Tuesday, September 20, 2011

State of the Sport Address

The transcript below is from the State of the Sport Address, given by USA Swimming CEO, Chuck Wielgus, during the USA Aquatic Sports Convention last week, in Jacksonville, FL.

"Thank you all for being here this morning. I hope you have found your time so far at this year’s U.S. Aquatics Sports Convention productive and enjoyable. Each year on this occasion it is my responsibility, and my privilege, to provide you with a general overview of the state of affairs within USA Swimming; and with this I also think it important to offer some perspective that connects the work of our organization to the larger world of youth and Olympic sports.

Over the past year, USA Swimming has continued to grow, to improve and to become better prepared for the future. In fact, USA Swimming has been on a steady upward climb since first being formed in 1978; from being a committee of the old Amateur Athletic Union into what many consider to be among the finest youth and Olympic sports organizations not only in the United States, but in the world.

The programs, services and infrastructure that have been established during USA Swimming’s first 30 years of existence are a tribute to the leadership and dedicated efforts of countless volunteers, staff and partners. Some of these same early visionaries remain active in USA Swimming today and their experience, history and wisdom are constant touchstones for us.

Back in the late 1990’s, USA Swimming adopted a business plan constructed around three primary objectives: build the base; promote the sport; and achieve international competitive success. By remaining true to these evergreen goals, and consistently aligning resources and measuring progress against these aspirations, USA Swimming has been able to build an incredible resume of: predictable membership growth; quality membership programs and services; targeted programs and support for athletes, coaches and clubs; broad and effective social media platforms; corporate engagement and sponsorship; television coverage that has become the envy of the U.S. Olympic NGB Family; and support for our National Team athletes that is acknowledged by the USOC and other NGBs as a model for the future.

I’d like to comment on some of our newer and emerging initiatives.

America’s Swim Team: This national branding campaign was launched in 2010 and will be a cornerstone for our promotional efforts in 2012. Ryan Lochte continues to be the face of the campaign and he has been an awesome partner and participant. Among the new aspects of the program that will be rolled out in the coming year will be providing member clubs with the opportunity to create customized marketing materials and merchandise, with club logos co-opted with USA Swimming and America’s Swim Team marks. We have continued to receive wonderful feedback about the online new member welcome message that is linked to the America’s Swim Team campaign, and for those of you who may have yet to look at this link; I’d like to share it with you now. Each message is customized, so in this example I have inserted the name of our President, Bruce Stratton.

(SHOW VIDEO #1 – New member Welcome)

Athlete Partnership: This year, together with the U.S. Olympic Committee, USA Swimming launched a new Athlete Partnership Program that was made available to all National Team athletes. The program provides $3,000/month in direct funding support to athletes who qualify and opt-in to the program. The concept is to provide elite-level athletes with a baseline of funding support that will allow them to really concentrate on their training for international competition. Of the 38 athletes who qualified and signed the partnership agreement, 25 won medals at an international competition this summer. Participating athletes are required to make appearances that help to promote either USA Swimming or the athlete’s own charitable cause; and so far more than 70 appearances have been made by our athletes at events all across the country. This is not only good for enhancing the image and reach of our sport, but it is also providing opportunities for our National Team athletes to be seen as caring and positive members of society. It’s a program of which we should all be very proud.

Athlete Protection: During the past year-and-a-half, USA Swimming has also sought to address some serious challenges related to athlete protection and providing safe training environments. Specifically, we have done the following:

• Revised our Code of Conduct and made the process for filing complaints more personal and user-friendly;
• Developed enhanced requirements for background checks and initiated a pre-employment screening program for clubs;
• Published a list of individuals who are suspended for life from holding USA Swimming membership;
• Hired a full-time Athlete Protection Officer;
• Established a volunteer Athlete Protection Committee to continually monitor our efforts and recommend improvements;

As important as each of these things are, we have come to believe that our greatest long-term impact on this important subject will come as a result of efforts to provide a strong ongoing educational program. We have spent much of this past year developing this educational program in partnership with Praesideium and other industry experts on abuse prevention in youth organizations. We are excited to have kicked-off our education this week with the release of an online course available free to all coaches, officials, volunteers, athletes and their parents We will continue to focus on identifying opportunities to promote awareness and prevention around safe sport and athlete protection.

Digital Splash: We launched a digital version of Splash Magazine this year. We plan to continue publishing the printed version, but in the future we will give people the opportunity to opt-out of receiving the printed version and over time this may help us realize savings with our printing and postage expenses. In 2012, we also plan to introduce an iPad version of Splash Magazine. If you haven’t taken the opportunity yet to surf through the digital version of Splash Magazine, I encourage you to try it.

