Unified Fee FAQs
1. Why is the concept of the Unified Fee being proposed now?
During the first meeting of the Board during the 2018 USMS annual meeting, a delegate in the audience inquired why the Board hadn’t taken up the concept of a unified national fee structure. The Board asked those in the room if they felt it was a worthwhile project and nearly everyone in attendance supported looking into the idea. Based on that discussion, the Board of Directors gave the National Office direction to consider the benefits of the concept off a single national membership fee and to develop a transition plan. The Unified Fee concept has been discussed by volunteers for years, but there has been no real analysis on benefits nor potential implementation.
Upon reviewing the benefits and the flexibility that the Unified Fee could offer USMS, the Board asked that the National Office continue to develop the strategy and a transition plan, at the 2019 Winter board meeting. The overall structure and transition plan being proposed was endorsed by the BOD during the Winter Board meeting, during updates on Board calls during the spring and at the 2019 Summer Board meeting.
2. How will the Unified Fee impact my LMSC budget?
Each LMSC has a unique budget based on its region, members’ interests, and other factors. LMSCs should review their individual financial situation. The Unified Fee plan has been developed to minimize financial hardships during and after the transition. The revenue that LMSCs will receive is currently close to the average of LMSC fees being charged nationally. There are 10 LMSC that currently charge fees higher than are planned to be distributed, so the financial impact should be net neutral or positive for most. And with the proposed structure the national budget would absorb some of the cost associated with the annual meeting providing additional spending power to the LMSCs. This should help offset any reduction in revenue for the ten LMSCs that currently have fees higher than $12.
We also hope that LMSCs will consider the larger national picture and value to the organization during their evaluation. The benefits realized at the national level are benefits that will be realized by LMSCs in the form of improved efficiency, better marketing, simplified processes, and the ability to focus resources primarily on building membership value locally.
3. Our LMSC may end up with more revenue than we have ever had before. What should we do with the money? What if we don’t have enough volunteers to implement programs?
A menu of ideas for LMSCs to invest in their local programming to kick-start brainstorming at the LMSC level is available. For LMSCs that don’t have volunteer time available, they may elect to use their resources to hire a coach to run a clinic, provide pool space to get a new club started, or pay stipends for coaches to get trained or further their education, among other ideas that aren’t time intensive.
4. Will the Unified Fee concept limit the LMSC control over their budget?
No. LMSCs will still manage their own budgets. The only change is that the HOD will determine the USMS membership fee and the percentage to be distributed to LMSCs. LMSC can also increase revenues through events and/or fundraising.
The goal of the Unified Fee is to increase USMS membership by creating products and services that are being requested by members and potential members, simplifying our messaging and refocusing LMSC funds on local programming.
5. My LMSC wants more detail before deciding on the unified fee concept. What are we being asked to vote on at the 2019 USMS annual meeting?
Currently there are no legislative proposals related to the Unified Fee. We are including money in the 2020 budget to cover hotel accommodations for the USMS annual meeting for those LMSCs that choose to opt in. 2020 is seen as a transition year to begin moving towards a Unified Fee. Based on the level of support and continued discussion on the concept, legislation will be brought forth at the 2020 annual meeting.
6. The Unified Fee plan has references to new types of membership. What are the types of membership we plan to implement, what benefits will they offer, and what will they cost?
We have heard calls during conversations with members and volunteers for various types of membership that include benefits targeted to their interest. In fact, these calls go back to volunteer task force findings (e.g., membership products 2010 and 2012, open water 2013) and the development of our strategic plan in 2016. One of our strategies in the plan is to enhance and customize value and deliver it to consumer segments based on needs and interest.
- Open Water/Triathlon membership that allows members to swim in OW events and receive associated benefits.
- Premium membership with additional benefits that would appeal to a highly engaged segment of our membership (e.g., USA Swimming discounts, additional performance and technique content, premium access to partner assets, premium branded merchandise, etc.).
- ALTS membership, so new swimmers can continue to learn beyond the free trial period.
