NABC Fund-Raising Game Money Grab

outstretched hand

by Matthew Kidd

San Diego is hosting an NABC in the fall of 2017, only eight years after our last one in 2009. That’s cool. Prior to 2009, our last NABC was 15 years back in 1994, which surprisingly I attended, driving down from Salt Lake. But I was just a kid in those days, rather new to duplicate, and Zia Mahmood looked a lot younger, very much in the prime of life. San Diego, with our strong bridge community, plentiful hotel and convention space, and delightful weather, is close to joining the ranks of Las Vegas, Orlando, and Reno which are considered for an NABC at least every six years.

What’s not so cool is asking D22 players to subsidize NABC hospitality. This comes in the form of NABC Fund Raising Week (June 29–July 5) during which clubs can run as many fund raising game as they want in their normally sanctioned time slots with the usual carrot of issuing inflated masterpoint awards. According to the May 2015 Contract Bridge Forum lead article, the money will be used strictly for player hospitality and entertainment.

I’ve long had my doubts about conflating our award system with charitable giving. It seems too much like the indulgences issued for generous donations, much abused by the Catholic Church in the late medieval period. But entanglement aside, some charities that bridge players have contributed to are making a difference. For example, local doctor Ray Sachs achieves a lot and as far as I can tell has very little overhead. Other charities do less well. Most money raised for breast cancer falls into the sinkhole of raising “awareness” or is eaten by administration, with only a small fraction going to research.

The ACBL has its own charities and funds. The ACBL Charity Foundation is an umbrella organization that dispenses money to a wide range of charities. Then there are the ACBL Funds, including the Educational Fund, Grassroots Fund, Junior Fund, and International Fund, all of which redistribute money within the greater bridge community. There is some debate about whether these funds should exist and/or how the funds should be used. For example, our district director Ken Monzingo has been fighting hard against redistribution that goes to pros as reiterated in his May 2015 District Direction column in the Contract Bridge Forum. Accordingly he is not a big fan of the Junior Fund and International Funds, particularly the International Fund which supports teams, invariably bridge pros, playing on behalf of the United States in international events. I’m with him about half way on this issue. We both favor the Grassroots Fund which helps our D22 NAP and GNT competitors compete at the NABCs; it’s basically a financial reward for playing well and money that usually doesn’t go to pros. And we both favor the Educational Fund, though Ken would focus on educating the baby boomer generation, the obvious next source of players, while I am more willing to invest in high school kids and younger in the hope that when these kids get older they will have some cultural memory of our game and perhaps return to it.

But NABC hospitality is an unnecessary redistribution of money. Of course hospitality is as old as bridge and well paired with such a social gathering. Rubber bridge players are familiar with bridge mix and a culture of snacking at the table, the lowliest club will at least put out a box of crappy Oreo cookies, and sectionals usually provide considerable snacks and food. Players expect some hospitality and they almost always get it. But from clubs to regionals this has been a pay as you go system. Deep down the players know that some part of their entry fee goes to hospitality. The La Jolla unit spends about $1 per player on food. Our Memorial weekend sectional also works out to about $1 / player-session, excluding the explicit $5 surcharge for the Sunday team game lunch. Wirt Gilliam, an efficient businessman, has probably pushed hospitality expenses below $0.50 per player-session at his Adventures in Bridge club.

So why should hospitality be any different for an NABC? Why shouldn’t it also be pay as you go, included as part of the entry fee instead of subsidized via a special fund? I put this question to Ken via e-mail. His response was:

If you are having trouble understanding a simple player hospitality fund raiser for our visiting and local players, I suggest you [your unit] choose not to run the [special] games. … I suggest you do what your heart tells you.

Yes, it is certainly our unit’s prerogative whether or not to run NABC Fund-Raising games. But this does not answer my question. When I pointed this out to Ken, our discussion came to an end.

Are NABCs somehow different? In the end it is still a group of people playing bridge. And NABCs are pretty similar to regionals in the sense that the out of town participants in an NABC are largely an aggregate of the players who regularly play in regionals. Let me sharpen my question by asking why hospitality at an NABC should be treated differently from hospitality at a regional. I don’t see it.

Understand that I’m not arguing the D22 players and San Diego locals in particular have no special role. Certainly some of us will volunteer to man the hospitality desk as we do for our regionals. Maritha Pottenger may well run a Bridge Boot Camp as she has done at San Diego regionals providing free mentoring opportunities, free “Ask an Expert“ sessions, and free handouts. Strong local players may give lectures. Locals could be most, if not all, of the actors in the performance of Peter Rank’s play There is Nothing like a Game. Local support is very important. I just think it should draw on the specific talents of the locals rather than their ability to open their wallets and transfer money to another group of players who aren’t very different from themselves and not in any particular need of charity.

May 4th Update

Ken answered my latest e-mail. His response is:

ACBL provides hospitality money for its NABCs – but has not with other tournaments or clubs. They also allow us to run fundraisers for additional funds if needed or desired, all of which is used at that particular national. In 2017 we will be offering a very expensive Broadway-style play “There is Nothing like a Game” which is similar to the one we presented last time (“My Fair Little (Ole)Lady”), but quite expensive because this one is with professional actors and musicians. That, along with our late-night food functions, will exceed our allotment from the league. Hence, a club fundraiser with extra MPs.

Based on the first sentence one would think there would be even less need for D22 players to subsidize the NABC hospitality. But the rest of his response makes it clear the NABC fund raising is primarily about an expensive theater production rather than food. I have mixed feelings about this one. I’m more willing to subsidize art than food but bridge productions are not high art and the 2009 performance of “My Fair Little (Ole)Lady”, where many of the actors were local bridge players, was well done (see pictures). Is it unreasonable to ask the viewers of a professional performance, the NABC participants, to pay for it even if indirectly via their card fees?