USPSA’s finances part 4: Program Service expenses

Program service expenses are the most important ways that USPSA spends their money. These are things like putting on USPSA Nationals, running RO seminars, producing Front Sight, and my favorite catch-all category, “member services.” Again staying with the 2013 tax return for the time being, you can find these listed on page 2 of the Form 990, under “Statement of Program Service Accomplishments.” If you skip down to box 4a-c, you’ll get a picture of how the money is allocated and how much revenue is directly generated from that event/line item. Here’s how it looks on 2013’s return:

  • National Championship Matches – Expenses $576,114 – Revenue $357,440
  • National Range Officer Institute – Expenses $141,981 – Revenue $394,473
  • Membership Services – Expenses $257,108 – Revenue $770,844

You’ll notice that the Membership Services revenue exactly matches the line item on page 9, 2a for revenue generated from Membership Dues. If you add up the numbers from Nationals and NROI you get a number that exactly matches the one listed under 2b for Entry Fees. So it’s safe to assume that $394k is how much USPSA made from classifier fees in 2013.

This examination gets interesting when you move back to 2012’s return. The numbers are largely the same – Nationals loses money, the balance is made up by NROI/classifier fees, Membership Services makes money. However, on the 2012 return the production cost for Front Sight is listed as $353,109 and the revenue is listed as $37,911. But the same return lists $256,947 dollars in “Advertising” revenue. Now, I don’t know a lot, but one thing I do know a lot about is producing a print magazine. My question here is what does USPSA classify as “advertising” revenue? Because flipping through Front Sight, it is FULL of ads. Lots and lots of ads. They only do six issues a year, but I’m still having a hard time believing that six issues with that kind of ad count only results in $37k in revenue.

2011’s return doesn’t help answer the question either. It doesn’t even bother to list revenue generated by Front Sight, only marking that it cost $325,308 to produce six issues of the magazine. 2010’s return lists Front Sight as costing $300,106 to produce, and again no revenue is listed. So we have to do a little more work. I pulled a random sample of Front Sight from 2013. There are at least 17 full page ad blocks (either full page ads for a single advertiser, or two half page ads stacked on top of each other) and three full page cover ads. Assuming a 1:1 circulation ratio for Front Sight and USPSA membership, we can place their distribution around ~20,000. It’s a bi-monthly magazine, so six issues a year. We can pull their rates directly from the USPSA Front Sight Rate Card posted online and do some quick and dirty math: 17 full page ads at $1265 a pop, two inside covers at $1460, and one back cover at $1500. This does actually low ball it a little bit, because some of those “full page” ads we’re counting are actually two half-pages stacked, which are $700 each, but for quick and dirty analysis it’s fine. Add all of these numbers up and you get $26,000 in revenue just from full page ads. That doesn’t include the 1/3, 1/4, and various other tiny ads they litter all over the magazine. What I can gather from this is that the statement that Front Sight only generating $37,000 in revenue is completely wrong.

We’re left with two possible conclusions: 1) Front Sight has been horribly mismanaged and is a huge money sink, 2) Front Sight loses a little bit of money but not in a bad way. We can fairly conclusively state that the advertising revenue reported on the form includes other streams than just Front Sight.

I didn’t intend for this post to turn into an examination of Front Sight, but it has. On Monday, we’ll look at Nationals, and attempt to answer the questions: can USPSA run a profitable Nationals, and more importantly, should they?


  1. … Or maybe Caleb just doesn’t know all the advertising deals that apply to Front Sight?

    So maybe sponsors get discounts off the rate cards (or free ads, probably) depending on how much they support various events…. that would be a simple explanation for the discrepancy, and an entirely feasible one.

    1. I sell ads for a living. If I gave that level of discount off y rate card I’d be out of business.

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