Add Revenue To Your Club From Masters by Jim Montgomery (2003)


Quiz – a short quiz. All you have to do is raise your hand. I guess they are getting started next door so shall we close the doors and get started? I was going to ask real quick, how many coaches here are masters coaches? I want to identify my audience. Any high school coaches? Alright, two. How many USA club coaches – okay that helps so I will direct that.

I want to just start off saying that fitness is really booming. Masters swimming – there is a huge demand out there. US masters swimming is probably going to have around 45,000 registered masters swimmers. I want to read you a press release and I want you to guess what year it came from. It says,

“Recreational swimming in the United States continues to grow. A Gallop Poll shows that Americans continue to participate in sports and recreational activities at a record level with swimming, as in surveys conducted at a regular interval since 1959, the most popular activity. It is projected that the total participation in swimming will reach 96 million Americans. Of this 96 million a recent Harris Poll reported that 26 million people are regular swimmers – meaning they swim three or more times per week. The President’s Council on physical fitness forecasts a 5% annual increase in swimming participation for each of the next five years with 39 million regular adult swimmers.”

That was a press release in 1984. In 2003, you can guess where we are on the legions of people out there that don’t even know what masters swimming is. That is the question I get all the time, “What is masters swimming?” They ask me “What do I do?”. For many, many years when I was a masters coach I just said, “Well, I am just a professional swim bum”. That is how I started off coaching, as a hobby. Now when people ask me that question I say I teach adults how to keep fit in the water. Most people you meet on the street say oh, okay – now I got it. That is the concept of masters swimming, but we have to really look at.

I want to define what it is. This is from the USMS press release on how they define the organization – programs are all open to adult swimmers who are dedicated to improving their fitness through swimming. Then I kind of came up with my own definition… When I first started it I underlined the key words I try to convey to people. This is what I did way back in the 80s and this has changed. You can see a structured swim class because we get twenty phone calls a week from people out of the blue who have never been in a structured program in their whole life. Now that is 80 or 90% of the people that we get at Dallas Aquatic Masters.

As a professional coach, sometimes I have to say instructor, what I am trying NOT to do is intimidate people. We practice etiquette, stroke mechanics, training methods, personal goals, safety and fun. Some key words are there, and my #1 hurdle is persuading people that call in to show up and not be intimidated. A lot of people are very intimidated when you say masters swimming and I don’t think that we have really done an effective job through the years on communicating the concept of masters swimming to the general public. I get these calls over and over every day.

80% of the masters clubs with USMS are basically twenty or thirty swimmers, they have four to six practices a week, with no regular coach on deck. Somebody writes up a practice and everybody pushes off and goes. On the other side you have the mega swim clubs like DAM and SCAT and Santa Clara and some of the other bigger clubs that have turned it into a business. What we want to try and communicate to the coaches today, especially high school coaches and your age group – senior age group programs that the masters program can be really one of your strongest resources that you can have. We want to talk a little about this vertical integration on what masters swimming can do for you today.

People ask me questions about the bottom line, the money part of this thing which, as far as what I have done, has been real successful. I have a real good product in Dallas, Texas. That is the question that you want to ask – are you leaving money on the pool deck. I went ahead and put a financial snapshot up for you of three scenarios. We are looking at additional financial resources that your team can bring in and I have also showed you the compelling reasons that there is a huge demand out there if you have this thing marketed right.

Looking at this I came up with your small team, your medium sized team and then I designate your mega team as 300 and above. (I know there are not a lot out there) Monthly dues of $50 is pretty good. We took a poll last night and the consensus was most people were charging around $50 for their product. Dallas Aquatic Masters charges a little higher, most of our memberships are $65, but we offer a lot of practices and a lot of side benefits that I am going to talk about later. You can see the monthly incomes.

