Horton: I want to start out this interview by commending you for your weekly blog. I think that in years past there has been a lack of transparency at USA-WS.
Locke: Thank you. Both Jim Grew, president of USA-WS, and I decided early on that we needed to bring renewed transparency to USA-WS, and we thought that the weekly report would be one component in doing so.
ScarletArrow from the BallOfSpray forum asks: It seems that there is certain disillusionment with USAWS. Those who have anything to say are generally critical. What are the positive things happening with USAWS today? What steps are you taking to reach out to the community and restore the faith in your organization?
Locke: For one, our efforts in reporting all that goes on whether it is good news or not so good news. Our regular reports shine light on our financial position, our membership numbers, and generally what is going on throughout all of our sport disciplines governance and otherwise wise. To a certain extent, in light of a very difficult economy, we are staying above water and surviving. Some organizations are not. We have launched a new grassroots program designed to provide skiing and riding opportunities for beginners or those who want to just explore competitive skiing and riding. That program launched several weeks ago has as its prime customer local organizing committees (most often clubs). The hoped for result is to help build club numbers, assist each club with its financial position, and develop more mainstream memberships within USA-WS. Another program planned for 2009 launch (as soon as we see some light at the end of this poor economic tunnel) is an affinity program meant to attract new members who do not want to compete, but want involvement with skiing and riding due to their passion for water sports. This group of members will receive a completely different package of benefits than our competitive members. Some other sport NGBs have ramped up similar programs and over time have realized substantial increases in membership. Insofar as restoring faith into our organization, I am not clear on specifically what that means; but if there are examples of instances that USA-WS has been negligent, I will be happy to try to respond on how we can correct our processes.
Horton: How do you see the role of “TheWaterSkier”? Does the publication generate positive cash flow? Is it paid for with membership dollars?
Locke: I have been around all of the NGBs under the Olympic aegis (there are 45 sport NGBs), and I am familiar with all of their publications. Ours is among the best. Scott Atkinson as editor, and Lynn Novakofski as chief photographer and graphic artist are top shelf in the publishing business. The magazine over time is evolving into a more diverse publication with many different types of articles. The real purpose of an NGB publication is to report on governance within the sport. Scott and Lynn continue to take it to new levels in not only providing governance information, but also many articles reflecting contemporary training approaches, safety, athlete profiles, equipment descriptions, and much more. Beyond the magazine, they have within their quiver other media such as eblasts, and a website that is dynamic as news rotates in and out daily throughout the year.
Does the magazine generate a positive cash flow? No, but it isn't meant to do so. It is a prime benefit of being a member so; therefore, it is an overhead expense of membership. Much of it is paid for through membership fees and some of the cost is subsidized through ad sales and sponsorship.
ktm300 from the BallOfSpray forum asks: Other than the fact that you have to be a member to ski tournaments, why would anybody join AWSA?
Locke: In the latest issue of The Water Skier I go through an entire litany of why people should join (actually a litany of what they get). Scott was "mad" at me because the article was so long he had to provide extra space to allow me to interpret the benefits. If you do not have that issue, I would be happy to send it, but to give a complete answer here would be just too expansive. I will tell you that in concept and in truth all of the sport NGBs bring consistency and continuity to each of their sports. Each NGB governs. Most people do not like government, but in the end most often do not deny the need for it. Government, such as in each sport's NGB, is always an easy target for criticism, much as is our own Federal government. Those criticizing often are not aware of all the work going on behind the scenes by volunteers and staff to make the sport consistent and fair for all.
Scot Jones from the BallOfSpray forum has a lot to say: For many years the US Open was held in conjunction with US Nationals. This was a great draw in that most people attending nationals had little chance of winning their division, but really enjoyed getting to ski and then see professionals do their thing on the weekend. Because the pro skiers were in attendance there was a great deal of activity in the tents where you could "rub elbows" with the elite skiers as they hung around their sponsor's booth's doing their job in pushing products. For some reason the US Open was separated from Nationals in the mid '90s, in my opinion to the detriment of both. The US Open, which was one of the most important pro events, has disappeared entirely and the manufacturer presence in the "tents" has dwindled to a sad level. (Thanks to you who still set up by the way) Has there been any discussion regarding returning the US Open to Nationals week? I believe that this would help make nats a more attractive trip for many skiers and would be an incentive for more sponsor involvement as their pro skiers would all be in attendance. If this is the case it would make the tournament more profitable for the host site and AWSA
Locke: Great question. I was not here during that era. But, it sounds great. Late last year we tried reviving The Open but were not successful. We found it would take around $250-300,000 to properly underwrite it, and could not find a sponsor with those resources. So, The Open continues as a suspended event, an event we hope to resurrect some day. However, we felt as you do that the Nationals needed more excitement. This year's Nationals will be augmented by an evening filled of the finals for the 2009 Big Dawg competition sponsored by Correct Craft. We think it will be a huge addition to the week long Nationals.
ScarletArrow the BallOfSpray forum asks:
1)What are the issues that presently plague both USAWS and US Triathlon?
