Saturday, December 20, 2008

USPA change

The USPA Empowers its members with the right to vote and transfer the leadership to the next generation. This process is critical so the USPA can evolve and continue to grow effectively. This transfer of USPA leadership cannot and will not take place without your vote as a member of our organization!

Most skydivers don't take the time to learn about the structure of the USPA or vote for change. I can understand this since we all have busy lives and besides you just want to skydive! You became a member of the USPA so you can skydive where you want when you want...right? You shouldn't have to spend your free time educating yourself about the structure of our organization or the many changes along the way.

Unfortunately this is the reason why we don't see more (any) change within the USPA. This is how some National directors keep their positions year in and year out without any rivals. You would think more professional skydivers (the ones who make a living doing it) would take the time to vote and make a change but most do not. You would be surprised at how few USPA members actually vote and you would be even more surprised to find out how many elected officials care less about positive change.

Most of the elected board is comprised of older skydivers with an "old school" frame of mind. Most elected officials are older because these are the people who have the most experience (something you can't buy for no amount of money). Side note: The youngest President of the United States was Theodore "Teddy" Roosevelt who was 42 years old at the time he took office. You don't have to be older to have a position of authority, power or trust but you need a clear idea for change and keep your self open to it.

This all makes sense right? Certain people are more motivated then others to run for National director at the USPA. If your are a drop zone owner, a gear store owner, run a skydiving school or even demo team then your business is directly effected by the decisions of the USPA. Money motivates people. You have to ask your self what are the reasons a person is running for an elected seat in the USPA? What motivates them, what changes do they want? Are they looking out for the interest of the members or their own self interest?

For the first time in decades we have a group of "younger" individuals running for seats on the BOD. Notice I used the word “younger” and not “young”. Our group of “younger” members are highly experienced skydivers in their mid to late thirties not newcomers to the sport. We should all be glad to have a group of new choices for the BOD and some of the best our sport has to offer. With fewer candidates running we have less options and then we all lose. What change do these new guys have to offer? I will let BOD runner and 38 year old Charles Bryan with 14,000 jumps sum it up for you...

"Many of the USPA rules that we follow were put in place 30 years ago, when the equipment, planes and technology was inferior to what we have available to us today. We need to bring in new board members, with fresh ideas to the USPA, that want to take skydiving to the next level. We need to educate new jumpers past student status, to use new equipment to the best of their ability and stay safe in doing so".

The USPA is a organization that needs to change with the times so it might evolve at the pace needed to take full advantage of our strengths. There were 32,000 members in the USPA in 2008 and this number hasn't changed much in the 15 years I have been a member! 

The USPA needs change and needs it now. Unfortunately we have a lot of catching up to do and every year we get deeper in the hole like the US national deficit. We have to start leveraging are strengths as an organization to make change. Why can't skydiving get on regular scheduled TV? Why is the US Nationals of Skydiving not televised? Why can't skydiving get corporate sponsors like every other national sporting event? Why isn't skydiving in the mainstream and how can we get there?

These questions have haunted me for over a decade and no one seems to have the answers and only their opinions so here is mine. The USPA needs to leverage our annual National championships to attract corporate sponsors and get our sport televised. If we attract corporate sponsors then we can attract TV and vis versa. You need TV airtime to attract corporate sponsors and you need the sponsors to get the TV time! Why is all of this important? Why do we need corporate sponsors? Why do we need to be on TV? To make it into the mainstream of course! 

We need to move from a backyard sport into the mainstream. Through corporate sponsorship we will have growth that will trickle down to all facets within our industry. We have more money for planes, more money for bigger & better facilities, more technology, better gear and so on. Do you really think that is the best parachute rig on your back? Is that AAD you use the most advanced technology available? Can we get a parachute that can swoop 1500ft? Not just yes but hell yes but its all about the money. Once corporate sponsors invest in our National championships at large public venues it will get televised and once that happens other sponsors will rush to fill the spaces in between. Sponsors will want to sponsor all types of competitors in the top 4 way, Freefly and Swoop teams in the sport.

With our new sponsorships deal and network contracts these networks will start feeding us data from the events. They will show us our demographics, tell us which skydiving events they like the most, etc, etc. Before you know it our sport is catapulted into the mainstream and into constant change to hold our position in the market. We are forced to adapt with change in order to grow and maintain our new found glory. We don’t have to guess at these possibilities but only look at the history of other similar sports in the mainstream.

So why aren't we doing this now? What is holding skydiving back? Just look at the current formula and remember that step one of us getting into the mainstream is leveraging our National championships.

To stand any chance of attracting corporate sponsors the USPA must hold its National championships OFF A DROP ZONE. Sponsors pay for impressions which is eyeballs onsite. The event must be at a location which can attract tens of thousands of spectators. Just look at events like the Extreme Games, Gravity Games or NASCAR. These events are put in large public venues to attract as many spectators and vendors as possible. The first thing any sponsor is going to ask you is where the event is going to happen followed by how many spectators will you have and how much TV coverage can you guarantee.

