No break-even in sight
for Victoria Croquet Centre
by Bob Alman
photos by Paddy Chapman, Max Murray, and Sue Leitinger
posted March 31, 2009
Croquet World Online Magazine has been profoundly interested in the creation and development of the two 12-court "mega-centres" built in the 21st Century: The Victoria Croquet Centre opened a couple of years ago in a middle-class suburb of Melbourne; the National Croquet Center was completed seven years ago in West Palm Beach, not far from Palm Beach proper. Neither has been developed sufficiently to achieve financial break-even, although break-even has been predicted by many principals in both organizations, as quoted in numerous articles in this publication. If nobody else persists in asking "Why?" we will do it. We have a long memory, infinite reporting space, and the medium's ability to instantly correct and update. We shall persist. Coming soon is our follow-up on the National Croquet Center, site of the 2009 World Championship in May. But first, here's our update on the Victoria Centre.
It's been a long time since Croquet World has resorted to a "no comment" story. Such a recourse begins with quoting back to the principals the statements they made that are now proven wrong, and ends by reporting exactly which questions were ignored or avoided as those official sources responded with a blank wall of silence. The solidity of the blank wall appears to be a long-standing feature of croquet in some of the Australian states, where all the real power is local, and sometimes brutally wielded. Typically and notoriously, the most influential figures in these organizations align and close ranks against dissent. Strong measures are taken to discourage the kind of open internal dialog that tends to lead, in healthy organizations, to informed, creative, and enlightened consensus. Instead of finding out what should be done to manage a difficult project and inviting broad participation from everyone - including the experts! - the chief officers simply "decide" and chart a course full speed ahead. Their public relations consist in making rosy projections, telling only the good news and suppressing the bad, covering up details with vague and misleading reports, and closing ranks against all dissenters.
Croquet World Online Magazine must count itself in the camp of the dissenters, following the abrupt refusal of the Victoria Croquet Association to respond to our reasonable questions, all enumerated below, because our questions - excellent questions, relevant questions - are all based on a combination of published reports in Croquet World (all of which readers may link to, as given above or quoted below), the quoted projections of the top officers in the VCA, Profit and Loss statements and other documents of the VCA, and confidential reports of informants who have told us they wish to remain anonymous for their own protection.
Although almost everything in it is a matter of fact and of record and the rest springs from rational analysis of the facts, we are labeling this article an "editorial," and here's why: Based on long experience in the very narrow arena of croquet facilities development - which includes organizing and managing the National Croquet Center in its formative years, writing books on the subject, and actively consulting on countless club starts - I have been unable to imagine any reasonable course to financial self-sufficiency for the Victoria Croquet Centre. (This is distinctly NOT the case for the National Croquet Center - but that's the subject of the next article).
No conventional business plan has been proposed by its managers for the Victoria Centre, nor any kind of integrated and comprehensive development plan that outlines all the sources of revenue and the means to achieve the financial targets required to achieve break-even, backed up by specific financial numbers and timelines.
Where are the numbers, and do they matter?
Our update should begin with numbers from the relevant financial accountings, but they are not available, and for all we know, they may not exist. All the financial reports of VCA we have seen merge the expenses and revenues together for the entire association, numbering 90-odd clubs scattered throughout the state of Victoria. There's nothing necessarily sinister about the failure to break out and distinguish the income/expense numbers for the Centre alone, but this tactic does effectively prevent detailed analysis by the numbers.
It's important to note that the Victoria Centre is in no danger, now or in the future, of anything approaching insolvency, even with the dramatic drop in value of the Trust Fund that covers its annual shortfalls. However, dissenting voices in VCA have long held that the real estate windfall that made the financing of the Centre possible should have been used to promote croquet throughout the state, not just in one big, expensive-to-maintain headquarters facility. They have asserted that there's no way the Centre can pay for itself - that it will be a permanent drain on the resources of the VCA.
