35 YEARS OF USCF JUNIOR DUES ADVENTURES
by Bill Goichberg
1975, USCF dues for juniors were $8, including a monthly Chess Life. The Delegates
passed a motion that year to introduce a
"Participating Junior" membership without a publication for $2.50 per
year, effective December 1. This was not my idea, but I supported it as I
believed the lower cost would bring in a tremendous number of new juniors, many
of whom would later upgrade to a membership with Chess Life and play in open
I was wrong. The lower cost of the PJ membership had little promotional effect, and the new membership category served mainly to hurt USCF by converting Junior members with Chess Life into PJs without the magazine, and ultimately into non-members. PJs were a disaster, one of the worst blunders in USCF history. Let's look at some membership totals as of June 30, then the end of the fiscal year. To provide an idea of the overall climate for memberships, I have included "Adult" numbers, which here show the total of Adult, Senior, Life, and Sustaining.
6/30/75: Adult 37005, Junior 14837. The last year before PJs.
6/30/76: Adult 36010, Junior 8784, PJ 4385, total juniors 13169.
6/30/77: Adult 35788, Junior 6022, PJ 4365, total juniors 10387.
6/30/78: Adult 38605, Junior 5791, PJ 4441, total juniors 10232.
6/30/79: Adult 38963, Junior 5400, PJ 4344, total juniors 9744.
6/30/80: Adult 38277, Junior 5225, PJ 4303, total juniors 9528.
6/30/81: Adult 39941, Junior 5191, PJ 4496, total juniors 9687.
In 1982, the name "Junior" was changed to "Youth" and "Participating Junior" to "Participating Youth."
6/30/82: Adult 41810, Youth 4920, PY 5196, total juniors 10116.
6/30/83: Adult 42892, Youth 4420, PY 5480, total juniors 9890.
6/30/84: Adult 43274, Youth 4504, PY 5995, total juniors 10499.
6/30/85: Adult 44600, Youth 4279, PY 6082, total juniors 10361.
6/30/86: Youth 4342, PY 6584, total juniors 10926. I don't have the Adult number.
6/30/87: Youth 4490, PY 7465, total juniors 11955. I don't have the Adult number, but Adult+Senior+Life+Sustaining on 6/30/88 was 43426.
Can anyone viewing the above contend that PJ/PY was anything but a horrendous failure? Consider:
1. After 5 years of PJ, total junior membership was down 35.8% at a time when adult membership INCREASED 3.4%. Even worse, the most interested and most promising juniors, those receiving Chess Life, were down a whopping 64.8%.
2. After 10 years of PJ/PY, total junior membership was down 30.2%, while adult membership showed a big increase, up 21.1%! Juniors receiving Chess Life were down 71.2%.
3. After 12 years of PJ/PY, USCF still had fewer junior members than when the program started, and only about one third as many were receiving a publication.
4. Although there was finally an increase of 1456 juniors in the last two years of PJ/PY, 1986 and 1987, this was way below expectation considering the continual expansion of scholastic activity that began in the late 1960s. Junior membership would have grown far more during the PJ/PY years if membership with a publication had been required, as we saw later when it finally WAS required.
In 1987, Youth membership with Chess Life was priced at $12 with Chess Life, PY at $3.50 with no publication. Many in the scholastic community recognized that PJ/PY had failed, and a new membership category was approved at the delegates meeting at Portland that year: Scholastic, with a quarterly kids magazine, priced at $6. This was a big step forward, and all that the delegates needed to do was to abolish PY, and a membership boom would have begun. But instead, some scholastic leaders misinterpreted the failure of PJ/PY, believing that it was the required payment of $2.50 or $3.50 that was the problem, not the lack of required membership with a publication. So instead of upgrading the quality of membership while retaining a reasonable price, the delegates abolished required membership altogether for scholastics, retained PY which could be used for open events, and initiated the JTP (Junior Tournament Player) program, which allowed K-12 students to play in USCF rated scholastic events without being members.
There was talk of how with no membership requirement, USCF would bring in a million kids to our rating system, many of whom would be retained as adults. However, there had been no price resistance to the $2.50/$3.50 PJ/PY fee, and eliminating this minimal cost did little to promote activity. And "you can play rated chess without joining, but not against adults" was not a good message to send kids, as those who face adults are much more likely to be USCF members when they become adults. Also, a major inducement for players to join USCF is to obtain an official national rating, and now we would be giving away that benefit without getting them to join.
Here is what happened:
52973, Youth 4214, Scholastic 1378, PY 1508, total juniors 7100.
As overall membership numbers are available from 1988 on, I am showing them instead of the "Adult" numbers.
In the first year of JTPs, USCF membership in the junior categories declined by 40.6%, and less than one USCF member in 7 was a junior!
6/30/89: Overall 51595, Youth 4202, Scholastic 2394, PY 681, total juniors 7277.
6/30/90: Overall 52898, Youth 4318, Scholastic 3519, PY 672, total juniors 8509.
At the April 1990 Policy Board meeting, the Board voted 4-3 in favor of a motion calling for the abolition of JTPs and PYs. USCF had fewer junior members than when PJs started, our Youth category with Chess Life had anemic numbers with no sign of recovery, and our one bright spot, Scholastic with a publication, clearly had little to do with JTPs, as the office reported that of our 3155 Scholastic members on 3/31/90, only 525 were former JTPs! (Likewise, of 4249 Youth members on that date, just 583 had been JTPs.)