USMS already has other types of memberships in CCS Bridge and Coach Designation. Unfortunately, both have complicated financial models because of our current structure and business rules, are difficult for many members to understand, and are challenging to market. (i.e., we’ve had to put square pegs in round holes.) A Unified Fee structure would allow USMS to distribute a consistent percentage of revenue to each LMSC for the various types of membership. Perhaps more importantly we could position our coach membership as just that, with benefits and value tailored to coaches, rather than having the perception of simply adding on a fee to a membership meant for a swimmer.
We don’t yet know what the specific types of membership would be, the associated fee, or which would make sense to roll out first. Those decision will be based on both member and prospective member demand, but we suspect a conversation on the CCS and Coach model will be toward the top of the list. ALTS, OW/Triathlon, and perhaps a premium type offering would likely be included in early analysis as well. Any decisions and the impact on revenue and expenses, would be evaluated by the National Office, reviewed by the Finance Committee and the Board of Directors, and ultimately presented to the House of Delegates. But without a plan and timeline to unify, we’ll continue to run into roadblocks in the implementation of any new types of membership.
7. If we offer a type of membership that doesn’t include access to events, how will we verify that those entering sanctioned events are members?
If a membership were to be implemented that doesn’t include events, we’d simply adjust our membership verification integration with event registration partners to confirm that the swimmer has a membership that includes events. This verification system is currently in place with Club Assistant and can be expanded to other platforms.
8. If we offer a rolling 12-month membership from the date of registration (e.g.,sign up on May 15 and receive membership for 365 days) or multi-year membership, how will coaches/clubs know if a membership is current?
One of the desired outcomes of this plan is to remove some of the burden of tracking membership from the coach/club. We’d prefer that coaches focus on providing a great experience for their swimmers without having to act as a collection agent. A plan to provide notification to coaches/clubs and an online resource to verify membership will be part of the consideration as we analyze this option for implementation down the road. The technologies we are evaluating for our third phase of the digital transformation can provide a great deal of functionality to address this concern. And the ability to provide the option of bulk registration of swimmers through clubs and/or for clubs to include membership fees as part of the monthly membership dues would be another avenue to reduce or eliminate the need for verification on deck.
9. How will the one-event fee be impacted by the Unified Fee?
The Open Water Strategic Task Force is recommending that we align the one-event fee with the structure of the Unified Fee (i.e., the same percentage of revenue would be distributed to the sanctioning LMSC).
10. How much of the fee will LMSCs receive if we create a membership type that costs more/less than the standard membership, offer promotional discounting, or offer multi-year memberships?
The current proposal is that 20 percent would be the consistent LMSC share of the USMS Membership Fee.
- 5 Year Membership: $60 x 5 = $300, 20% LMSC = $60. That fee could change over five years, but the member is locked in and the calculation for the LMSC is simple. USMS gets the membership revenue up-front and the member doesn’t have to go through the process every year. And we’d have a set formula for distributing revenue to LMSCs.
We currently lose nearly 70 percent of our members before their third consecutive year of membership. This will help lock many of our members in beyond that range.
11. What is the impact on the budget if we create membership types that costs more/less than the standard membership, offer promotional discounting, or offered multi-year memberships?
A detailed financial analysis would be performed prior to any proposed membership or its implementation. This analysis would include current USMS offerings, revenues, expenses, programming, and resources.
Decisions on pricing, particularly as it relates to discounting, promotional offers, or multi-year memberships, should include a goal/purpose with a few things in mind:
- Will the discount drive increased membership or higher retention rates that will offset or increase revenue from the specific demographic?
- Will the discount attract new members, with a forecast that a certain percentage will renew their membership?
- Will the discount afford us an opportunity to market to a specific segment of non-members (e.g., joint membership with USAT or USAT/USAC, promotional offer to sponsor databases like swim.com, ‘graduating’ USA Swimming members etc.)?
- Open Water/ Triathlon membership: Because we haven’t previously tracked results for open water (an initial version of the results database is in place now), we don’t know how many members swim in multiple open water events or how many participate in both pool and open water events. Once we can perform that type of analysis (i.e. 2020), we could determine the potential new membership that could be generated from open water swimmers and triathletes, at what price point and with what benefits/value that would be specific to open water. USA Triathlon has nearly half a million members. We have compared data and there are approximately 8,000 people that hold membership in both organizations. Triathletes all swim. We are missing an opportunity by not offering them a membership specific to their needs.
