Over the past few years USA Fencing has reported a flat membership base over the past few seasons with the most recent reporting showing a membership base of 21,851 members as of October 25th. That is up from the end of season numbers of 21,001 reported in July 2012. July 2011 ended with the membership being at 20,972.
Contrasted with the relatively flat USA Fencing membership growth is an apparent growth in participation in fencing with a number of new clubs starting up along with youth and high school fencing programs that are run outside of the USA Fencing membership structure.
So, is fencing growing or staying flat? Are these youth and high school programs adding to demand for fencing, or just slowing down losses in athletes in other areas? For a bit of fun, I went looking to see if there were any trends in Google searches that could add any highlights to what is happening on the ground.
The peak for this keyword was 2004 on the date that Sada Jacobson and Mariel Zagunis advanced to the medal rounds and subsequently earned bronze and gold in Women’s Sabre. Since then, there is a yearly seasonality for the term with the low point being in December and the high in April. During Olympic years the high point becomes August (or July with the 2012 Games), but 2008 and 2012 are lower than 2004.
Part of the yearly trend for the term “fencing” is most likely due to home improvement projects as they would be at the low in the winter months and pick up in the spring.
Term: Sport Fencing
Another term that has taken a hit since 2004. Spikes in searches for this term mirror the Olympic Games, but despite the Olympic sweep in Women’s Sabre and record medal haul in 2008, the searches here in 2008 and 2012 showed declines from the peak in 2004.
Term: Fencing Club
Here is another term that we can track to gauge interest in the sport. There is a clear downward trend since the high point in August, 2004 with 2012 showing a very minor spike compared to 2008. Overall, September and January seem to be the high points in yearly seasonality, which would imply that people are searching for activities including fencing in conjunction with New Year’s resolutions for fitness (January) and enrolling in sports at the beginning of the academic year (September).
So what does this mean?
What this data says is that casual interest in fencing is on a decline and that the “Olympic bump” is not as prevalent with this cycle as it has been in the past. It also looks like USA Fencing had its best opportunity in 2004 when US Women’s Sabre stormed on the scene.
Recommendations for fencing clubs are to get out and work their way into stories about overall health and fitness highlighting the fitness benefits of fencing as a sport as well as the broad range of ages that can compete in fencing. Fencing clubs now have an opportunity to highlight US success at the Veterans Fencing World Championships with local press as a way to promote their adult fencing programs. Additional PR opportunities occur throughout the year with the Junior Olympics and various NACs which can highlight various youth and adult fencing programs.
The decision to highlight youth a veteran fencing is also based on the numbers. While “Senior” membership in USA Fencing showed a drop in numbers from 4184 members in 2000 to 3418 in 2010, “Junior” (Under 20) membership leapt from 4979 to 12783! In the same time period Veteran (40+) membership went from just 528 to 2147.
(2000-2010 membership data provided in an email report. The 2011 and 2012 data was pulled from USA Fencing’s web site.)