I am going to go on to the next one here and the scenarios give you the percentage breakdowns. This is run along the same as any kind of small business. The two key variances for coaches when they start a masters program is – your coaching fees, your assistant coaches and what you are going to pay for your pool rent. Just like you are managing your own mortgage, you don’t want to spend over 25% of your gross revenue on your pool rent. If you are spending more than that it is an uphill climb. If you can get down there under 20% you are doing real well. Now some coaches get a sweetheart deal and they might spend very little, maybe 5-10% of their gross revenues because they have a package deal or maybe they are doing some other coaching or some other function, aquatics director or something like that and it is a perk. Generally speaking, it is run right along the lines of a small business. You got your overhead and your contract coaches, so really the head coach or the person in charge would want to bring in around 35-40% of the gross revenue of your program.

I know that there have been some conflicts with masters coaches working with the pool operators, the people that own the pool. I have had to go to bat for a couple of coaches to explain to them that they are valuable, as mentioned last night. You have got to portray yourself as a very valuable resource to these facilities and I am going to get into that soon.

The bottom line is masters swimming can be very profitable. I think it is the most profitable swim coaching you can do and I think I have proved that over and over again. There are some people out in the audience that can shake their heads and say yeah, I spend a hell of a lot less time on the pool deck and I have a hell of a lot less headaches (i.e. parents) in coaching masters swimming. They find out it is extremely rewarding. So again, the variances, 50% of your resources should be going to your coaching, 20-25% to your pool rental and then it kind of breaks down on how many parties and things you want to throw in there.

This shows again, what trend is happening out there and that this isn’t going to stop. One of the things that has really fueled this for Dallas Aquatic Masters is a website. I am going to go ahead and put in a plug right now that Clay Evans is going to be talking tomorrow on how to double your club size in one year by using the Internet. I hope if you are really serious on increasing your club size, come to Clay’s talk. I think he has done a great job on his website.

One thing I did when we started Dallas Aquatic Masters three years ago is, I put a lot emphasis and money in developing our own website and it has paid off huge dividends for those two reasons: online registration payment with email confirmation. How many people out there on their clubs have accepted online registration and automatic collection on credit cards and bank accounts? Do you have that set up for your club? Okay, very few. We got the two big boys right here – it has been extremely important for our development and it has really lowered our administrative costs.

I went ahead and put the statistics up there. Hits is where you go in and it get a hit; visits is they actually go into your site and they are extracting information or they have actually gone in and worked with your site. My projected goal for this year by the end of the year is I wanted to get up to 4,000 visits a month. That is a lot of repeat people, but we get a lot of new people that find us on the website and I break it down into the 70/20/10 marketing advertising. 70% of the people that come to Dallas Aquatic Masters are there because they were referred by someone already swimming. 20% find us through our website. That is pretty substantial. 10% will find us through an ad or an interview or some kind of advertising.

No, we haven’t used the yellow pages, but we should, right? There is another one. That would be part of the 10%. I was talking to coach Moore from Santa Clara – he said he had 750 people and I just said man, we have got to get you online. Get that going because that is going to be a real bonus.

On the marketing of special programs and services for additional revenues we have a dry land training program. We just started the under water flume. They have only got two in the United States – one in Colorado Springs and one in Dallas, and so we are marketing it. Does anyone know what a flume is? You are swimming against a current of water and staying in the same place. It is a pretty neat training thing and we have a lot of triathletes excited, but of course they will buy anything.

So, a website is something extremely important if you are going to expand or start a program. We have a three payment plan. 80% of our people are automatic monthly deduct, 20% pay a one year lump sum. Those are the only checks we accept. Maybe it is the first lump and they are just getting started, but again, here is the question – is increased revenue important to your overall program? And I hope the answer is yes.

We talked about the big demand on masters swimming out there. We have talked that it can be a very good revenue stream for your overall program and now the question is, do you need this income? I think you have to look at it that you are an invaluable service to whoever you are working with. We rent, and I am going to go into a little more detail on pool programming. We rent 7 pools and we deal with a lot of entities. We deal with a large hospital, Baylor University Medical Center and the Tom Landry Center which is one of the largest fitness centers in the country. They have 6000 members and I was in on the project of designing the pool and managing it for nine years. That facility is beautiful. The whole focal point is the swimming pool, so it is very important that they have a masters swimming program. We are up to running sometimes 27 practices a week at that one pool. We are important.

