Wednesday, March 3, 2010

What We've Got Here is a Failure to Communicate

Sometimes it seems like nobody cares about Flyball anymore.

I know, I know, we post pictures and video of our dogs up on Facebook all the time, and on tournament weekends we entertain our friends with a running commentary of our escapades via our FB status, and our regional Yahoo groups are hopping with pertinent tournament details and "ISO" posts for dogs to run on open teams. Most clubs have a website and a Yahoo group these days. It seems like we talk about flyball all the time, right? 

I'm not talking about flyball with a little "f," though. I'm talking about Flyball – big "F" – the sport. I mean Flyball at the NAFA or U-FLI level, the big picture view across the U.S. and Canada.

We seem to have become very regionally focused. We've become a bunch of little flyball cliques. I never hear about how things are going up in Ontario anymore, or out in California or down in Texas. I have no idea what the NAFA board is thinking about, aside from CanAm planning. I've never known what's going on with the U-FLI owners. The only coverage of flyball on TV, aside from local news coverage of tournaments, seems to be clips from an outdoor tournament 10 years ago (in Las Vegas?). When I thumb through dog magazines on the rack at Barnes & Noble, there's no mention of flyball. There are no current flyball books, either. I just looked on Amazon, and the last time a flyball book was published in North America was 1997. 

It's sort of a miracle that new people are finding their way to our beloved sport.

I remember the old glory days when there were a hundred messages a week on the flyball list. Like Forrest Gump's box of chocolates, you never knew what you were going to get. Maybe a training discussion, or a slew of tournament brags (usually on Tuesdays, after everyone had a day to recover), or an emotionally-charged debate about measuring, even the occasional accidentally-sent "Oops" posts full of good gossip. These days, there are about 2 posts a month.

We also used to get a NAFA News newsletter in the mail every once in a while. Yeah, it was old-school, but it made people feel like they were a part of something bigger than just their team and their region. 

And NAFA also used to host a Leadership Chat (with the Executive Director and various board members) 3 or 4 times a year. I think they had one in 2009?

Currently, NAFA's idea of keeping flyball competitors informed about the state of the organization and the sport is to post their board meeting minutes on the NAFA website a few times a year and start a new read-only Yahoo group (where they announce when the meeting minutes are posted on the website). 

U-FLI just redesigned their website, so it's fresher than NAFA's, but I can't remember the last time I saw an announcement from one of the U-FLI owners come across on the U-FLI email list (except the announcement of the new website). I don't really expect the same degree of accountability from U-FLI, though, since they are for-profit and privately held. 

I guess I just want to say WTF, NAFA and U-FLI? Is anybody out there actually promoting the sport to the public? Does either organization have a marketing strategy other than to run one really big championship tournament a year and hope for some media coverage? 

I realize that marketing a sport is a lot of work, and NAFA is a bunch of volunteers with full-time jobs and kids and real lives apart from flyball. Believe me, I get it – I was on the NAFA board for 2 years and head of the Marketing Committee when I was there. And it was HARD to get things done. There was no marketing budget and little support then, and I'm betting it's the same way there now. One or two NAFA board members may have the time and energy to market a TOURNAMENT (like CanAm) but they can't market an entire friggin SPORT.

But there's also something about the way NAFA does business that makes the competitors think their ideas and help aren't really welcome.

And so nothing ever gets done.

I just checked out the statistics from NAFA's 2009 Annual General meeting minutes, and 2009 was the first year ever that NAFA's tournament numbers didn't increase:

2009: 352 events
2008: 352 events
2007: 342 events
2006: 325 events
2005: 305 events
(statistics from 1999 to 2006 are available here on the NAFA website)

The number of newly registered dogs has been declining for several years, too.

I know we're in the middle of some tough economic times, but isn't that when we're supposed to try harder? Isn't that when we need to get creative and try out new approaches, versus just blaming everything on the economy?

Marketing the sport to attract new competitors (and to keep the existing ones happy) needs to be a priority for both organizations. It also needs to be important to us, the competitors. Otherwise our little sport isn't going to grow.

How can we, the competitors, make a difference? 


Black Sheep said...

We, as a team, try to put on flyball demonstrations at every little fund raiser or grand opening type of event we can. The biggest event we ever did was not promoted or organized by NAFA or U-Fli, but Authority, Petsmart's store brand dog food. That was a halftime show for the Harlem Globetrotters. Maybe organizing more things like that would help to spread the word. I know I have to keep a video clip on my phone because even when I describe flyball to people they have no idea what I am talking about. I wonder how Petsmart scored their gig... I'm sure lots of $$. Then again, I spend a lot of money on flyball and some of it ought to go somewhere to promote the sport.

