4NCL 2023-24: Announcement from HQ

Skip presents a lengthy email from 4NCL HQ that outlines the future direction for next season. It’s an “existential” problem.

Although venue contracts for 2023-2024 are still being finalised, we thought it was important to let you have as early an update as possible on how things are shaping up for the forthcoming 2023-2024 season – in particular so that you know before the final weekend of this season what we expect next season’s format to be.

To start with, a little context. As we have started to emerge from the worst of the pandemic, so the hotel industry has it seems decided pretty much ‘en masse’ that it’s a good idea not only to reflect current inflationary trends in their pricing but also to try to recoup losses incurred during Covid as fast as they can. As a result bedroom rates in general have rocketed and playing space at discounted rates is no longer on the table as an option in return for high bedroom occupation. Leisure and special interest groups generally are now it seems seen by the hotel industry as undesirable business compared with the higher-margin business they are presumably hoping to attract instead (although quite how hotels expect to fill their boots with, for example, wedding and conference business on a longer term basis once wedding backlogs are cleared and businesses decide to stay with Team/Zooms etc rather than having face-to-face meetings rather escapes us).

Anyway… we have, along with other chess organisations specifically and leisure/special interest groups generally, struggled to locate venues at acceptable venue hire and bedroom rates, and although it’s to Guaranteed Event’s credit that we have any venues at all, the difficulties are illustrated by the fact that only two venues have been willing to provide anything like competitive terms for more than a single weekend – and: (a) the terms on offer are still much less favourable than previously; (b) we have only been offered a limited number of weekends (on the basis that the hotels would rather hold out for higher margin business than take more of ours – see above).

This has had the following consequences:

  1. Charges for venue hire have increased significantly vs 2022-2023 (with the expectation on the part of hotels that significant numbers of bedrooms will still be booked regardless). Guaranteed Events will continue to absorb these as they have done in past seasons, but the hire charge increases have inevitably further eroded their margins (which were already fairly thin compared with, for example, their bridge holidays business).
  2. The net bedroom rates quoted to Guaranteed Events (the rates used as the basis for the bedroom block allocations that Guaranteed Events commit to and pay the hotels for) have increased by close to 30%  (with many other venues quoting net rate increases in excess of 50%). Had these increases been passed on in full to our chess players we would have been looking at gross bedroom rates of around £90. Guaranteed Events are willing to absorb a large part of the increase so as to keep the headline rate at £79, but again that means that their own margins have been reduced.
  3. As a result of 1 and 2 above Guaranteed Events are no longer in a position to give us commission on bedroom bookings.
  4. One of the hotels that has offered us terms has a maximum playing space of 510 sq m. As a result we are going to be limited as regards the number of teams we can cater for next season – in practice 24 teams in Divisions 1 and 2 and 40 teams in what we expect will be a single Division 3, so a total of 64 teams.
  5. The financial effect of 3 and 4 above amounts to around £16,000 lost revenue to the 4NCL (£11,000 lost bedroom commission and £5,000 lost entry fees). The only way to cover these losses is by increasing entry fees.
  6. In calculating the expected level of entry fees (expected to be in the region of £600-625 for Divs 1 and 2 and £450-475 for Div 3) we’ve applied the principle that all divisions should contribute equally to the league’s running costs. As usual, our costings are based on achieving break-even and not making any surplus. The cost per game works out at around £7 or so – so not dissimilar to the cost per game of a weekend congress, although we accept that that’s small consolation for entry fee increases of this scale.
  7. Dates and venues for next season are, subject contract, expected to be as follows:
Division 1 & 2VenueDivision 3Venue
3-5 NovemberMilton Keynes17-19 NovemberTelford
12-14 JanuaryWarwick5-7 JanuaryTelford
9-11 FebruaryTelford9-11 FebruaryWarwick
15-17 MarchTelford8-10 MarchWarwick
3-6 MayTelford3-6 MayWarwick

The allocation of divisions to venues is still provisional at this stage and may be reviewed.

  • Divisions 1 and 2 will continue as 12 team all-play-alls. Division 3 will be played as a Swiss, combining the present Divs 3 East and West and, we expect, 16 teams from the present Division 4 to make a total of 40 teams. Promotion and relegation arrangements as at the end of the present season will remain unchanged.
  • We envisage that invitations to play next season will be a staged process: (a) firstly, Div 1, Div 2, Div 3 East and Div 3 West teams (as adjusted for promotion/relegation arrangements as at the end of the season) will be given two or three weeks to enter; (b) the top 16 teams from Division 4 (again, adjusted for promotion/relegation as above), or as many teams are required above 16 to take account of any teams not renewing their entries from (a) above, will then be given a further two or three weeks to enter; (c) if any places remain unfilled they will be offered to teams on a first come first served basis.

We can only apologise for next season’s limit on team numbers and increased costs. We’ve taken the view that a smaller 4NCL costing more to enter is still a better thing than no 4NCL at all, and we hope that captains and players will take that view as well and continue to support the 4NCL – support that has been such an impressive feature of the league over the years. We hope that if we can survive these difficult times in reasonably good shape we will be in a decent position to expand again in the future (and reduce entry fees) as the economic position in the UK improves and the hotel industry takes a more realistic view of things.

Kind regards