When I was the Aquatics Director and employee of Baylor we had roughly about 200 fitness center members – full fitness center members plus paying masters that belonged to the fitness center. Jim Montgomery and the masters were in there. When I left it went from 200 down to 90. These people were paying $1,000 a year in dues to belong to that club. So when I left and there was that turn around they said, “gee, we just lost $110,000”. Plus you don’t know how much they lost not going into the pro shop or all the other ancillary facilities. That magnified what was going on. Again, we want a masters program that is invaluable. I don’t want to go to high school coaches or the USA coaches and at all feel like I am taking away valuable pool time or stealing their coaches resources. In fact, I am going to try to show you that the reverse has happened.

As I talk to coaches around the country I find that these problems are pretty universal. Most coaches are aware of a shrinking age group market during the last ten years. They realize team revenues are slowly being squeezed by rising costs and they have to go to other means to raise money for their age group and high school swim programs. I hope the answer for you is that a masters swimming program can really add a great resource to a USA high school or collegiate swimming program.

Before that happens, there really are two critical factors when we are talking about masters integrating with other programs. It comes down to pool space and coaching. When I started what was called Lone Star Masters back in the 80s I was on my knees for pool time. Going over to SMU and George McMillian and going over to the local high school coach and being like a ping pong ball – being thrown back and forth – I basically got the bone at that time. It was a real struggle the first 3-5 years.

I think now we have come full circle on developing some very strong relationships with the same people. But the perception even to this day is masters swimming is a bunch of triathletes that come in here or a bunch of X-competitive jocks that want to relive their glory that they never got in Division III or II. They want to go to nationals and beat Jim Montgomery’s butt in the 100 free, but that is not true. 85% of our members are fitness members only. Only 10-15% actually do masters swimming competition. I bet 50% of our swimmers are cross-trainers – a lot of triathletes – a lot of people that do running races, biking – very active across the way.

Lets take a look at when do masters swimmers swim? I like the phrase that I got way back in the 80s, masters swimmers can swim when kids don’t. Obviously at 5:30 in the morning a lot of kids don’t like to get up and swim unless they are at the senior level and they have to. Really, our top time is 5:30 to 6:30 in the morning. If you want to start a program the best time to start it is Monday, Wednesday, Friday, 5:30-6:30,Saturday 7-8.

We just started one out at Southway, Texas, same times and starting in January it will probably fill in with Tuesday and Thursday. We started off with about 30-35 swimmers and when we get up to 50 we add a practice. When we get up to 80 and we will add Tuesday/Thursday morning. These are the times that are the most popular in priority order.

Of course you have a lot of different types; you have your hardworking adults getting on a regimen or a system. They have to do it at 5:30 in the morning. That is the only time of the day that they’ve got. You have the younger crowd – they like the evening hours. You will never see them Saturday morning earlier than 10:30 in the morning which is okay and we cater to them. I think you need to start with that consistent older age group that is going to be there and that is going to be your bread and butter.

Lets look at some of the facilities that we rent. Here is what I am talking about, the Tom Landry Center in the blue right there is when we have all the masters workouts. You can see again – that is in the summertime. We actually have a 5 am to 6 am that I find that I can only coach once a week because it’s a killer because it is a triple. The coach has got to be on the deck from 5-8 o’clock and do three groups in a row and after that you are pretty pooped. We have got a real group – at 5-6 am are about a dozen women, all triathletes, about three or four guys. I get on the deck at 4:50 am and they are like it could be 2 o’clock in the afternoon. They are wired, ready to go. These are the people that need to be at work by 7 am so there is a demand you can see.

