Bridge & Scrabble: ACBL can learn from Scrabble

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June 12, 2014

I confess I reacted with momentary pleasure when Scrabble’s owner–Hasbro Corporation–ended all funding of the tournaments and competitive Scrabble of the National Scrabble Association, with the comment: “We are not in the altruism business.”

That’s because I saw that action as validating my view that the ACBL’s mandate to promote tournaments and competitive bridge does nothing to promote bridge as the wonderful classic game it’s been for decades for millions of people beyond competitive bridge. And that’s not good for the ACBL either.

For Scrabble, it’s in the business of selling ever-more Scrabble games to the mass of potential casual players. Its hard-headed bottom-line conclusion is competitive Scrabble and tournaments don’t sell Scrabble to the larger public.

For bridge, it’s a matter of popular culture, not sales. Drawing people to the game for the love of it and the benefits it brings to their lives. And, like Scrabble, competitive bridge and tournaments don’t sell bridge to the larger public.

Bridge & Scrabble have several parallels

Both just naturally attract people who enjoy games involving mental stimulation, both have been huge pop culture fads. Both games have two distinct worlds—casual players and competitive/tournament players. What I call sociable and serious.

Today both Hasbro and ACBL have similar marketing problems—selling a traditional game to the younger and young in a world of competition from computer games and the internet.

Bridge & Scrabble have major differences

Hasbro, as a corporation, owns Scrabble. Hasbro, as owner, applying hard-headed bottom-line economics to their marketing problems could decide to de-fund tournament Scrabble and, presumably spend that money on increased marketing to potential casual Scrabble players.

Oh, that ACBL could act so clearly! Not give up on tournaments of course–that’s their mandate for existence. But “get” the implications of the Hasbro experience and take steps to add promoting social bridge as part of its strategic marketing plans in its own self interest.

Hasbro has a corporate bottom line and sales figures to measure the effective of its marketing budget.

Bridge and the ACBL does not have as specific a measure for the effectiveness of its marketing activities. What it does have is the history of bridge itself.

Reading that history was my epiphany–an Oprah AHA moment–discovering that the phenomenal growth of contract bridge in the 20s and 30s and through the decades  following was not primarily due to competitive and tournament bridge and the ACBL (then American Whist League).

The prime mover in the fad bridge became was Ely Culbertson and women. Women sociable bridge players. That fad created in the 20s lasted unto the 1970s, and lives on today (old lady remnants like me) who learned to play Goren in the 1950s.

To close–all I am asking is that the implications of the Scrabble decision not be lost on ACBL’s marketing director. Why not look to history to restore bridge to what it once was? It worked!


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