- Joint memberships with other organizations:
- From USAT/USA Cycling marketing: USA Triathlon and USA Cycling have teamed up to offer a joint membership to endurance athletes. For just $99, you get an annual membership to USA Triathlon and a 2019 USA Cycling race license. That means you can race any sanctioned triathlon or cycling race in 2019 as well as get access to both organizations' great benefits.
- USMS was involved in discussions to be included in this offer. When we considered our regulations, LMSC fees, and the variations in pricing, it became clear that we couldn’t move as nimbly as our peer organizations. They decided to move on without us and leave the door open for when we are ready. If we had the flexibility to discount as these other organizations do (to get new members in the door and hooked) and a set formula for revenue that is to be distributed to the LMSC, we could have taken advantage of this type of opportunity.
- ALTS membership: Currently we have many that go through our ALTS programs utilizing the trial membership. This often doesn’t afford enough time to complete the ALTS course or provide a pathway for continued engagement with USMS. Very few of our ALTS participants join USMS. If we offered a lower starting point that provides benefits specific to a new swimmer, we’d likely see an increase in membership and corresponding revenue because those new swimmers have never been a member before.
- Premium Membership: We are regularly approached by potential partners that would like to offer benefits to our members. Often those benefits are viewed as added value to a specific segment of our membership. However, the cost to implement for the entire membership is too great.
ABC App company has a premium swim tracking platform with workout and technique content. It can provide marketing for USMS clubs on its database and provide virtual fitness challenges and online events for our members. Its premium offering costs $5.99/month but it has proposed giving it to all USMS members through a nationally negotiated partnership for $15 per member annually. While we know a subset of USMS would love to have access to this platform, some are already paying the regular monthly cost, and USMS could benefit from the marketing offered, we simply can’t absorb $15 in cost for 65,000 members. However, we could package a premium membership that includes this access with additional benefits such as USMS-branded merchandise, other partner offers, discounts on USA Swimming events, discounts on USMS events, among many other possibilities. The cost of this membership would be determined based on the value associated with the items included.
The additional revenue associated would also be evaluated as we determine other promotional offers and pricing of other types of membership.
Again, a full analysis would be needed before any new membership is implemented. The number of variables and unknowns are simply too great at this point. The Unified Fee would remove several obstacles in the path to data needed to make future decisions.
12. The national component of USMS membership fees has gone up $2 per year for the past 10 years, from $25 to $45. Are we losing members because of this increase in the USMS membership fee?
One of the financial reasons to implement the Unified Fee is that we can’t do a serious evaluation of pricing and impact on membership in our current model. USMS has over 175 rates being charged for membership fees, depending on your location and demographic (52 LMSC rates, 25 age discounts, 34 year-end rates, 67 Club and Workout Group rates) and that doesn’t include year-plus rates or the designated coach fee. With that much variation, we don’t have data that provides much guidance on the impact of fee increases. Some LMSCs have decreased fees to offset national fees, others have remained flat, and others have gone up. More challenging is that each LMSC has differing philosophies and decision-making processes on the LMSC portion of the USMS membership fee.
13. Will the Unified Fee reduce the flexibility of LMSCs to create and fund their own budget and determine which benefits they’d like to provide locally?
LMSCs will still create their own budget based on membership forecasts and other revenues and expenses. The purpose of the Unified Fee is to grow our membership base, find new demographics of membership (i.e., new revenue), and provide value to members based on their interests and requests. In fact, the Unified Fee coupled with the national budget absorbing some costs of the USMS annual meeting that traditionally were covered by LMSC budgets, provide LMSCs with greater resources and flexibility. LMSCs also have opportunities for funding budgets beyond membership fees, through events, fundraising, sponsorship, etc. Additionally:
- USMS already provides a sanction fee rebate program for LMSCs that may have financial-based need.
- USMS is also evaluating a scholarship program for LMSCs that may not have funds to attend the LMSC Leadership Summit.
- LMSCs should contact the National Office if a worthwhile local program investment is identified for which an LMSC doesn’t feel it has the financial resources available. We will help the LMSC navigate the situation and may have the resources to provide support.