It is a 9 lane, 25 meter pool. We always have to leave two or three lanes open for open lap swim for the membership but we have the prime times. You go to the URSA things – just by having a swimming pool there they are going to increase their membership and sales for membership by 15%. If you have a program – a really good masters program and anybody that walks in there sees these bodies and activities going up and down all day, that is a big seller for them. They realize we make a big difference in their bottom line. If we can bring in an extra 8 or 900 members, as far as selling their membership to them that is probably a million dollars to their bottom line. That is a lot of money so obviously they have developed a good relationship with us. We have a good deal working so we want to foster that.

Lets look at Southern Methodist University. I hope you can see that up there. We have a lot of things going on there. We have the masters that start off from 5:30 and go to 7 o’clock in the morning on Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Tuesday/Thursday at 6. We overlap two practices in masters. We start one at 5:30 and then we overlap and start one at 6 because we have so many people. We sometimes get 80 people showing up. Then we will come back at night. You will see SMU in there from 7-8 and they got their lessons and again, we are by far the biggest vendor for renting their pool and we supply the bulk of their bottom line.

This is different. I mean, as far as masters? They can come to any practice they want at any time. The priority is around the SMU swim team and we have to abide by that but again, we support the mens and womens team a lot. They have a big swimming championship for women and for men each year. We get masters swimmers that are lane sponsors at $1,000 a pop. If they call us and they have a financial need, we are going to fill it. We have a real close relationship with the head coaches – Eddie Sennett and Steve Collins and obviously we employ a lot of their ex-swimmers that have become assistant coaches. We have had some of their assistant coaches that have generated extra income so again, we have a close relationship with the college and you can see that this works. Even with that many people using the pool, they see the benefit of having a team. Obviously we have a lot of SMU alums that swim with us and that makes a big difference too. You know, it doesn’t hurt to have a bunch of college professors in there swimming with you.

Let me just go one more here. This is Greenhill School. This is a private school, one that I personally manage and coach the varsity swim team. We have a program in the morning and again at night, but you can see during the day they have Chris McCurdy and the attack team in there quite a bit. Again, we work with the age group team. They would like some more hours in there. So this year, we gave up our evening practice time to the attack team. We weren’t getting as many people as we wanted at that particular location and so we just have a morning practice going on right now.

Now one thing that we did – we just started at another public high school called Highland Park High School in Dallas, Texas. They are the #1 4A women’s team and they have won state year after year – a real tradition. Bruce Hayes came from there, Mike Heath came from there from the 80s that had Olympic caliber swimmers and we just started a new program right there. It is great because they come in and train in the morning and we have the pool from 5:30 to 6:30. They can train all the way to 8 o’clock – 8:30

We try to set up a system where all of our revenues go right to their swim team instead of going into the general fund. You try to get the administration to understand that the money can be an extra 2-3,000 dollars into the swim team budget. Now if it isn’t, we are there to step up again and sponsor their swim meets or whatever we need to do. Seaquatic Masters swim at that location, they live about 8 or 10 blocks from the high school. It is nice that they are all taxpayers and they pay a lot of taxes. They realize that. Plus we get a lot of teachers coming out and we give them a discount. I think we have half the math department swimming there so these again, are a valuable resource to the high school swim team and the community as a whole.

We don’t want to go more than 5 in a lane for a 25 yard pool. Question: What are you doing at Baylor – do you go back and forth between yards and meters at Baylor? We always go 25 meters at Baylor. Question – how about the other – what are you doing there? That is 50 meters long course. Question – how many are in there? We have sometimes up to 10 or 12 in a lane. It just depends upon the skill level. I want to leave 15 minutes for questions and we can get into the particulars.

Lets talk about the coaching resources because this is the second part of the puzzle. #1: We look for reliability, are they going to show up at 5:15-5:30 in the morning with a cheerful attitude – that is #1. Skills with adults – people skills. I have had some USA coaches that have filled in that just sit up against the wall like this for an hour with a cup of coffee like oh my God – I am still here. No, that is not going to do it so people skills are real important. I almost see myself half as an entertainer – half as a coach. I acknowledge anybody that comes on the deck. If they come in late I am happy to see them. If they get out early I say thank you for coming. You know, we are providing a service.