Susan said...

I tried to offer my help to NAFA as a volunteer (I currently work from home so have some extra time). I got one email expressing generic interest in volunteers, but then no follow up or suggestions as to what things might be useful.

Chris said... hit the nail on the head.

One of the things I've noticed is that the NAFA Board is very "cliquey". That is, unless you know someone in a personal way on the Board, any suggestions made to NAFA or offers to "volunteer" for NAFA are ignored.

If you read the NAFA Board minutes, almost every suggestion that has made it to the meeting agenda has NOT had a motion offered to advance the suggestion/concept /idea. Without a "motion" or a second to a motion, no discussion can take place. (per Robert's Rules) So, the item is then recorded in the minutes as having "no interest".

Translation: No one at the meeting was interested in taking any action that would advance the suggestion/concept/idea,etc.

So, after learning that your "great idea" has no interest at the top, why should you pour more time/effort into it? ....and, it might be a very worthwhile idea for NAFA or Flyball but, because we are "limited" to the imaginations and mindsets of the people we have elected to serve us on the Board, we, as a community, are blocked from adopting or implementing such ideas and making them become a reality, no matter how good they might be as a concept or how how popular they might be embraced by the community.

I'm going to make a "suggestion" to NAFA and let's see how far it gets up the "chain"...

How about adding a "Volunteers Needed" bulletin board to the NAFA Website where NAFA could advertise the need for certain "skills" or "No skills" positions that need to be filled. Location and duties. Perhaps, an estimate of personal time needed to accomplish. Who to report to, etc. Let us, the NAFA community, look the list over and see what we as individuals could do to help.

It could be "win/win".

...then again, it will probably be ignored.

Anonymous said...

Wow I have to agree with everything you said.
I made a suggestion to NAFA for a special recognition award. It went no where to the best of my knowledge. Just getting it on the agenda was a fiasco.
Plus yes I do miss the good old days of lots of emails on the Flyball List. I do tend to start the odd one with a provocative question. Yes that's me, Natalie from Hot Diggity Dogs.

Anonymous said...

Things change! I for one am okay with the way things are going with NAFA. I don't see the problem with the number of tournaments fluctuating or number of dogs coing in declining... How is that NAFA as a whole's responsibility? Seriously!
NAFA is damned if they do and damned if they don't... I for one think that people stop using the list because of all the political bullshit that doesn't impact my puppy. I have lights when I have a tournament....the fees per team are cheaper than any other sport.
I hate how people are deemed cliquey because they share a vision or work on action, not sitting there finding everything to bitch about. Go run your puppies...
Too many cooks in the kitchen... I don't hear them say they are over worked and I value the NAFA board AND I should say I don't know any of them personally.

Anonymous said...

I totally agree with you Chris. I have idea's to help grow NAFA and help promote but, I know from attending BoD meetings and past proposals I and others have made that unless a BoD makes the proposal no action/motion will be made. Why waste my idea's that will go nowhere. BoD have come and gone and it's always the same. They are there to advance their own agenda and interests. The CanAm is really nothing more then a paid for by us ego trip. How long will the luster last? Judging by the amount lost .....not long.

Chris said...

I AM "okay" with the way things are going with NAFA,too! ...but, just because I'm OK doesn't mean I shouldn't have an opinion on how things could be better, does it? Should we all just turn a blind eye to whatever happens at NAFA and pretend that "We" ourselves, couldn't contribute MORE?

People are deemed "cliquey" because they build WALLS keeping good ideas and people from SHARING their "vision" or, by excluding willing and capable people from working on action to benefit the whole community.

I VALUE the NAFA Board. ...but, what is the NAFA Board telling us about how much they value us when they discard ideas and people?

Kim said...

Maybe what folks should do is post to the flyball list to get opinions before sending anything to NAFA. That way they can even put that X # of people commented for against, etc...

I also miss all the emails good, bad and bitchy. I enjoy reading what goes on in other regions and all the antics you only read about.

There is good and bad about NAFA and U-Fli. I play both and there is a lack of communication overall and there is no marketing per se.

U-Fli is For-profit so they should be marketing themselves more to make more money. The East does not have much U-Fli and they don't seem to care about helping those of us who want to play it.

And the problem with a clique is that many times everyone agrees or pretends to and many times thinking outside the box is lost.

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