I’ve always been intrigued at the thought of starting a dragon boat club. Though, it doesn’t sound hard nor is it easy and it does require good leadership, having good people and strong time management.
Here’s three simple steps below in starting a club:
1. Get a boat.
The first step is to make sure that there is a dragon boat club in your area. These “clubs” are organisations or associations who run a practice site and rent out dragon boats. Teams (even elite teams) do not buy their own boats; everyone rents from a club. Dragon boat clubs offer rental rates for their boats and offer services like coaching and steering.
So, first be sure there is a club relatively close by. If your city has any flat water (i.e. lake, bay, or slow moving waters), then there’s a good chance that there is some paddling activity going on. The best thing to do is search in your area under Google. Try key words like “canoe” clubs or “outrigger paddling” clubs in addition to “dragon boat”. Remember that many places that rent out canoes also rent out dragon boats.
2. Get people.
After making sure there is a place to dragon boat, you need to make sure you have enough people on your team. Getting people also allows you to start getting money, which is what you’ll need to pay for the boat practices, ie. the next step. (So steps 1, 2, and 3 really go hand-in-hand).
You need 20 paddlers minimum, but I recommend recruiting 22 to 24 members to your team. The boat has exactly 20 seats, so having more than 20 members will give you some spare paddlers. Spares are just as important as regular paddlers. Typically, of your group of 22 people, 2 or 3 people aren’t going to come to the practice or race. This means you’ll have exactly 20 people, which is perfect.
Other than paddlers, you will also need a drummer and a steersperson. These are both critical roles, but for some reason, I find it harder to recruit people for these positions. A skilled steersperson, however, is always in high demand. (A status not unlike a good hockey goalie.) So it pays to have one person on your team devoted to and specifically trained just to steer. You’ll also save a lot of money over “hiring” someone to steer for you. Drummers, on the other hand, do not require a lot of training, and do not need to be at every practice. A “good” drummer is someone who is small, light, and really loud. Drummers can be one of your spare paddlers too.
3. Get money.
Once you have enough paddlers, and have found a place to practice, you’ll have to get money. Money is important because dragon boat is an expensive sport. Costs are not incurred individually as they are in other sports (i.e. hockey, where each players goes out to buy hockey sticks, pads, skates, and tons of equipment). In dragon boat, all the necessary equipment is included in the price of a boat rental. But because you rent the boat “as a team”, the costs are also charged “per team”. You also race as a team, and therefore incur entry fees as a team.
These fees often need to be paid up front, or close to up front, and can be several hundreds of dollars. A beginner team should have at least 6 practice sessions before going into a race. As you can see, these costs add up, even when shared amongst 22 people, so make sure you have a committed team first that will split that cost.
There are several revenue models in the world of dragon boat and I’ll list a few for you here.
1. Membership fees. On average most team members are charged $150 each. This is a very reasonable amount of money for a sport, and is average for dragon boat membership fees. (Other teams can charge $100-$250, I’ve seen). For a 22 person team, we had a budget of $3,300, which funded 8 weeks worth of practices, entry into a couple of races, and team shirts for everyone.
2. Sponsorship. Many teams you will see are sponsored. There are many corporations that have their own team, for example, the “IBM Dragonboat Team” or “Deloitte Dragons”. I think it’s perfectly reasonable to ask your company to sponsor your team, even if the team isn’t entirely made up company employees. Or you can go seek out sponsorship from other companies. Sponsors may give you money or may “donate” t-shirts or hats to you. The best sponsorship situation is when you sell, what I call, “naming rights.” You’ll be surprised how many companies will give you several thousand dollars just to name your team after them. Smaller companies may still give you a few hundred for wearing their logo on your t-shirts. It’s a lot of work finding a sponsor, but can be a great pay off and eliminate any financial head aches for you later.
3. Fundraisers. Many dragon boat teams fund raise year-round. Not only does this help offset costs, but it is also a great team-building idea. There are several types of fundraisers, that I can go on and on about, but here are some primary examples:
* Easy-work, low-pay. There are a number of bars, and restaurants that have active sports club fund raising joint ventures. An example from a Dragonboat Club who has gone into a joint-venture with a local pub is that they give you x-number of tickets worth a burger and a beer. They charge you $5 per ticket but you can sell the ticket for however much you want (usually $6 or $7) and pocket the difference. The bar wins because you’re bringing in customers, and you win because you’re making money without much effort. Of course, with just $1 or $2 profit, you’ll have to sell about 500 tickets before having enough to pay for one race.
* Hard-work, low-pay. I see a lot of teams holding BBQ, especially in suburban areas. This is definitely a fun fundraiser, and good for building team spirit, but definitely low in return. During one 8-hour BBQ, a team raised just under $400. A lot of money for one day, but when you consider there were 20 of us working at the BBQ, that averages out to a salary of $2.50 an hour. We figured that just donating an hour’s pay from our salaries would be more than 5 times that amount. (Of course, if you’re students, then $2.50/hour is pretty decent).
* Hard-work, high-pay. The most successful fundraisers that I’ve had are selling tickets to a club. Typically club organizers, will “give you the door” for the early hours of a slow night. This means you can sell tickets in advance, and collect cover from party-goers. Cover can be anywhere between $7 and $10 and you should expect that with a team of 20 you can sell 200 tickets to a club night. The payoff can therefore be as much as $2000 in one night! Of course, there is a lot of work in hustling tickets, and if your event is poor, no one will ever go to another one.
So those are the first three key steps in starting a dragon boat team:
1. Get a dragon boat
2. Get people
3. Get money
It almost doesn’t matter what order you follow these steps in, but you must have these three criteria before you can move ahead on anything else. In future entries, I’ll go further into details such as budgeting, creating a strong roster, and finding coaches.