Nov 16, 2019

Bridge — the card game — is starting to advertise

Illustration of a hand holding playing cards.

Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Bridge, the time-honored pastime of senior citizens (among others), has just begun a marketing campaign to attract new players.

Why it matters: While empty-nesters and retirees are bridge's bread-and-butter, the game's governing body wants to recruit people of all ages — newbies as well as former players.

"Try bridge," a newly launched website exhorts, calling the cerebral four-player table game "fast-paced and stimulating but most importantly, fun!"

What's happening: While the number of bridge players has remained fairly stable — contrary to reports of the game's decline — the American Contract Bridge League (ACBL) commissioned a survey this year to figure out how to expand its reach.

  • The results led to a digital ad campaign that emphasizes the joyousness of the bridge-playing community.
  • The celebrity angle: The campaign notes that famous bridge players include Warren Buffett, Bill Gates, Isaac Mizrahi and "Jeopardy!" champion James Holzhauer, who is rumored to be attending the North American Bridge Championships in San Francisco that start Nov. 28.

By the numbers: The ACBL has 163,000 members, who compete in duplicate bridge tournaments nationwide, but that number doesn't include the countless people who play bridge just for fun.

  • The majority of tournament bridge players are in their early 60s, married, with $200K+ in income, a college degree or higher and no kids at home, an ACBL survey found.
  • But more than 50 colleges have ACBL-sponsored bridge teams.
  • At any given time, about 50,000 people are playing bridge on their phones, tablets or laptops using apps and websites like Bridge Base, which hosts 1 million tables a year (= 4 million players).

Jeff Bayone, managing partner of the three big clubs in Manhattan (Honors, Cavendish and Aces), tells Axios his clubs offer lessons, seminars, social bridge, tournament bridge — and plenty of wine and gourmet meals before and after play.

  • "The emphasis is on the word 'club,' not bridge," Bayone says.
  • To capitalize on the growing popularity of Eurogames (like Catan) among young people, Honors has just started up a Saturday afternoon board game program, run by local college students.

"Once we get these kids in to a bridge club and they learn that bridge is the ultimate game, we are hoping they will start to think about investing the time and energy and work into learning it," Bayone says.

The China angle: Bridge is popular among young people in China, and Chinese schools "use the game to teach math and probability," according to a Northeastern University article about a Chinese grad student who's trying to popularize the game here.

  • Bayone says that "bridge has become a national sport" in China, and at his clubs, "30-40% of young players [are] Asian."

The bottom line: Most people start playing bridge in their 50s and 60s, drawn either by the analytical and competitive nature of the game, or — more often — the social engagement.

  • "The best segment is empty-nesters," says Dan Storch, marketing director for the American Contract Bridge League. "They start looking for opportunities to do things together — cooking classes, bolero dancing. Well, bridge is an option."

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