SCA Membership & Revenue Analysis in the Time of Covid

All organizations have their tropes and common apocryphal stories. The SCA is no different, and one of the most common is “The SCA is dying! Membership is drying up! We’re gonna fold!”

Often, these conversations happen during times of stress in larger US society (I can’t speak for the SCA in Australia & New Zealand, of course), and so, right now, the topic has been very pervasive in many circles. And, of course, the SCA’s video plea for people to renew and gift memberships added to the reactive panic cycle.

Now, I’m a data nerd, and I know many other data nerds, so I decided that I was going to look at the publicly-available-data from the SCA’s website. That consists of Corporate budgets, Membership numbers, and IRS 990 Financial Statements, all located at in the Documents Library on the SCA website.

The fact of the matter is, there’s not a ton of data to analyze. I was able to come up with three charts, each of which is incomplete in one way or another. There are several months between the time the SCA started tracking membership (1992) and now. There’s 2010 IRS Financial statement is missing from the website, and the most recent published file is from 2017. Internally, the IRS Financial Statements are inconsistent from year to year, as different SCA Treasurers probably felt that different data points were more or less important than their predecessors did.

But I was able to do some analysis:

  • The first year the SCA started keeping track — November, 1992, there were 21263 paid members.
  • The SCA’s peak membership was in June of 2006: 32991 paid members.
  • Something happened between January of 2011 and January of 2013. The SCA dropped from 31310 paid members to 28564 over that time-frame — an 8.5% drop.
  • The highest membership the SCA has had since then was 31134 paid members in January of 2016, but there has been a steady decline since then, to 28723 in January of 2020.
  • When the Covid pandemic struck, and Pennsic was cancelled, and the SCA offered members free extensions on expiration, the bottom fell out. By June of 2020, membership had dropped by 3656, nearly 13%.
(right-click and open in new tab to see details.)

Now, memberships is not the only measure of participation; the SCA has always been open to non-members. Analysis here is a little trickier.

Firstly, the first Non-Member Surcharge data we have is from 2003. Secondly, I’m pretty sure that the cost of the NMS rose form $3 (us) to $5 (us) at some point, but I don’t know when. However, if we decide to ignore the cost variance and assume that the NMS was $5 (which will under-report a little bit, but not extraordinarily), and we average the NMS over the 14 years of the data we have, we see that the NMS averaged $154,182 per year, which means that there were approximately 30,836 non-members attending SCA events per year. That number was highest in 2014, and lowest in 2003, although 2017 was also a bottom-3 year for NMS charges.

As you might expect, there’s a big jump in total Membership revenue in 2003, not just from the NMS, but also from membership revenue itself. That big increase normalizes, but takes a huge drop between 2016 and 2017, when total Membership Revenue went from $1,252,537 to $852,098.

So, even setting aside the drop from Covid, we can see that membership is down to mid-2003 levels, and Membership/NMS revenue is down to mid-2001 levels — as of 2017.

(right-click and open in new tab to see details.)

The most interesting data I found, however, was buried deep in the IRS 990 forms for the SCA, for something called Program Service Revenue by Year. It appears to be a combination of three line-items: Globally available newsletters (which I assume refers to the TI and Complete Anachronist), Locally available newsletters — your kingdom newsletter — and Event fees. even though the majority of event fees don’t actually enter the SCA Inc’s main bank account, it is revenue the corporation must report. To me, this data directly reflects participation in a way that no other data I’ve seen does. The highest revenue reported against this line-item is from 2006, when revenue reached $3,527,258.

Again, the publicly available data only runs through 2017, and here, we see a correlation to the Membership drop between 2011-2013. Program Service Revenue dropped from $3,343,383 in 2011 to $2,683,689 in 2013, and then further dropped to $2,322,751 in 2014! That’s a drop of over a million US dollars — an over 30% decrease in revenue over three years.

(right-click and open in new tab to see details.)

What happened in 2011? I’m not sure. I’ve asked some questions to figure it out, and I’ll update this post when I know more, so check back!

And let’s remember: the last three years aren’t included in the financial data I was able to look at. While there are visible downward trends in the membership data for 2018-2020, it’s impossible to know if that translates directly into less participation, because several kingdoms have done away with pay-to-fight rules, which in the MidRealm, at least, freed up several hundred members to stop paying the yearly fee.

Another really interesting data-point is that while membership drops between 2011-2013, and overall revenue drops between 2011-2014, Membership/NMS revenue actually goes UP between 2011 (total revenue $1,073,972) and 2014 (total revenue $1,186,285.44). I can’t figure that one out either.

It’s clear that participation at events has been on a downward trend since 2006. What’s not clear is that any of this has anything to do with policies or procedures that the BoD has put in place.

What do you think? And how do you think the SCA could best recruit participants who will be in the SCA for the long haul? Let us know in the comments!

4 thoughts on “SCA Membership & Revenue Analysis in the Time of Covid”

  1. *The $3 NMS was instated somewhere in the early aughts – I *think* it was 2002. I seem to recall that they tried to instate it in 1994 (before my time, but there’s a letter in the aether from Cariadoc that confirms), but that they didnt at the time (unconfirmed, but I started in 1997, and it didn’t exist at the time. My memory is fuzzy. Maybe check BoD minutes from 2001-2002?
    *It was raised from $3 to $5 in July 2010
    *Newsletters went online in March 2012
    *They changed the nomenclature to member discounts and so forth in April 2016

    I would not discount the affect of single kingdom or regional data. I have access to Aethelmearc’s, and we had no corresponding dips in in 2011-2013. Additionally, or membership levels are up over the past 3 years.

    Other:
    *First MoDs were created May 2015
    *In 2013 there was some serious political ugliness that went down in Atenvelt that resulted in a bunch of R&Ds and also a lot of people refusing to renew membership. I don’t have the details. I think there was some nastiness in Caid with a dynastic king who was, shall we say, not great, around the same time.
    *Feb 2018 was the, uh, issue with the An Tir coronation garb that went viral and also hit mundane publications
    * states went affiliate at different times. not sure how that would affect membership, but maybe?
    *there was a short period of time they offered memberships for life – maybe that affected it? Or when they started allowing people to buy multiple years? I don’t know the dates on that.

    For the political stuff, the SCA Reddit would probably be of use, but be warned – it’s not for the faint of heart. Do not recommend for light reading or newbies

  2. It may already be decades too late. In 1990, various Baronies had effectively abandoned growing student and early career membership. So, we have a seriously aging population which participates less for a lot of reasons which are fairly apparent. We have altered our events to cater to this demographic which makes our events less attractive to the 18-30 crowd. How many people in that demographic really want to go home by 7:00 PM? Not many I assure you. Ask any dean of students at any college or university. The problem is that 18-30 is precisely the period in people’s lives where they are deciding how the will live, make life-long friends, find permanent avocations, &c. Another time is midlife crisis, but that is way too late to support a healthy organization.

    1. This is a legitimate issue, although I will say that most events in the MidRealm are not closing at 7pm most of the time.

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