It's possible that by merging of all the financial numbers in one report, the officers of the Victoria Association intend to suggest that the entire state actually DOES benefit substantially and materially from the existence of the Centre. But the merging of accounts does arouse reasonable suspicions that it is motivated, instead, by a desire to cover up and obscure the actual P&L of the Victoria Centre.
Can the Victoria Centre ever pay for itself?
The Victoria Croquet Centre is not a prime events venue, having neither the space nor the elegance of appointments necessary to generate significant event fees from outside groups. A large croquet club has never been envisioned for the Centre, but even if a club of 300 could be generated with fees of $200/year, that would produce only $60,000 in annual revenue. The VCA and the Australian Croquet Association (the national organization) have declined to comment on rumors that the Centre could be used more frequently and semiofficially as Croquet Australia's "headquarters facility" in much the same way that the National Croquet Center functions in America.
So where is the potential for break-even? In our opinion, the Centre was built without sufficient consideration of its ability to generate income. In our opinion, the best use of the Centre is, as we suggest in the exchange of letters below, as a national showcase and laboratory for the maximum development of malletsports throughout Victoria and the Australian continent. In this way, it's conceivable that an annual loss of only $100,000 could be realized. But if the Centre could be organized and managed as an effective promotion of malletsports, the cost could reasonably be considered worth it.
Some good moves have already been made in this direction - notably the "re-branding" of the ACA as the organizer and governing body for all "malletsports" in Australia, including Gateball, the hoop-and-mallet team sport that is enormously popular in the far east and making inroads in Australia and the West. (The Victoria Centre has already hosted the Australian Gateball national championship.)
Clearly, the Victoria Centre will not come anywhere close to financial self-sufficiency by January of 2010, as predicted by principals of VCA in our published reports. Will this knowledge of this failure of management have any effect on upcoming elections of VCA officers in midyear? We have no idea, but we promise to continue to report on all relevant developments of this important Centre.
In the meantime, the following exchange of emails will inform readers of exactly who is pulling the strings currently in Victoria, and who is declining to answer relevant questions. The addressees were George Latham, the longtime president of the Victoria Croquet Association who spearheaded the Victoria Centre project; John Fransen, former president of the Australia Croquet Association; David Ross, treasurer of the Victoria Croquet Association; and Val Brown, the current president of VCA and apparently it's only official spokesperson, judging from the limited exchange published below in its entirety.
March 9, 2009
EMAIL TO: George Latham, John Fransen, David Ross, and Val Brown
FROM: BOB ALMAN, editor, www.CroquetWorld.com
It's time to do a follow-up on the croquet mega-centres, as well as an assessment of the effects of the worldwide "recession" on croquet organizations and facilities. Accordingly, I am writing to ask, in sum, how close you are to achieving the "break-even point" predicted by the four of you in various signed articles on our FORUM BULLETIN BOARD (see the MEGA-CENTRES DEVELOPMENT conversation) as well as in our several front-page articles on your Victoria Centre.
The financial break-even point was projected to occur nine months from now, in 2010.
I'm wondering about that, in view of some financial documents recently prepared by VCA, as well as other reports that essential repairs to the shelters and lawns have been estimated at a couple of hundred thousand dollars, not accounted for in the budget. In other cases, I can't see where salaries and other normal or extraneous expenses (like water systems, insurance, etc.) were covered in the financial documents. And of course, having the Centre's figures merged with the overall VCA figures makes it even more difficult to follow.
However, the numbers I have indicate that your Trust Fund has lost a half million in value since October 2008. And I wonder whether the $300,000 withdrawn a couple of years ago is now still projected by your management to be sufficient to cover shortfalls to the financial break-even point.
I also remember an announcement from your management that CATERING of outside groups would produce significant income, and that this function was being contracted out. Having been responsible for setting up the formula for catering costs and room rentals for the National Croquet Center, I didn't see much realistic prospect for significant income for your Victoria Centre from outside events, given the much reduced space available to you, the location of the Centre, and the character of the space. I wonder how that has worked out for you.
Whatever you can say about these conditions and financial projections would be most appreciated. As you know, the croquet world is profoundly interested in the welfare and continuance of the two marvelous 12-court "mega-centres." I am personally most interested in seeing them succeed - on all counts - as models for the building of other large centers which, in turn, would help to further develop our sport.