14. Why can’t we accomplish the things our members have requested (e.g., varying types of membership, multi-year membership, etc.) in our current structure?
Our current structure is rigid and doesn’t allow USMS to be nimble and adjust with trends, demand, and interests. While there may be ways to work-around our current structure to implement some of the benefits identified in a limited manner, the Unified Fee concept is the common thread that creates the flexibility to evaluate all of them. Our current infrastructure models the structure we have had in place for 50 years before technology made accepting registration infinitely simpler. To be an attractive and relevant fitness option in the future, USMS must modernize to match the needs and trends of tomorrow (and today).
15. Our LMSC offers a membership discounts for 18-24 and 85+members. How would LMSCs who offer such programs handle this under the Unified Fee structure?
Age discounts would not be impacted in 2020. However, assuming the momentum for the Unified Fee is positive, we would need to initiate discussion on the USMS philosophy on discounts before we go with the Unified Fee in 2021.
There are currently 14 LMSCs that have age discounts. These discounts are not visible to the member and show up at the end of the registration process (after the transaction is complete). They aren’t driving more volume in the demographics they are offered. And the decision to discount from the local level adds complexity to our system/structure and our messaging.
Example 1 (current):
“You might get a discount based on your age, depending on where you live or based on which LMSC you decide to register with. Not all LMSCs offer these discounts, and the ages to which they are offered also vary. Check your LMSC website for details (which may or may not be there) or call your registrar to get more information before registering.”
Example 2 (future possibilities)
- “USMS provides a 20 percent discount to all members 85 years of age or older.”
- “USMS provides a 20 percent discount to all members aged 18-24.”
- “USMS offers members of the military 50 percent off their annual membership.”
- “Sign up during Try Masters Swimming Week and receive 25 percent off your membership for your first year.”
- "Sign up for five years and avoid future price increases.”
As mentioned above, decisions on pricing, particularly as it relates to discounting, promotional offers, or multi-year memberships, should include a goal/purpose with a few things in mind:
- Will the discount drive increased membership that will offset or increase revenue from the specific demographic?
- Will the discount attract new members, with an understanding that a certain percentage will renew (at the full membership cost)?
- Will the discount afford us an opportunity to target market to a specific segment of non-members (e.g., joint membership with USAT or USAT/USAC, promotional offer to sponsor databases like swim.com or others, etc.).
16. Our LMSC would like to add an annual club membership fee to the USMS membership (for our regional club). Can we do something like this under the Unified Fee?
The national registration system has this functionality and it is something we can add for individual clubs as needed.
Note: We paused on adding this functionality for new clubs during our website transition. With that behind us, and with the addition of electronic funds transfer (EFT), this option is available and more streamlined.
17. What kinds of financial incentives could be offered by LMSC to support events?
Many LMSCs provide support to events in various ways. Here are a few examples:
- Potomac Valley guarantees its sanctioned events will break even.
- San Diego – Imperial provide stipends for meet timing equipment rental.
- Other LMSCs provide funds for hospitality, awards, officials, or medical/lifeguarding personnel.
There are numerous ways that an LMSC can invest in events in their area. A list of ideas has been developed, and if you have an idea, contact the National Office or a member of the LMSC Development Committee. We can provide advice and/or connect you to a peer LMSC that has implemented an incentive in which you are interested.
18. How will the Unified Fee simplify financial reporting for USMS, both at the national and LMSC level?
The numerous rates charged for membership around the country leads to many challenges. Multiple staff members spend nearly two days a month to settle LMSC financials. The testing that goes into year-plus and annual registration setup annually is infinitely more complicated to ensure the various rates are established correctly. We also have many members who join the wrong LMSC (e.g., Florida/Florida Gold Coast, Ohio/Lake Erie, Potomac Valley/Maryland/Virginia) because they don’t understand our structure. Many end up unattached in the wrong LMSC because they can’t find the club with which they want to associate). When those members need to adjust their LMSC, registrars or staff end up having to navigate differences in fees, asking for more money or providing refunds. Furthermore, some LMSCs collect transfer fees. This process leaves new members just plain confused.The time and energy spent managing the varying rates for membership, and the member confusion, outweigh any benefit USMS realizes from having the varying fee schedule. Simply having a set percentage of revenue that LMSCs receive would simplify all the above (in addition to the marketing benefits).
