Sunday, September 29, 2013

Clubs - what is all the fuss about?

Everybody in India wants to be a member of a Club. This is true in Mumbai, Bangalore, Delhi and Chennai. I presume it is as correct in other smaller cities. Clubs are great places. By Club I mean an association that is formed to promote an activity. It could be a general sports club or one for sailing or even one for horse racing. I do not mean a heavy stick, as in, he was bludgeoned to death by his disgruntled wife who hit him repeatedly on the head with a club. I do not mean clubbing, as in, going to a night club to dance.

Almost across the board, and I know that I am generalising here, but I also believe this generalisation is accurate, Clubs have large grounds given to them by the Governments/Local Authorities at a nominal rent. Clubs are cheap places to eat and drink for primarily 2 reasons. First that they have virtually no land cost or rental to speak of, thus the large overheads that most restaurants have just does not exist. Secondly, Clubs are normally not-for-profit organisations. The necessary consequence is that Clubs are hugely popular and membership is coveted. Not only is membership coveted but becoming a member of a Club committee or becoming an office bearer of a Club is even more highly coveted.

The older Clubs, those that were formed by the British or formed as an answer to the then racist Clubs are regarded as the best clubs in Mumbai. The Willingdon which was formed to counter the racist admission policy of other clubs is still regarded today, 66 years after Independence, as a good Club. The Breach Candy Club which was till recently racist, is also a good club. The CCI or Cricket Club, the Bombay Gymkhana that used to permit only British members are all regarded as good.

Today we have a lot of new Clubs that have come up, and some are really popular. The Otters Club at Bandra, the NSCI, and the MCA at Bandra East are all good. There are many other Clubs that have a large and dedicated membership. The Goregaon Sports Club, Radio Club, the US Club, Bandra Gym and Khar Gym are some of them.

The matter which really amuses me is the bitterly and passionately fought elections for committee positions at clubs. This happens in most clubs in the last week of September. There is furious campaigning. I remember in the old days, often if you went to the bar, a candidate would approach you and buy you a drink. Alas, all that has now changed. Today, I believe, though I have not personally experienced it, parties are held outside the club premises where much wining and dining is done to get votes. I know when the Khar Gym elections are on because there are hoardings, yes, hoarding put up on billboards in the Bandra Khar area asking for your vote. A few years ago when driving back from Marve, I passed the Goregaon Sports Club on an election day. It was complete chaos. Banners, posters, and a police `bandobast’ to boot. The Yacht Club just concluded its elections. It was the `Parsi Gang’ versus the non Parsi lot. By the way, the Parsi Gang was trounced.

Being a member at a few of these clubs, I decided to have a look at the accounts of the Clubs. I wanted to figure out why there is so much at stake during elections. Frankly, if you ask me, a few hundred rupees as a tip to a few waiters will get you brilliant service at a Club. No need to go thru a trauma of an election and horror of horrors, the prospect of a defeat.

I have tabulated my findings. Just to put things in perspective, Clubs have two basic revenue streams. One is obviously the main business of the Club, providing sporting facilities, income from food and drink, income from rooms etc; this is what I have called `Activity’ revenue. The second is interest that the Club gets on the money it has invested. This money is from admission fees which the Club does not spend but keeps invested and survives on the income, i.e. interest.

My observations are surprising. The Hindu Gymkhana has the most members and the least revenue. Obviously no one goes there but merely sits on a membership. Therefore, one can presume it has an old [aged] membership or the Club is really the pits. Secondly, almost without exception, all the Clubs are desperately losing money on the main activity. If they did not have the interest income they would have had to shut down a long time ago. Thirdly and most importantly, look at the revenues. The maximum is the Willingdon with 41 crores. In today’s day and age is this a significant number? Should captains of industry be fighting hot bitter fights to become the President/Chairman of an entity that has such piffling [relatively] numbers? I really wonder. Look at the Yacht Club, shockingly low revenue of 7 crores. Many people have incomes of more than that. I really am amazed at how we all love to be in control and exercise power over minute kingdoms.

Everybody wants to be a Pasha if not a Raja.   

Willingdon Sports Club
Bombay Gymkhana
Malabar Hill Club
Royal Bombay Yacht Club
Hindu Gymkhana
No of Members
Activity revenue in Crs
Interest revenue in Crs
Total revenue in Crs
Expenses in Crs
Loss on activity revenue in Crs

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