Membership, especially competitive membership, is the lifeblood of any sporting organization and so it is for USA Fencing. The ability to generate sustainable revenue from internal and external sources is greatly assisted by a large and growing membership. Marketing and outreach efforts for membership needs to i) attract new members, ii) retain them, and iii) provide a developmental path for those that want to become elite fencers as seniors and beyond.
With USA Fencing’s 2017-2018 Membership Renewal Program well under way, NFCR decided to briefly review the profile of last year’s USFA membership, especially the age characteristics of some key membership types. As a multidimensional concept, age is both a static variable (e.g., age group or cohort) and a developmental process (i.e., aging happens across our lifespans; kids, tweens, teens, young adults, family, and seniors, etc).
In this post, we briefly examine the age profile of competitive and non-competitive members as well as competitive men and women members. We also compare the age profile of competitive members with the U.S. population and introduce readers to the membership “cliff”, a graphic presentation on the challenge facing clubs and USA Fencing, how to retain members during and after their college days!
USA Fencing Membership can be split into two broad categories, competitive and non-competitive. Competitive membership is open to all persons upon payment of the dues for the membership year. Competitive members have the right to enter and compete in local, divisional, regional, and national-level competitions. Non-competitive membership is open to all persons upon payment of the dues for the membership year. It includes secondary medical/accident insurance but does not allow the member to compete in tournaments.
The importance of competitive members is best illustrated by the very strong association between the number of competitive members in USFA Divisions and North American Cup (NAC) entries for 2016-2017 as illustrated in the scatter plot below. The relationship is described by the equation y=0.9897x -57.982, where y is the number of NAC entries and x is the number of competitive members per Division.
The slope coefficient is 0.9897 means that for each additional competitive member, the number of NAC entries increases by an average 0.9897, almost one-for-one. The R² is equal to 0.9113. This statistic tells us that 91.1% of the variation in the number of NAC entries is explained by the variation in the number of competitive members per USFA Division. In a related post we find that for each additional club in a Division, the number of NAC entries goes up by 55. (See: The Geographical Distribution of Fencing Clubs in the U.S.A. – 2016-2017)
According to USFA Year-End Membership for 2016-2017, about 64% of the membership is competitive, 36% is non-competitive, which is also similar to the breakdown for both genders as illustrated in the accompanying table.
USA Fencing Membership by Gender 2016-2017
|Membership Type||Women||% Total||Men||% Total||Grand Total||% Grand Total|
A detailed breakdown of USFA membership for 2016-2017 is provided in the following table.
Composition of USA Fencing Membership at Year-End 7-31-2017
|Membership Type||# of Members||% of Total||Cumulative %|
|High School Club Member||831||2.2%||93.1%|
|High School Competitive||247||0.7%||99.1%|
It is an axiomatic truth that the age of competitive members has a direct bearing on the size of fencing tournament events, both regionally and nationally. The age profile of competitive and non-competitive members is illustrated in the following histogram, which divides membership into one-year age groups from 6 to 80+. The height of the line represents the number of members that fall in each one-age group.
Two observations jump out from the graph. Firstly, the major peak for each group corresponds to the ages of 12 (non-competitive) and 17 (competitive) years, This is the mode, which is found in the accompanying table. It is defined as the observation (age) that occurs with the greatest frequency. A secondary, but much smaller peak occurs in the 50s for both groups.
The second observation is that the distribution of ages is skewed to the right, resulting in an average age of 24.2 for competitive members and 19.5 years for non-competitive members. The distribution of ages has a large number of members in the lower age groups (left side) and fewer members in the older age groups.
Descriptive Age (Years) Statistics for Competitive & Non-Competitive Members of USA Fencing 2016-2017
|Confidence Level (95.0%)||0.2||0.2|
Membership – Men & Women
The next histogram shows the range and frequency of age groups for competitive men and women. It highlights the modal frequencies for men and women members at 17 and 15 years. The distribution of ages for both genders is skewed to the right resulting in the average age of 24.9 and 22.5 years for competitive men and women members, respectively. Further details are provided in the table below.
Descriptive Age (Years) Statistics for Competitive Men & Women Members of USA Fencing 2016-2017
|Competitive Women||Competitive Men|
|Confidence Level (95.0%)||0.3||0.3|
The next graph compares the ages for competitive fencers with the U.S. population as a whole. The graph highlights a peak in competitive ages between 10 and 20. The most frequent age group is 17 which accounted for 7.8% of competitive members compared to 1.4% of the U.S. population in 2017.
Perhaps the greatest challenge facing USA Fencing and clubs when it comes to membership is slowing the exodus of competitive fencers during their college years and the years immediately after graduation. The following chart graphically highlights the challenge. The waterfall chart highlights the meteoric rise in cumulative membership growth between the ages of 9 and 15 and the sudden plummet for three years starting at age 18, after topping-out for years 16 and 17,
What took nine years to build is wiped out in three years as college age fencers walk away from the sport. They continue to walk away after graduation but to a lesser extent, but the damage has already been done. We need to make it possible for young people to continue fencing in college as well as after college.
Given the insights revealed in our brief analysis, we see the need to examine the factors that contribute to initial involvement and sustained participation in fencing club membership across age and gender. The factors that most likely attract members seem to differ by age and gender. Because of that, future marketing and outreach programs should take age and gender into account. When most people think of marketing, they think of growth first and retention second. We adhere to the old adage that it is less efficient to bring in a new member than it is to keep a current member and, therefore, we should first focus on retention and second (albeit a close second) on growth.