Deck presence is really developing confidence on deck. I was talking to Scott last night and he was saying I was 23 and I was telling all these older people, some of them might be CEOs what to do in the practice. If you have that confidence on deck people pick up on that. People want to be around confident people so if you act confidently on the deck and take control of a practice it makes a huge difference in your professionalism.

Marketing the program. We want coaches to market our program. If they have certain services and things they want to announce, we want them to. If somebody walks up and they want to know about a program, they have the answers or they know now to get them. Flexibility and time commitment. If there is an illness, or they are going on vacation then they are going to pinch hit. We really try to get our coaches to swim at the practices and coach.

Pat and myself make it a point once or twice a month to go to a practice that we normally never go to. We just go to swim it and observe the coach and see what is going on. Anybody that is really a new coach with us, me and Bobby work with them on the deck – usually the first two or three months before we set them loose out there. They come from all different experiences.

We like to have at least two years of coaching experience or swim lesson experience since they know how to teach swimming. We have also had some people that have had virtually no swimming background. We saw how they interacted with the rest of the group. One of our most successful coaches used to sell wine two years ago, got sick of it and said, I want to do that. He has been one of our more successful coaches because he goes up on the deck and he cares about people which is what it is all about.

We have a lot of USA coaches that are also some of our masters coaches and they swim masters. We realize that they can swim with Muc Rodenball and Dallas Mustangs and it can be their job and one of our coaches, Doug Moies does that. He coaches for us in the mornings because he is not going to be having a class, and that helps him out income wise. So the sharing of coaches – they don’t have to be an X-collegiate Division I swimmer to make a good masters coach. Our greatest asset is our assistant coaches. Me and Bobby cannot reach 5 or 600 people.

I walk up on the deck every time and I have got to introduce myself to five or ten new people. They say oh, you are Jim Montgomery, yeah, how are you doing. Then I go off to the next site. So working with our assistant coaches is key. If you want to get up to that 100 or 300 level you have got to develop your assistant coaches and I am going to show you how to do that.

Right here, this is something we have come up with. We have gone in and compiled a data base here in Texas, Oklahoma and the surrounding area of all the high school coaches, all the college coaches, all the USA coaches. We want to stay in contact with everybody at least two or three times a year. We spend some money and we spend some time on communicating and developing this data base on picking up coaches that are coming into the area.

We just picked up one from Mel Nash at Texas A&M, just graduated and he would love to coach masters. He has taught lessons and I know he is fired up and he seems responsible. He is 23 and we could really use him at a new location, so we can do this very scientifically. All you have to do is pick a zip code, take a circle around it of a 15 minute driving radius and that is what you are looking at as far as your masters population and having a coach live or work in that area. We are working real hard on contacting and retaining coaches because they are our greatest resource.

Lets take a look at a successful program i.e. Dallas Aquatic Masters and this is just a quick overview. We have a lot of coaches. We have 23 coaches, 50+ coaches. These are just kind of round numbers. Some of the things we offer are pretty significant to certain people, especially the social aspect of this group. A third of the people on our team are not going in there and grinding out the yards. It is a big social interaction. For a lot of these people, the social part of this team is their #1 outlet so we cater to that.

We are thinking of ways to develop a whole new group of swimmers coming up that are in their 20s and 30s. They can start after practice developing their own social activities. We just got back from a big team out in Hawaii. We took 60 people out to Hawaii to do the Maui Channel swim. You take people to meets. You get them excited. You get fitness swimmers excited, finally doing their first swim competition. We sponsor four meets a year and believe it or not with 5 or 600 swimmers we don’t have the most swimmers there. We might only have out of 500 swimmers 30 swimmers show up for a competitive swim meet. We run a good meet and how we get them in there is we have a Christmas relay meet and I dress up as Santa Claus. Getting them on a relay first is a good way to do it

Lets look at some of the keys to a successful program. I give it the three C’s and communication is something I am continually trying to develop in the community. When I am doing an interview I am constantly trying to cross that hurdle, that misconception of what a masters swimmer is. You don’t have to be an Olympic champion or world class swimmer to be a masters swimmer. I try to get rid of that intimidation factor. I say to anybody that comes up “Can you swim one length of the pool?” And 95% of the people say, “Yeah, I can swim one length”. I say “Well then you can swim masters”.

