How Much is Bike Polo Worth?

We started polo with gas pipe, ski poles and whatever bike we didn’t care about – I think that’s a pretty standard level of initiation for most everyone who plays polo.  Now, however, we’re willing (as a community, not strictly on an individual basis) to buy 25 dollar heads, fifteen dollar shaft, polo specific gloves and bombproof equipment on our polo-ready bikes.

As a sport community we are spending more and more money on getting the right equipment for our game, and that’s a great thing for both the people who have the know-how to make our equipment and for new players who won’t struggle to get the stuff we only dreamed of a few years ago.

So here’s the setup: We are spending hundreds of dollars a year (potentially) on equipment purchases, registration fees, travelling to tourneys, and a few bucks for cases of PBR. We’re buying new bikes that fine people are making for bike polo, and that can up the number per year to a thousand.

So why aren’t we paying any dues directly to our organizing body?

I know some of you just read that and stopped reading, decided that any love you have for this blog is gone, and set fire to your computer – and that’s fine. I’m glad I could help with that. For the rest of you, hear me out.

Every sport needs an organizing body of some kind, even if it’s self-organization. Reason being that it’s easier to secure space, insurance, equipment, refs and rules if there is a concentrated group of people that make that kinda stuff happen. In every sport that has become something people watch on TV, gets sponsored, and gets picked up by little kids as a legitimate choice for after school activities, there has been some sort of organizing body behind it.

And all of these organized sports have dues. Not big ones, necessarily, but something that helps the organizing body secure space for tournaments or playoffs, pays for official refs and provides for official equipment (goals, scoreboards, whatever).

We in polo don’t do that yet, and I think it’s almost time that we do.

One of the reasons that the NAH gets lambasted by so many players is because they “don’t do anything for the players” outside of making rules that are either followed or not followed based on the discretion of the tournament organizers. Follow that logic for a minute and consider why that sort of argument can be made.

The NAH as a whole is remarkably underfunded. There isn’t a constant revenue stream coming into the group. If there was, the NAH could go into a hosting town, pay for construction, reffing, and any other expense, and pull off professional tournaments that are consistently the same quality every single time.

I really want you to think about what that means for the ability of clubs to host tournaments and for the NAH to back those tourneys. Instead of clubs trying to beg/lie/overpay local government or business for space, struggle with first time mistakes or be super stressed the day of a tourney, we could have a group that sees tournaments as perfunctory making everything come off without a hitch and making money for the hosting club.

So what am I suggesting? A few things:

  • The sport will grow faster/better with a strong organizing body
  • The NAH can become stronger if it has a stream of funding
  • We (players) are already laying out money to play
  • We (players) can put up some money to make our sport better

The downside (if you’re still reading, maybe you gave up a few paragraphs up and are trying to figure out where I live), is if you don’t participate in bike polo tournaments at all.

OK – you’re right – that would be lame for you to pay the NAH cash money for nothing.

Outside of the big picture that strengthening the legitimacy of the NAH and the sport would benefit everyone playing polo, I think it would be like any other sport. Backyard football players don’t pay dues to the NFL, and neither would “casual” bike polo players. If you pay into the NAH you are paying into the NAH sanctioned Tournaments. Simple as that. You can go to other tourneys that the NAH isn’t involved in or that have no impact on the NA/Worlds qualification process just like always.

But if you’re playing for qualifications, you pay into the NAH as a matter of giving the NAH the ability to run those tourneys and run them well.

Do I think this can happen in the next year? No, I don’t. I think we still have a pervasive attitude of lawless bike polo, which I like and cherish in our sport. I also believe, however, that if we want to do ourselves a favor and do a favor to the next few generations of bike polo players, we’ll want to take a good hard look at how much we’re willing to invest in energizing and empowering those who can make bike polo something that local government, business, and the world at large recognize as a legitimate and profitable sport.

 

Let the shit storm begin.

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20 comments

  1. Horse says:

    I’d support paying for a license. Similar to bmx, if you want to race locally, fine, by all means. But if you want to race nationals, then you need a current association membership. That goes towards organizational and overhead. Then you still pay an entrance fee for the races themselves.
    that way its not club based, and you’re not making non-tourney members pay for tourneys they’re not interested in going to.

  2. john from dc says:

    My understanding is that a portion of the tournament registration fee (20%? flat amount?) for each NAH qualifier went directly to NAH. So in effect, by registering for the tournament you are “paying your dues” and supporting NAH financially. That being said, they’re still relying on a ton of volunteer work, and maybe it’s justifiable to pay more than $4 per year per person.

    I don’t know if it will ever get to the point where NAH actually throws the events themselves, that might be asking a bit too much. But a central body helping with permits and reffing would make it a lot easier for clubs to focus on stuff like housing and court building. Seems like that’s the direction it’s headed anyway.

    • Crusher says:

      I don’t see getting a cut of a tournament registration as a viable income source. How many NAH qualifiers are there in total a year, and how would that compare to a modest membership cost for North American players?

      I think it isn’t at all unreasonable to think of the NAH as eventually being the operators and de facto sponsors of NAH tournaments – we’re a far cry from it right now for sure, but it wouldn’t take much to get there if a cash flow was secured.

      • Whether or not it’s a viable income depend on the numbers. If too few players (or clubs) pay dues, then it could turn out that taking part of registration fees makes more money. I think we’re all in agreement that NAH needs more money. The more interesting question is how they should be spending it. Refs need to be paid at this point, that’s for sure. Beyond that, who knows?