Deck Pass: If you watched any of the television coverage of the ConocoPhillips National Championships on NBC last month, you may have noticed several commercials we ran promoting pre-registration for a new program called “Deck Pass.” This program was conceived by a number of our younger staff members last spring, and after presenting their concept to the senior staff, we gave them the green light to go-ahead and build out a full proposal. They did so, and this proposal was then presented to the Board of Directors last May, where it received approval. The program, which is currently being rolled out to the membership, is a cutting edge social networking activity in which athletes can earn patches for a wide range of accomplishments. Some of you may remember the old days, when young swimmers wore jackets on which they displayed various patches that they acquired or won. Deck Pass is built off this concept, and we have created literally hundreds of different opportunities for athletes to be awarded patches. The program also has a component that ought to be extremely exciting for coaches, who will be able to create and award their own patches to the athletes with whom they work. We see Deck Pass as an incredibly innovative and exciting way to further engage young athletes, and we also believe there is a strong motivational component as young athletes will seek to set higher goals and improve times in an effort to be rewarded with new patches. Here is a short 30-second commercial that we’ll be using to help promote Deck Pass on our NBC broadcasts.

(SHOW VIDEO #2 – Deck Pass)

iHigh.com: Another exciting new online program that we will be offering to clubs in the coming year is a partnership with iHigh.com. Through this partnership, every Zone, LSC and member club will have the unique opportunity to webcast their own events. It’ll be as simple as having a parent with a video camera filming the meet and then uploading the video to the site, where it can be accessed by families, friends and fans. LSC’s and clubs will also be able to sell their own advertising on their customized site and retain 100% of these revenues. This is really an incredibly exciting opportunity for LSC’s and clubs to have a new way to promote their own activities, webcast their regional and local events, and generate new revenue. Following is a short video that shows how the iHigh.com program will work for USA Swimming member clubs.

(SHOW VIDEO #3 – iHigh.com)

Club Support: We are continually searching for ways to help our member clubs. This year we have conducted 49 Club Leadership Schools that involved 383 member clubs, a single year record. 266 clubs applied for this year’s Club Excellence Program and we awarded a total of $330,000 in grants to Gold, Silver and Bronze teams. And our field services staff has been on-site with more than 420 member clubs throughout the year. It has also been inspiring to see so many of our clubs and LSCs participating in the Fitness Challenge program on which USA Swimming and the U.S. Navy SEALS have partnered.

2013-2016 Television: Over the past three Olympic quads, USA Swimming has built a wonderful partnership with NBC. Our sport has received more television coverage in this quad than at any other period in history. This coverage has included the World Championships, ConocoPhillips National Championships, AT&T Winter Nationals, Mutual of Omaha Duel in the Pool and the U.S. Olympic Team Trials. Additionally, via Universal Sports we have been able to provide broadcast coverage for 4 of the 7 Grand Prix events, as well as Prelims coverage of major events. With NBC/Comcast recently securing the U.S. broadcast rights for the 2016 and 2020 Olympic Games, we fully anticipate that we will be able to continue to build upon the foundation and the relationships that we have worked so hard to establish over the past decade, and this will result in the continued expansion of our television reach.

Financial Position: While organizations, businesses and governments have struggled mightily in these turbulent economic times, USA Swimming has been able to navigate the challenges, and our financial position has continued to remain strong. Our quad budget has grown from less than $45M in the four-year period leading up to the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games to our operating budget of more than $109M for this quad. The reasons for this are easy to identify: membership has continued to grow at a steady and predictable pace; corporate sponsorship has been extraordinary; and the U.S. Olympic Committee has continued to be a great partner for our National Team program. Additionally, I think we can point to excellent quad business planning, stable management, and responsible board oversight; all of which allows us to build and improve from one year to the next and maintain a steady course.

Sponsorship: USA Swimming has more corporate partners and greater engagement from these partners than at any time in our history, including the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games. This involvement is a clear indication of our sport’s continually growing stature in the youth and mass market sports marketplace. Though I have no new sponsorship announcement to make at this precise time, I can tell you that we are engaged in some very serious negotiations with several new prospective partners and we hope to be making some exciting announcements sometime in the coming months.

In addition to these specific activities, there are other efforts to which USA Swimming remains fully committed, the impact and results of which will be generational.