You can do it communicating with the members too. We do a lot of email announcements. We do a lot of announcements on the deck and the thing we are trying to do is have a uniform message so that there isn’t confusion.

We are looking at coexistence with the other high school and USA programs in the area. There are going to be these turf battles. I went to a pool up in North Dallas with the USA team in there having about two swimmers to a lane. All of a sudden 120 masters swimmers are trying to cram into very few lanes and you see this imbalance. ‘Here is my USA team and I have to keep these lanes. If I only have two kids in there, by God I am going to keep them in there and I am going to cram all you crazy masters swimmers and keep you guys out because I might need that space.’ That is counter productive folks.

The people that own that pool, the City, don’t like that because cities are getting squeezed big time. Where are they going to find revenues to keep these facilities open? They have closed all the public pools in Dallas. They cannot afford to keep them open and they are closing these things down so we have got to work together on those issues.

It is going to take a while to build a program. I have seen it in high school coaches where they are “oh yeah, I’ll start a program.” They just open up the doors and have their 15 or 16 swimmers and they will go over there and they will read their newspaper. That is all they want, their $500 a month. I had one of the biggest programs in Highland Park High School and I had 45-50 swimmers coming in. The coach has since retired so I can say that, it was his pool, it was his program. He said one day, guess what? I am going to run your masters swim program – you are out. It is my pool and I said, okay, Mike what do you want me to do? He says well you can coach it for me and I will give you a small part. Thanks but no thanks I said. That is what he did and now that he has retired we are back in there with 45 or 50 swimmers again. It takes a commitment and that 50% is a true number.

I have 125-150 swimmers that probably have been with me for close to twenty years. That is a lot of revenue and a lot of loyalty in a twenty year period and that means a lot to me and those swimmers.

Multiple membership options: we are trying to constantly come up with programs – not just in the pool but out of the pool i.e. dry land training or triathletes training group. We are doing a big swim – for the first time ever in this country we are doing Swim For The Cure – with the Susan B. Kohman Breast Cancer Foundation – that is going to come up September 27. They are a huge organization and we are rallying around that so we hope to raise $25,000 in one day.

Lets talk a little bit about club marketing. Club activities like I mentioned, club socials. We are going to throw a huge party coming up here October 4 – we call it the On Wisconsin Bucky Badger party – I wonder where they got that – I am from Wisconsin and that is the biggest party of the year. We get 300 people showing up for that. We bring all the kids. I mentioned Hawaii. We do special practices. We do special sprint practices. We pull all the lane ropes out of the pool. We set up buoys like we are out in the ocean. You know, this is Texas now and we do a swim course in a 50 meter pool open water where they can’t push off the bottom or push off the side of the pool. Anything like that to get them fired up.

Consistent messages. We want to consistently go from the office to the coach on deck, the website – that is critical. Introduction and retention programs – that is something we are really getting into. We are finding out that it is extremely critical when a new masters swimmer comes on board if you don’t hand them their goal set and you don’t get them consistently coming to practice, after 90 or 120 days you are going to lose them. That is going to be your 20 or 30% that are going to drop out. We are trying to come up with a program that we can contact them that first week which is critical and weeks 4, 5 and 6 is critical because they are just saying, hey, I can do this. Then again contacting them from 90 to 120 days is another critical time that you have to have contact with that new member. We are setting up a system to do just that.

We take attendance – not the huge practices, but all of our satellites and most practices we are taking attendance. If we see that a person hasn’t shown up or only showing up once he or she will be contacted because those are the people that are going to drop out. I am too busy, I got too much going on and in six months or a year they are gone so we are working hard on that. The intra-communication again is the website, the coach giving the message on the deck – those types of things. External is the press releases, the interviews, things like that and again, emphasizing the 70/20/10 – 20% of our new people found out about us on the website.

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