rate of decline was higher in adults than with the youth. The rate of decline in youth was lower this year than last, despite the people who felt the addition of the shirt and the increased membership fee with the local association fees being used partially to offset that increase. Either this had no effect or more likely was perceived to be an enhancement that had value greater than the additional cost. A second factor was the addition of the $5.00 short season membership. Tens of thousands of new youth members have been added by simply delivering a product that met the needs of an untapped group of bowlers. When it comes to communicating with the youth, The Bowlopolis web site attracts thousands of viewers per day. The number of Bowling centers that are "Bowlopolized" is growing daily. These centers are now using this communication tool as part of their branded youth marketing effort.

    We have not done a good job of getting "our" message out. Quite frankly, most of the members do not care what "the" message is. Our membership is very diverse and the way we communicate and what message we give must be just as diverse. Before we can get the average member to understand or value any message that we deliver, by whatever vehicle, we first need our association network to understand this diversity and become better, more trusting, team members. They are a valuable source of providing information to the members. But first they must understand and trust. That is where we are failing big time.

    I personally am not a great fan of the changes in Bowl.com. I find that we took a perfectly good "bowling association and insider, information and business operations site" and turned it into an "end consumer, bowling enthusiast, news and promotional site". I think that we should have created two sites that were designed and oriented to meet the needs of the two very distinct users. Combining them has created confusion and quite frankly, I find it hard to find the kind of information that I need from the current site. Please note that I said this was my personal opinion. It is the staff's job to evaluate the site based on a lot of things other than "my" opinion. I also support them in being daring enough to try new things. If it proves to be the right thing, great, if not, they should not be afraid to try something else. While it does not meet my expectations and needs I applaud the staff for having the guts to be a pioneer and innovator of change.

     


    Question: Back in Vic Lerner's days, the BPAA formed its own junior bowling program, so do you foresee day the BPAA will try to take over running the membership organization if the USBC continues to slide?

    Not if they are given a choice. Contrary to some people's belief, the BPAA just wants to be a great trade association and meet the needs of their members. Their members are the bowling centers and operators. They want nothing more than for the USBC to be a wise and effective governing body and promoter of the sport of bowling. They just donated over seven million dollars towards helping the USBC position themselves by creating a centralized environment where both organizations could work jointly in fulfilling their independent roles for the betterment of all. That really sums up the move to Arlington. Centralization then unification of effort in what is very much a symbiotic relationship. Assimilation never has been the goal and I doubt it ever will be. This has been a source of unintended misunderstanding in many cases. It has also been intentionally used as a divisive battle cry in other cases for people with the misguided intent of creating fear. If the BPAA were to assimilate the USBC mission into the BPAA mission, it would destroy both organizations in short order.

     


    Email address: Evans121@aol.com.