        As for NAH running the tournaments, that’s pretty much what’s going on. The club reps tend to be the people who are ‘in charge’. The NAH reps in each city run tournaments, but the NAH higher-ups have less (or no) say when it comes to decisions about the tournaments. So what you’re looking for is more central control. I think this can be achieved by merely being stricter about the rules. NAH doesn’t need to send people to make sure tournaments follow the rules, that should be the job of the club reps. In fact, that IS the job of the club reps if they’re tournament organizers. It just turns out that they’re not that good at it because of how lax polo is when it comes to rules and facilities.

  3. Bob says:

    Didnt last years qualifiers registration cost include dues to NAH in some form? So you want dues outside qualifier registration? It seems to me what your describing already happens in that people who went to a NAH qualifier did pay NAH to play, even if not directly.

    • Crusher says:

      I addressed this a little bit in my response to John, however I’ll make the same point to save you scrolltime: The small amount gained by the NAH at qualifiers isn’t enough to propel them to the point of being a strong body to secure space and monetary needs for hosting clubs nor for expanding the sport into new, better spaces. While getting a cut from tourneys makes sense on paper, it doesn’t make a whole lot of impact financially. The argument I’m making in the article is that the sport needs a better, more rich income source, and I believe the best way to do that is to have players pay dues to the sport itself (rather than have the NAH gather a percentage from tourneys).

      To put it briefly, I think the NAH needs a direct income, not an allotted one. Getting a yearly lump sum makes it easier to set up the whole year than waiting for tourneys to go off and getting a percentage of your yearly take.

  4. Horse says:

    I would also be interested to see if the organizers of the Qualifiers cleared their investment? I find that doubtful… in which case that 20% or whatever should go back to the organizers, not NAH. NAH membership should be separate, allowing no grey area between the cost of throwing a tournament and the revenue produced by entrance fees. As it sits, we pay so little to play in tourneys its laughable. That can’t last if the sport wants to.

  5. john from dc says:

    ESPI Accounting

    Short answer, we didn’t quite break even but we weren’t too far off. It’s definitely doable.

    The main reason I like the percentage model is that it seems more palatable to the masses. The fact that the current model actually worked this year with minimal bitching speaks to its effectiveness. If NAH needs more revenue, you can raise the reg fees and up the amount that goes to NAH. People will probably grumble, but it’s easier than getting them to send you a check.

    • Crusher says:

      I can side with this as well – as Horse said earlier, the price we pay to play in regional tourneys is very low. Though I as a player would probably not scoff at (just for an example) paying 30 bucks a year to be a “member” and 30 bucks to play in a regional qualifier, but I might at paying 60 to pay in a regional qualifier if I’m also paying for room, board, and travel.

  6. Joe says:

    $100 flat fee yearly membership to be eligible to compete in NAH sanctioned events. Sanctioned events receive benefits. Yes you may not be guaranteed to play in your regional qualifier, but this will encourage regions to set up actual competitive methods for deciding which 32, or 48 teams get to play in their regions qualifier. You pay the fee to support the community. If there are 32 teams in each region willing to pay this fee, thats 96 players (32×3), in 7 regions (672 players), which is $67,200 a year. All of a sudden the NAH can have an executive director who gets paid a small yearly part time salary, and pay for officials to travel to tournaments with an NAH sanctioned court (or 2)!! Imagine the stress this takes off tournament organizers and participants. This is an absolute no brainer. Anyone can feel free to argue with me, but like you said: Most people have mallet quivers more expensive than this yearly fee.

  7. Tall George says:

    Who do you trust in bike polo with $67,000.00? This was one of the things talked about in structure meetings. The board shot down membership fees do to no one with the time to handle the money. Flat out.

    • Crusher says:

      I would say anyone who doesn’t want to spend years in jail for theft.

      We’re not talking ten bucks that you lend a polo troll and never see again – we’re talking an actual regulated, monitored organization that operates under the same laws as other organized sports. Keeping money “safe” from misuse is a simple matter of checks and balances, and one that we’d have to do anyway if dues came into the picture.

      I think if money can be kept safe around the pot smoking, flip-flop wearing ultimate Frisbee governing body, we can find at least 10 people in all of NA polo who can manage the job.

    • Joe says:

      If this is the attitude of the board, I’m questioning my support of it. Of course we all appreciate what you guys have done up to this point, but if you don’t have the perspective of running it like a business then you don’t belong there. I trust a lot of people in bike polo to make something happen with serious cash. And this membership fee would be nothing in comparison to a large corporations sponsorship deal of a league. It’s not a debateable issue in my mind. If you want referees, you need to pay them. End of argument. This shouldn’t be put on tournament organizers for the sake of consistency.

  8. lomax's mom says:

    Crusher – this is a great conversation to bring up.

    first, an annual membership (not including tourney reg fees) does not seem unreasonable. it can’t be that hard (can it?) to find a trustworthy treasurer. with this people would want more transparency within the organization to see what was actually going on with dat cash

    second, money does not equal manpower. if NAH had $420,000,000 that doesn’t mean they can just show up in eastside city,USA and put on a regional qualifier. the sport must still be developed with enough players who are willing and capable of putting on a tournament with at least 32 teams.

    thirdly, what scares me is what you are suggesting is that polo be sucked into the UCI. and have everyone tested for dope :(

    • Crusher says:

      UCI: unique client identification?

      I agree that money doesn’t equal manpower, but we have people who pull of tourneys now with little to no money. Give them some cash to work with and amazing things will happen, I think.

      And to your first point: yup.

      And to your first statement: thanks. I didn’t realize I got much readership in Boston.

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