Diversity and Inclusion: Several years ago, USA Swimming initiated a determined effort to reach out and find ways to engage under-represented segments of our population in our sport. This has been both a challenging and rewarding undertaking, and it will certainly continue to be both in the future. What is extremely important for us to understand is that this commitment must be perpetual and in time I believe we will truly see USA Swimming become more representative and in-line with the changing demographics of our country. In fact, we now have statistical data indicating that over the past five years USA Swimming’s Asian membership has increased by 54%; our Black and African American membership has increased by 34%; and our Latino membership has increased by 24%. We still have a long way to go, but these increases are significant and important indicators that our efforts are making a difference and reflect the sustained efforts of many people at the national, LSC and club levels. We are making diversity and inclusion training a regular part of our staff development and educational efforts. USA Swimming’s commitment to diversity and inclusion is also being recognized by many other organizations; and most recently we have been highly engaged in a leadership role to help the U.S. Olympic Committee develop a strategic plan for increasing diversity and inclusion efforts for the USOC and within its entire NGB family.

USA Swimming Foundation: Our Foundation is now being led by a new team of leaders at both the governing and staff levels. President Stratton appointed a team of USA Swimming past-presidents and athlete representation to serve on the Foundation board. Bill Maxson, who you heard from earlier this morning, serves as the Foundation’s president and he is doing an extraordinary job of helping to better focus the Foundation’s mission and direct its resources. Likewise, Foundation Executive Director, Debbie Hesse is bringing much needed enthusiasm and experienced professional staff leadership to the effort. The Foundation’s mission of “Saving Lives and Building Champions” is wonderfully simple and appropriate, and just as we are working to integrate greater diversity and inclusion into our culture, so too are we through the USA Swimming Foundation, evolving our commitment to philanthropy and helping others. I urge each of you to consider including the USA Swimming Foundation when you consider contributing to organizations and causes that are making a difference in the lives of others.

Before closing, I want to point out that we have now begun the official countdown to the 2012 London Olympic Games, and I’d like to share some information about how USA Swimming is positioned for the Olympic year.

For starters, our National Team turned in an outstanding performance at the recent FINA World Championships in Shanghai. The team won a total of 25 medals in Olympic events and the balance between the men’s and women’s teams gives us much to be excited about. Our men won 14 medals, 8 of which were gold; and our women won 11 medals, 7 of which were gold.

The mix between experienced veterans and the emergence of exciting younger athletes should give us all reason for great excitement and enthusiasm for the coming year. I think it is safe to say that we are also going to see athletes who represented the U.S. at the recent World University Games in China, and others who will represent Team USA at the Pan American Games in Mexico next month challenging for spots on the 2012 Olympic Team. And who knows who else might emerge from the junior ranks or a past Olympian Champion making a comeback. To date 1,500 athletes have qualified to participate in next summer’s U.S. Olympic Team Trials in Omaha and the excitement and the media story lines are simply going to be spectacular.

Our Head Olympic Coaches are the continuation of a long line of exemplary leaders. Our point person will be National Team Director, Frank Busch, assisted by Lindsay Mintenko. The Head Men’s Coach will be Gregg Troy; the Head Women’s Coach, Teri McKeever; and the Head Open Water Coach, Tim Murphy. What an in incredible Hall of Fame line-up.

Our planning for the Olympic Team Trials has been underway for several years now and we can promise you that as great an event as the Trials were in 2008, it will be an even better event next summer. Ticket sales and hotel bookings have already exceeded our expectations. We are also working with our broadcast partner NBC Universal and anticipate that all eight nights of Finals will be broadcast live. I encourage each of you to find a way to be in Omaha next summer to attend a sports event that for eight days will captivate our nation.

Another important part of our Olympic year programming will be providing a national recruiting initiative, designed to help clubs attract new members. You are familiar with our Splash Bash program, which is reaching more than 500 clubs per year and more than 1,000 clubs in Olympic years. We will be adding to that, including a Google search campaign, promotions on Facebook and a PR campaign using Olympic legends to talk about how to get involved in swimming. All promotions will lead to our club finder at usaswimming.org, where we will track exactly how many people search for clubs and the actions they take. An education program for all LSCs and clubs will soon be made available in how you can participate and be ready.

This past year has indeed been another year of learning and progress for USA Swimming. We have continued to grow, to promote, and to achieve international success. We have also instituted enhanced and important efforts to provide better training environments for young athletes. None of this would be possible without a strong and engaged membership comprised of athletes, coaches, officials, volunteers, organizational and corporate partners and a dedicated staff.

In closing, I’ll leave you with a short video highlight from Team USA’s performance this past July at the FINA World Swimming Championships in Shanghai.

Thank you very much for your time … and Go USA!

(SHOW VIDEO #4 – World Championship Highlights)

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