One last question: There is scuttlebutt that ACA is talking about having the Victoria Centre be at least the de facto HQ for the national organization. Is this anything more than scuttlebutt? What does it mean? Is there anyone else I should ask about this?
Thank you so much for your attention to these questions. Please, feel free to say whatever you want and to respond at length. One great benefit of this medium is that there are no space limitations, and therefore no limit on the potential for fact-finding and truth-telling in a Web-based magazine!
Bob Alman, Founding Editor
P.S. For you convenience, I copy below some of your official quotes from existing, dated material on www.CroquetWorld.com, permanently online.
DIRECT QUOTE FROM DAVID ROSS,
IN CROQUET WORLD'S BULLETIN BOARD FORUM, JAN 2008
"Whilst it is true there has been a heavy involvement of volunteers from the croquet world, to categorise them as part time amateurs unaccustomed to operating on professional business principles is patently false given their experience in
the business world and the public service.
"Use of the function area of the clubhouse is already expanding as local residents and businesses become aware of its unique aspects. The croquet world, however, has first priority and there are many weekends where the complex is unavailable for outside bookings.
"We are presently moving from volunteers undertaking the catering to tendering out the commercial kitchen and establishing a local croquet club at the centre (with 50 + members).
"These initiatives will enable the VCC to be self-sufficient."
Excerpt from Croquet World article
by Bob Alman, January 2008
"According to the Victoria Croquet Association Council meeting minutes from December 13, 2007, "$300,000 from the investment portfolio has been set aside to underwrite the salary of the sports administrator and the shortfall in the running of the VCC over at least the next three years." George Latham has told Croquet World in his FORUM article that only two years are required for the Centre to break even financially."
Direct quote from George Latham's
Bulletin Board article, January 2008
CROQUET VICTORIA FINANCIALLY SECURE
"In December 2004 Brighton Headquarters was sold for $7.85 million dollars and today we have achieved all of the four motions. The modern building is an attractive croquet and function venue with a one-bedroom residence upstairs for caretakers to live on site.
"Croquet Victoria is financially secure with a $3 million plus investment adjusted by the yearly CPI to maintain its dollar value. The major goal of a paid Administration Assistant has now been achieved. Sandra Kastanaras, an experienced professional chosen from 60 applicants, commenced work for Croquet Victoria on Monday November 26th 2007 occupying the office at the new Centre.
FINANCIAL SELF-SUFFICIENCY OF THE CENTRE
"Revenue from VCC tournaments is modest if volunteers do the bulk of catering, but the recent Australian Gateball Championships when eight teams from Japan and China competed plus their supporters reminded us that advertising Gateball as a travel option throughout Asia could be an excellent source of income.
"So self-sufficiency relies on non-croquet events, corporate team-builders/lawn parties and community/private croquet functions. VCA is presently engaging a food consultancy to explore tendering catering requirements for the VCC.
"It is anticipated that in two years these income sources will achieve self-sufficiency for the Centre."
Sent: Sunday, 15 March 2009 1:30 AM
To: firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com; firstname.lastname@example.org; vbrown@wimmera..com.au
Subject: Re: Victoria Centre finances follow-up for www.CroquetWorld.com
Dear George, John, David and Val,
Since I wrote the following email, I have found Val's email, so I'm using this occasion to ask you again to respond to the questions and comments below (sent to you five days ago), which are all based on reports on stories and postings in Croquet World Online about the VCA and the Victoria Centre.
Thanks in advance for your assistance!
Bob Alman, Founding Editor
In a message dated 3/16/2009 10:04:03 PM Eastern Standard Time, email@example.com writes:
Subj: RE: Victoria Centre finances follow-up for www.CroquetWorld.com
Date: 3/16/2009 10:04:03 PM Eastern Standard Time
To: Bobalman@aol.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, vbrown@wimmera..com.au
I am wondering about the e/mail I am supposed to have sent since 9th March. I have not sent any thing. I am particularly interested in the comment by Bob Alman that in recent VCA reports a figure of $200,000 has been mentioned for repairs to lawns and shelters and his mention of scuttlebuck. [sic]. I would like to know who furnished the figures mentioned and I would like Bob Alman to forward me a copy of the report sent to him about this.