19. I thought LMSC fees varied to account for cost of living differences across the country. How will USMS account for those variations with a Unified Fee structure?
Cost of living can't be adequately addressed by an LMSC fee. Within each LMSC, there are extreme variations in cost of living, probably thousands of examples. San Francisco, CA, and Stockton, CA, are drastically different, just as Rochester, NY, and Elmira, NY. LMSCs have big cities and rural areas, so unique LMSC fees aren’t any more appropriate than a unified USMS membership fee. Plus, the $16 range from our lowest total USMS membership fee ($50) to our highest ($66) isn’t indicative of cost of living in the current structure. Right now, it costs $50 to be a member in Washington, DC, and $63 to be a member in Idaho Falls, ID.
Cost of living should be addressed by club dues, pool membership, and event fees, which likely comprise 90 percent or more of the annual swimming-related expenses for our members.
20. How will LMSC transfer fees and club transfer fees be impacted by the transition to a Unified Fee?
Transfer fees are not impacted by the Unified Fee proposal and can remain in place as part of the Unified Fee transition. Fourteen LMSCs have a transfer fees and eight LMSCs have club transfer fees. However, the future of transfer fees is a discussion that should take place assuming momentum builds toward the Unified Fee concept.
Transfer fees have been discussed extensively during the evaluation of the Unified Fee. These fees were historically added to discourage “club hopping” for the purposes of competition. Unfortunately, they create confusion and a negative member experience while the fees assigned don’t seem to discourage those that want to switch clubs for competition. The examples in question 14 above give some insight into the issue. From a member’s perspective, an additional fee being tacked on when he or she moves or wants to switch to a more convenient Masters program, particularly if he or she isn’t planning to compete anyway, is a negative experience.
The revenue from these fees is immaterial and the member experience that isn’t positive for many that simply have a life change far outweighs any benefit. And with the Unified Fee distributed the same percentage of USMS Membership revenue to each LMSC the LMSC transfer fee becomes anachronistic.
Commentary aside, transfer fees are a separate issue from the unified fee concept and shouldn’t be an objection. LMSCs could continue to charge these fees in part because the fees in question aren’t currently part of the national registration system. They run exclusively through the LMSC. However, as we look to provide more online self-management (e.g., personal information and profile edits), these fees will need to be addressed.
21. I’ve heard that the USAS Convention model will be changing, which may impact how USMS structures its Annual Meeting? If the national budget absorbs part of the cost of convention as part of the unified fee transition, what happens to that money if there is no longer a USAS Convention and/or USMS Annual Meeting?
There are changes in how the USAS Convention is structured that are being monitored. However, those changes don’t impact the need to have an USMS Annual Meeting, the size of our gathering or need to for hotel accommodations. USMS is prepared to adjust based on the outcome of discussions within USAS but there aren’t any plans under evaluation to eliminate or drastically change the USMS annual meeting. The vision behind the annual meeting subsidy is to continue to, over time and when prudent, absorb more costs associated with the USMS annual meeting and other national volunteer gatherings, to refocus those resources at the local level.
22. My LMSC likes the Unified Fee concept and would appreciate the national budget absorbing some of our annual meeting expenses in 2020. How does my LMSC opt in to the Unified Fee?
LMSCs that wish to opt-in to a national unified USMS membership fee may voluntarily do so for 2020. The unified USMS membership fee is $60 and is comprised of the $45 national fee and a $15 LMSC fee, of which a $3 contribution will be committed back to the national budget by agreement of the LMSCs that are opting in to the unified fee.
Over time, the vision is that the USMS Membership Fee will be set at $60 with 20% ($12) of the fee distributed to LMSCs. The $3 voluntary commitment to the national budget for 2020 is a mechanism to allow LMSCs that wish to begin a possible transition to a unified fee now, to do so. The LMSC $3 contribution will be eliminated if/when the unified USMS Membership Fee is implemented.
Assuming the decision is collectively made in the future to move forward with the unified USMS Membership fee, we’d simply set all LMSC fees at $12 as we set up registration.