Friday, November 24, 2006

Terry Collier on the future of Bridge

Below is the text of an e-mail sent by Terry Collier of PlayBridgeUK to those who have registered for his site. I have reproduced it here as I think it raises some important issues and will give the document a wider circulation. I will also in due course print my own responses to the issues raised and hope others will respond too. I think Terry has blown a breath of fresh air into the musty corners of 'EBU land' but is finding reform to be a frustrating task.

Terry's e-mail:

What is the future for Bridge?

I have struggled with this question for over five years, first as the manager of the EBU and more recently as the independent operator of PlayBridgeUK. I have found recent investigations into the current state of Bridge very alarming, with media based market research showing that in 2005/6 only 435,000 people played bridge on a regular basis and that 1,039,000 were interested in the game. Despite the fact that Mr Bridge has been referring to similar figures for some years, they still took me by surprise and certainly suggests that the problem that faces us is far more challenging than I had ever imagined.

What is to be done, if the game is to have a long term future? In the past I had seen this as being a task that involved clubs, teachers and players but I now realise that this may not be the case. We have to bear in mind that everyone is just too busy, either teaching, organising or playing and have just enough time to keep their activities afloat. Other sports are more fortunate than us, for they can call upon a vast band of relatively young retired players, whilst bridge players are only coming into their prime at this stage in their playing careers. So whose task is it and what might restrict our efforts?

I believe we need more people like myself who have an interest in the game, have an understanding of the it and a desire to get things done but no desire to get bogged down in playing the game, at present that is. What will restrict the development of the game, is simple, 435,000 players are happy with the existing set up and don’t want change! Therefore, is it possible to attract new people to the game, in significant numbers, if we expect them to be absorbed into the existing club structure? The answer is simply no, if we are going to accept the restriction that existing players don’t want change.

To proceed further, it is vitally important that we clearly identify who we wish to attract and what we can offer, failure to do this will only result in a disastrous waste of time and effort. In this regard we can learn from the Bridge for All scheme which was launched some years ago to generate new players to the game and membership of the EBU. Whilst the scheme produced a good but expensive and time consuming teaching programme, which has been used by over 10,000 people, less than 8% of these players have gone on to become active club playing members of the EBU. The simple mistake was a failure to appreciate that existing club structure could not absorb large numbers of new players, without major change and that change is not desirable. In their defence, I do appreciate that it was the intention to create new clubs or supervised play groups under the EBU’s banner and whilst many new groups were formed, many opted out of the EBU and its dated Master Point system and services. This leads us onto our next restriction which is a question of image and ongoing service delivery.

Bridge has a tremendous amount going for it but how do we portray this to new audiences who see it as dull and old fashioned. We need to re-brand the game as a bright, cheerful and fun image game that is stimulating, intellectual, challenging and an ideal way of prolonging an active life. This last point could be the key to success as most clubs have excellent role models and lets face it, if fear has driven so many to the solitary use of treadmills in an attempt to stay fit and healthy, just think what Bridge could offer.

What do we know?

participation in the game is declining but is still reasonably large and consequently likely to see most of us out
that clubs could accommodate more players but not in significant numbers if they are to remain unchanged and continue to serve the needs of existing players
that less than 6% of regular players support the dated and costly services of the national bridge organisations, to such a level that they are members
less than half of regular players play within the club structure
the vast majority of players play socially at home, with friends, on holiday, at charity events and in friendly organisations such as the U3A
that less than 8% of Bridge for All students go onto to play club bridge as active members of the EBU
that in these modern times image is everything
that in the past people either taught themselves to play or were introduced to play much sooner than they are at present

What are we going to do?

it is essential for us to push the traditional way of doing things to one side and think outside the box
provide fun ways of getting cards back onto the kitchen table - Poker has done it, why not Bridge
provide exciting games that allow players to introduce themselves to the game
provide opportunities for the self taught to develop their skills
encourage them to become competitive outside their family or friendly groups
provide teachers who can cater for player’s needs rather than just deliver traditional teaching programmes
provide weekend breaks and holidays that encourage development and competition, in relaxed and friendly atmospheres
provide competitions that are enjoyable rather than mere stepping stones to becoming a Grand Master.
move fast but in a well planned and structured manner
establish effective partnerships and open working relationships

Whilst the above may all seem a little far fetched, I can assure you that it is not and that it is already happening. The partnership between PlayBridgeUK and the playing card manufacturer Richard Edward has resulted in a new name of the bridge scene, The Bridge Room, which has developed a series of games that are designed to introduce bridge to family audiences, to develop their skills through to “on-line” and “face to face” play in small home based groups. Further games will be available for students, improvers and even advanced players, again to play wherever you want and a new network of “learn and play” centres is being established through PlayBridgeUK. Regarding the promotion of the game and creation of awareness, we are working in partnership with a promotional agency, ThoughtSport, who already have firm support from TV producers to create a new image and interest in the game – so it really is happening but rest assured we will protect the interest of existing players who we know don’t want change!

Your views, suggestions and contradictions would be greatly appreciated, please send them to me at and I promise to give them full consideration and keep you

Here are some comments on the above from Terry Kelly:

My Club is Chancton Duplicate BC established 1988 when there was little or no provision ( and still is'nt!!) for the early learner and AE bridge student to practise and develop their skills at the bridge table with like minded people.

Interesting reading your comments about Terry Colliers latest newsletter about the EBU. I agree with you, he is a breath of fresh air with his views about the national organisation, which I believe has lost its way in trying to halt the exodus of many EBU members.

This latest attempt by the new General Manager to try and identify the problems to launch a survey is badly flawed on two accounts.,......firstly he is aiming the survey at existing members......what about people who are no longer are EBU members but possibly still members of their local EBU Clubs ? DONT THEIR VIEWS COUNT ?

Secondly, what a miserable offer... a £500 holiday voucher for just one person !! Is EBU that mean that they can't offer 25 participants free annual membership for the same sum of money ?


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