To make our situation even worse some of the biggest drop zones in the country are in the ugliest place for spectators which means sponsors too. Skydive Arizona may be one of the biggest and busiest DZs in the US but Eloy is a speck in the middle of hot dusty desert which no one outside of skydiving cares to visit. Perris Valley is not much better of a location but at least its two hours from Hollywood! So the USPA should be looking for very attractive locations for our National championships with sponsors in mind. Notice that I said find attractive locations “with sponsors in mind”. With an appealing event location it is much easier to attract potential sponsors. The venue can be built up around other attractions or in a variety of other ways to maximize our exposure.

So why hasn’t this happened yet? Why don’t we have the US Nationals on the lake in Chicago, or at a big park, festival, airshow, beach, race track, etc, etc? Well, the USPA says you have to be a group member (drop zone) to bid on and organize the US Nationals of Skydiving and guess where DZOs want to hold the event? Yes, DZOs bid to hold the National championships on their drop zone to maximize profits. It makes sense right? Holding the event on a DZ saves them money and maximizes profits while reducing the logistical nightmare of running the event offsite.

So the DZO is not looking at the best interest of the sport or its members but at its own business....the drop zone. So this rule implemented by the USPA that only group members can bid on the US Nationals is just one example of the change needed within our organization. If this rule was changed it would encourage entrepreneurs, outside investors and corporate sponsors to bid and hold the US Nationals of Skydiving at public venues. This is how to attract the sponsors which would attract TV which would fund growth inside our sport.

We now know that with the death of Skysurfing in the X Games in the 90s, as well as, all the exposure skydiving has got in the past including scenes Hollywood movies and the opening ceremony of the Olympics...Canopy Piloting could be the sport of Skydiving last chance to make it into the mainstream. Now consider this, few drop zones are bidding to hold the US Nationals of Canopy Piloting these days and those who have hosted it already are telling the USPA they will never do it again.

Yes it is true, drop zones like Skydive Chicago and Mile Hi Skydiving have told the USPA that they would never hold it again and they are not the only ones. There needs to be change for Canopy Piloting does not go under. The USPA needs to make Canopy Piloting one of its top priorities. Canopy Piloting is the most spectator friendly and thus sponsor friendly discipline within our sport. If the USPA does not make necessary changes so Canopy Piloting is cheaper to organize and safer to run it could fade away. Oh yes there will always be swooping as long as there is skydiving but not as this flourishing competition sport with big cash purses and the public venue of yesteryear. The USPA can make the necessary changes or watch it die a slow death. Just look at Skysurfing which at one time was this popular skydiving event that was in the X Games. About every drop zone you went to there was people skysurfing. There was a team in Florida sponsored by Yahoo and skysurfer Rob Harris won a grammy! There are few skysurfers hanging around the DZ now and if more people don’t compete at the event at Nationals it could go away for good! No more $50,000 cash purses, no more sponsorship contracts, no more TV time. Just a shell of a sport that was.

In the world of business all organizations must continuously change to keep from going under and dying. Change like failure is a instrument we use to grow and keep us moving in the right direction.

As one last example, when I hear people talking about the internet’s next phase the so called Web 2.0, I'm constantly surprised how few people really "get it." Its not about technology, its about empowering people. Its about giving people access to data, even if they are outside your domain. Its about jump starting innovation with scary new ideas. Its about tools that are easy to use -- perhaps even fun -- so a greater number of people can join in the process.

The USPA needs to transfer the leadership to a new team of leaders. We need problem solvers who can set new goals and break the mold to get the job done. These national directors need to build a strong team beneath them to get the job done. Two heads is better than one but the more the better! Our National directors should set out to build strong teams with experts and pioneers from all areas of our sport.

We need experts in everything from RW, Freeflying, Skysurfing, CRW and Canopy Piloting on collaborating teams with our National directors. It might be hard or even impossible to get these experts to run for a BOD position but this doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be tapping their knowledge, expertise and opinions. Maybe this is something that the USPA has done in the past but maybe they haven’t been doing it right? Maybe they haven’t been building the right teams? It all starts with leadership at the top and trickles down.

Advisors are a direct reflection of their leaders. What are they trying to accomplish? Who do they turn to for support? At the highest office in our nation President elect Obama has been doing just that recently. He doesn’t claim to know everything and realizes he needs to build the best team possible to improve his chance for success. Recently he was quoted saying, ““I’ve sought leaders who could offer both sound judgment and fresh thinking, both a depth of experience and a wealth of bold new ideas”. By the time you read this President elect Obama will have most likely made Google CEO Eric Schmidt a economic advisor. Smart choice but one that the older generation would not have considered. This is a great example for the USPA and all elected National directors. If you don’t know something and need advice moving in a new direction then go out and build a strong team.

I hope all skydivers take the time to print out a USPA ballot and vote. Its not too late but the deadline of December 31st is fast approaching. I ask you now to do what has never been done in the history of the United States Parachuting Association...wide scale voting! Just go to the USPA website, print out the single ballot sheet, vote for eight (no more or you void your ballot) national directors and mail it to the USPA before Dec 31, 2008. Maybe you don’t know any of these people running for office but that is OK. Just read each candidates views on the USPA website at the link below and cast your vote before its too late. I have attached a copy of my official ballot and posted it online for public record. Now its your turn.

Go and print your ballot!
http://www. uspa. org/NewsEvents/BODElections/tabid/461/Default. aspx

Jim Slaton
Producer & serial entrepreneur 
www. jimslaton. com

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