One of the Board members who voted
against this recommendation actually predicted that the abolition of JTPs would
cause scholastic membership numbers to decline! And other JTP supporters spoke
of having 23,000 JTPs and this number growing explosively to over 100,000, with
huge benefit to USCF. However, we "had" 23,000 JTPs only if one pretended
that this was a membership class and it never expired!
One way to look at JTPs was to consider only those recently active in rated play. I don't think any player should have been counted who did not play during the most recent school year, but the office used a more generous definition, a full 12 months, for a report we received in April 1990. Even with this yardstick, we never had more than 11595 active JTPs at once, that peak being reached in Jan 1990. And growth of the JTP totals in the 1989-90 school year was hardly explosive:
The delegates failed to repeal JTPs at Jacksonville 1990, with some saying the program was planned as a 5 year experiment.
6/30/91: Overall 57617, Youth 4857, Scholastic 6195, PY 193, total juniors 11245
Beginning with Jan 1990, we also
received a report on JTP activity. This was different than the number of
JTPs recently active, it was the total number of JTP appearances in tournaments,
with the same player able to count multiple times. Once again, the message
was that this was not a rapidly growing category, to say the least. Total
entry by JTPs declined from 13547 in 1990 to 10829 in 1991, a 20% drop!
By 1991 is was clear to more people
that it was our Scholastic category and not JTPs that was causing membership
growth, and JTPs were abolished by the delegates at Los Angeles, except for K-3
and in school tournaments restricted to students from that school. And the
prediction that this would cause Scholastic membership to decline didn't fare
too well (6/91 numbers repeated to make comparison easier):
6/30/91: Overall 57617, Youth 4857, Scholastic 6195, PY 193, total juniors 11245
6/30/92: Overall 63279, Youth 4965, Scholastic 12404, PY 11, total juniors 17380
6/30/93: Overall 68746, Youth 4847, Scholastic 16543, PY 5, total juniors 21395
6/30/94: Overall 73485, Youth 5531, Scholastic 20587, PY 1, total juniors 26119
6/30/95: Overall 81808, Youth 7165, Scholastic 25514, PY 1, total juniors 32680
6/30/96: Overall 83082, Youth 8901, Scholastic 26008, PY 1, total juniors 34910
6/30/97: Overall 83469, Youth 9483, Scholastic 27415, PY 1, total juniors 36899
6/30/98: Overall 83695, Youth 11272, Scholastic 27247, total juniors 38519
6/30/99: Overall 83297, Youth 11843, Scholastic 27162, total juniors 39005
6/30/00: Overall 85395, Youth 12306, Scholastic 30084, total juniors 42390
6/30/01: Overall 87432, Youth 11701, Scholastic 33859, total juniors 45560
6/30/02: Overall 89282, Youth 11574, Scholastic 37159, total juniors 48733
6/30/03: Overall 89814, Youth 11380, Scholastic 32329, Economy Scholastic 7053, total juniors 50762
Notice that between 1995 and 2003, the junior membership categories rose by over 18,000 while other categories were losing about 10,000!
The new Economy Scholastic category created in 2003, priced at $13 with no publication, was in effect identical to PJs/PYs but much more expensive. Regular Scholastic was raised from $13 to $19, so the combined effect of the two was that one could still pay $13 (affiliates $11), but would no longer receive a magazine unless paying $6 more. Also, the kids magazine School Mates was discontinued and full Scholastic members were to receive Chess Life bimonthly. The net effect of these changes was quite negative, though this doesn't show up in the June numbers until 2004. Also, Youth dues were increased from $20 to $25, another change that didn't work well. And the Adult increase from $40 to $49 the same year was a disaster, leading to a membership decline of almost 3000 in 2003 and a rollback to today's online price of $42.
So lowering some dues can be bad, and raising some dues can be bad. Is there any consistent pattern here? I think so:
When your dues are perceived to be reasonable, don't lower them.
When there is price resistance to your dues, don't raise them.
6/30/04: Overall 84492, Youth 10752, Scholastic
20525, Economy Scholastic 15976, total juniors 47253
6/30/05: Overall 79569, Youth 9903, Scholastic 17677, Economy Scholastic 14302, total juniors 41882
6/30/06: Overall 79171, Youth 9887, Scholastic 15982, Economy Scholastic 15366, total juniors 41235
After 2006 it becomes difficult to compare to what has gone before, due to category changes. Youth up to age 20 at expiration became Young Adult up to 25 at expiration (not a huge difference due to poor member totals at ages 21-25), a new Youth category was added for up to age 16 at expiration with bimonthly Chess Life, Scholastic was changed from up to age 15 at expiration to up to age 13 at expiration with bimonthly Chess Life For Kids, and Economy Scholastic was ended.
6/30/07: Overall 80477, Young Adult 8996, Youth 6776, Scholastic 24157, Economy Scholastic 781, total age 25/below 40710
6/30/08: Overall 79885, Young Adult 8327, Youth 6971, Scholastic 25224, Economy Scholastic 94, total age 25/below 40616
Starting in 2009, Adult, Young
Adult, Youth and Scholastic all offer a Premium option with hard copy magazine
or Regular with TLA Bulletin and online magazine. The trend continues to
be down in most categories but not drastically so, and not that bad in the poor
economy of the past two years. The USCF net surplus per membership has
increased more than enough to cover the decline, putting the federation roughly
$80,000 per year ahead of what we were netting in 2008.
6/30/09: Overall 76896, Young Adult 8130, Youth 6299, Scholastic 23724, Economy Scholastic 26, total age 25/below 38179
6/30/10: Overall 74214, Young Adult 7402, Youth 5989, Scholastic 23871, Economy Scholastic 1, total age 25/below 37263