Unless I receive this copy I will not be interested in any further correspondence.
[President, Victoria Croquet Association]
Subj: Re: Victoria Centre finances follow-up for www.CroquetWorld.com
Date: 3/19/2009 10:09:04 AM Eastern Standard Time
To: email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org
To: Val Brown, President Victoria Croquet Association (copied to Fransen, Latham, and Ross)
From: Bob Alman, Editor, Croquet World Online Magazine
I appreciate your being in touch, as the other individuals quoted in the published materials on the Victoria Centre in CROQUET WORLD have not yet responded in any way. I am disappointed, as I had hoped they would defend their earlier statements or appropriately alter them to fit the current circumstances.
Most of my questions are follow-ups to official documents and pronouncements of VCA officials, as noted below. The "other reports" to which I refer are NOT official VCA reports, but verbal and email communications from individuals in Australia.
"Scutttlebutt" is defined as "gossip and rumor." When rumor appears to have a reasonable basis, a professional journalist is inclined to follow it up with official sources, who are expected to confirm (and, one hopes, provide more useful information), deny (with elaboration, one hopes), or have no comment at all - in which case the journalist is free, by convention, to assume that the information has some basis in fact and may legitimately be included in a published story.
As you are no doubt aware, some Australian players are fearful of reprisals from the official organizations whenever they say anything - including something true and factual - that might be construed as negative or uncomplimentary to the organizations involved. The reprisals might include stripping them of office or denying them places on teams to which they might otherwise be entitled on the basis of their playing records.
It is the custom in this country [The United States of America] - protected by our laws and courts - that journalists may safeguard their sources. I am honoring that tradition. As you may be aware, Croquet World Online Magazine is the only widely available truly INDEPENDENT news source for the world of croquet. It's always my intention to report the truth fairly and honestly and to give my sources - ALL our sources, both official and confidential - all possible benefit of doubt.
Surely you don't expect me to reveal to you my confidential sources! I trust you will not use this as a valid reason to decline to respond to reasonable questions about the Victoria Croquet Centre which are timely follow-ups to the published statements of various officers of Australian croquet entities.
My assumption - and this is based on long experience - is that the sooner the true facts are widely known, the sooner any necessary corrective action can be taken. I am asking questions just as probing about the National Croquet Center Center in West Palm Beach.
Perhaps it would be helpful to simplify the questions as follows, without reference to confidential sources:
* Are the officials of VCA still maintaining that the Victoria Croquet Center
will achieve financial self-sufficiency by 2010?
* If so, can you provide some explanation of how this will be achieved?
If not, can you provide a NEW projection that would make sense to readers?
* If no rational course to financial self-sufficiency for the Centre can be foreseen, is there any other way for you to justify its expense? (As I suggested in my previous email below, a $100,000 annual shortfall would, perhaps, be justified if the Centre is organized and managed successfully as a showcase and laboratory to promote croquet and malletsports throughout the region and the continent.)
I hope this makes it easier for you to respond. Please note that these questions make no reference to the confidential reports I have received and noted in my prior email. However, I will continue to give credence to those reports if they are not effectively countered by official sources, including yourself.
Bob Alman, Founding Editor
The end of the story - for now
The editor has allowed ten days for a response to the email above, sent on March 19, 2009. So we are inclined to think the worst, as we imagine our readers will, also. We and our readers will be inclined to believe that the VCA has no actual and actionable business or development plan to produce financial viability for the Centre at any time in the foreseeable future; and that no plans have been developed to use the Centre effectively as a high-profile foundation for showcasing and broadening the popularity of malletsports on a national scale and thus justifying its cost. However, if we receive any such answers in the near future - and we hope we do - we will be happy to append them below, to bring the story up to date.