Locke: Retaining membership. Within USA Triathlon there is a 30% attrition rate. They have around 100,000 members, so they must find 30,000 new members each year to replace those leaving. Our attrition is rate is similar although our numbers are less (~22,000). A second issue is USA Triathlon's evaporation of sponsor support. We have some of the same. The economy is simply causing commercial companies to cut back on their marketing dollars.
2) What, specifically, is your "5 year plan" for USAWS?
Locke: I do not currently have a five year plan.
3) Are the Olympics still an ambition for USAWS? .
Locke: Not particularly. The reality is that the Olympic Games program selection committee is looking at sets of sports completely different than our disciplines. As we currently mostly use boats to tow athletes we are not considered "green". If we are to ever be involved in the Olympic Games, it probably will be with a discipline using cable systems.
creakyrowboat the BallOfSpray forum asks a lot of things:
1) Please explain how being part of the Olympic committee helps our sport.
Locke: Materially, we receive health insurance benefits for several elite athletes, USADA conducts, adjudicates and pays for drug testing, we participate in the Pan American Games at no cost to USA-WS and for those going to those games it is a thrill. The benefits that are less material but still of benefit include being able to engage other sports regularly to compare or contrast issues, there is cachet that bring sport legitimacy by being under the Olympic umbrella, and there is still a lingering possibility that we may again have funding restored as the regimes of the USOC rotate in and out.
2) If you had a magic wand, wave it and make one aspect of the barrier to entry to our sport go away, what is it?
Locke: What appears to be the high expense to become involved. It seems a limiter.
3) What does our sport need to move up a level into at least a niche sport on the national conscience?
Locke: To have more presence in the mainstream media. The recent group of water skiing and riding commercials are certainly beneficial.
4) What came of your post about the surf expo, and expanding usa waterski to "really" incorporate wakeboarding into this world?
Locke: We are still working toward that goal. These things take time to develop trust between organizations.
5) WHEN ARE YOU GOING TO SHARE A DRINK WITH THE CRB?
Locke: I drink their Kool-Aide all the time.
Horton: In broad terms USAWS is a Sporting Federation whose original charter was to create a set of rules for completive waterskiing and then to enforce those rules. INT on the other hand seems to be more focused on fun and bringing more people to the sport. I have skied both kinds of tournaments in the last few years and see advantages and disadvantages to both. How do see you the differences?
Locke: INT is great and Rick Stocks and family are fabulous people for having the foresight to create INT. Our grassroots program, newly introduced recently, will provide some of the same as Rick and INT do. We would enjoy working with Rick at some juncture in sanctioning his events. We view Rick as an event organizer, and we are a governing body (we do not actually conduct events). The GrassRoots events will actually be conducted by local organizing committees/clubs; not USA-WS.
Horton: The current state of speed control is discouraging to a lot of competitive slalom skiers. What is the plan forward for speed control?
Locke: Speed control devices are created by manufacturers and the marketplace decides if the product will be successful or not. USA-WS acts in a governing manner by testing for a consistency in pull.
Horton: If a boat time is actual and the path is straight, why should a tournament score pulled by ten year old boat be less valid then a score pulled with a current year boat?
Locke: As I answer these questions, I find I cannot properly answer this one. I can have it answered by experts within our Tow Boat Committee who are technicians.
Horton: Do you think we have the right level of regulation in the sport?
Locke: Not sure. What do you think? So far, I have heard mostly regulation questions revolving around speed control. But, there have been a few others. In a perfect world, we could operate like in the old days with fewer regs. But, what happens over time is that folks find loopholes and are perceived to cheat, or maybe they just really cheat by utilization of a loophole, and regulations come along to close the loophole. Its a bummer, but a reality; the older the sport generally the more regulations it develops.
Horton: As I understand it, hosting INT US Championships is infinitely more attractive for a ski club then hosting USAWS Nationals. INT coordinates nearly everything and pays the club a flat fee for the site rental. Has USAWS considered this approach? If not, can you explain the advantage for the current system?
Locke: USA-WS is not an event production company; it is a governing body. We think the production of events should be left to those familiar with conducting them. And, of course conversely, we think the governing of the sport should be left to the sport's NGB. We would enjoy having Rick get involved with us and maybe even conduct Nationals some day.
Horton: Where I live in Bakersfield CA there are 15 private ski lakes with slalom courses. Perhaps 10% of the skiers on these lakes compete in any kind of tournament. Does USAWS have a plan to bring these skiers into the fold?
Locke: We will try with our GrassRoots program, and maybe there may be some interest in our future affinity program. Another benefit to those athletes would be the availability of pretty good USA Water Ski lake insurance to protect their assets from exposures.
Richard Doane from the BallOfSpray forum asks:
1) "When's the last time you took a rip on a waterski ?"
Locke: About 6 months ago.
2) "Have you ever skied the slalom course?"
Locke: Never. You would laugh.
3) "What's the chance of pulling you over a jump ramp?"
Locke: Sure, I'll try anything.
4) "Any experience on a Trick ski or Wakeboard?".
READ Steve Every Week http://www.usawaterski.org/blogs/