In March, Cheer Industry Insights founder Jeff Watkins conducted a study of more than 500 cheer professionals and parents to see where they stand on the issues raised by the GrowCheer.org proposal. We conducted a Q&A with him to find out more about the collective response:
Looking at your research on the whole, what were some of the things that stood out most in your findings?
First of all, it became very clear how much most of the industry is craving a change right now. They’re seeking changes in the way USASF is currently being run, particularly with its reliance on Varsity and the perceived imbalance in the decision-making process. Most of the survey respondents are excited that there are people out there starting to take action to try to affect that change. I don’t know that they see the GrowCheer.org proposal as the immediate answer, but they are hopeful it will get the ball rolling. It has provided good grounds for conversation.
What were the most commonly perceived strengths and weaknesses of USASF?
Clearly people recognize USASF for what it has done in getting all-star cheer organized and under the same set of rules, and they acknowledge Varsity’s help along the way. They appreciate the efforts toward increasing the safety of the sport, and people also commented on how successful the Worlds competition has become. The weaknesses that clearly rose to the top were the financial reliance on Varsity and its unbalanced influence (as far as the number of people sitting on the board and stronghold they have on decisions). Those concerns accounted for 30 percent of all things noted as weaknesses, mostly by gym owners and coaches. Another weakness often mentioned was that USASF has outgrown the Worlds competition and has lost flexibility in terms of venue. The other main thing believed to be hindering the growth is that staffing at USASF is insufficient for the growth they’d like to see it take.
How would you describe the overall response to the GrowCheer.org proposal among your respondents?
Roughly 30 percent of survey-takers had some hesitation or maybe a bit of distrust that the seven companies are doing this without any financial motivation. Although it wasn’t the majority [of respondents], it’s enough that the GrowCheer.org companies should pay attention. They’ll have to convince the industry that their motives are the best interest of sport and not for their bottom line. The keyword is transparency and gaining their trust. It also needs to be noted that there was a clear group of respondents (about 15 percent) that had nothing good to say about the proposal—I’d call them Varsity loyalists. They were filled with doubt about the intentions and saw it as a desperation move by these companies to stir up an angry mob.
As far as the number of respondents who said they would be more likely to support the seven companies backing the proposal, this was polarizing. 42 percent of these people said 8 or higher, but the Varsity loyalists really brought that number down. If I’m [affiliated with] Varsity and I see that number, I’m freaking out because these companies are all in direct competition with Varsity. If 42 percent of gym owners are identifying as highly likely to go ahead and buy from these other companies, I better listen to what these guys have to say. That’s a considerable amount of potential loss.
Your research found that different criteria were important to different groups. Can you expand on that a bit?
Responses across the board were quite similar, but there were differentiators. The gym owners are the ones who want this change, who are demanding this independence. They want to be assured that all their hard work and investment and risk won’t be swept out from under them because of a dysfunctional governing body. There is a sense of betrayal from when they originally signed on to the USASF idea.
The feeling among parents is that they’re forking over all of this money for their kids to cheer and they’re not 100 percent convinced it’s going to an organization that is supporting it being a sport or anything more than a rec activity. As for the athletes, they were quite verbal and vocal. I think they’re pretty upset and pretty frustrated with last year’s rules changes. They felt like no one really cared what they thought and they’re mad at USASF.
Download the full survey results here: Reaction to GrowCheer proposal2.