Two images that show why the AMA is going nowhere

2017 Ride to Work Day at the AMA

The photo above shows the motorcycle-only covered parking for visitors and staff at the AMA on the 2017 Ride to Work Day. The video below shows the RevZilla parking lot on a recent Ride to Work Day. One entity is stagnant, the other thriving. Could it be because one is staffed by people who understand enthusiast motorcyclists and one isn’t?

A few months ago, AMA President Rob Dingman wrote a scolding column titled “Fake news in motorcycling,” in which he asserted there was “a deliberate attempt to defame and undermine the AMA” using information from AMA tax filings, an approach he called “naive at best and intentionally misleading at worst.” He cited a specific article from last year, supposedly written by someone formerly affiliated with the AMA, that said the association would run out of money this month (July, 2017). Honestly, I don’t even know what piece he’s talking about. I haven’t seen it.

I will give Dingman this much: I am not an accountant. So let me stick to simple facts that even a journalism major can understand. The real measurement of the health of the organization is not the amount of cash in the bank (or unrealized net gains, deferred revenue and the other stuff his column talks about). What really shows the trend is the membership of the organization, and it doesn’t reflect the optimistic projections Dingman has made over the years. 

In September of 2007, when Dingman took over as president and announced his “new vision” for the AMA, membership was about to hit its all-time peak of around 300,000. That was also when he told the AMA staff at an all-hands meeting that “When we start doing things right, we’ll see real membership growth.” He followed that up in 2009, after the financial crisis, by telling me for an article in Motorcycle Consumer News that “Economic or demographic conditions notwithstanding, I expect the membership will continue to grow as a result of what we are doing today.”

I don’t need an accounting degree to see that those predictions have not come true. According to the 2015 AMA annual report, membership was 214,517, which was “about an [sic] 1,100 increase” over the previous year. I was told the 2016 annual report would be out in May, but the “Annual Report” link on the AMA web site still opens the 2015 report, so that’s the latest information I could find.

So, essentially, AMA membership has been stagnant the last five years following a sharp drop from 2007 to 2012. After nearly 10 years of having full authority to “start doing things right” and create “real membership growth,” Dingman’s management team has produced a decline and stagnation.

Those are the simple facts. Now here’s my analysis. It’s also a simple one, because although I think there are many reasons for the AMA’s decline (and I’ve written about them before), the fundamental problem is not a complicated one.

Take another look at the photo and video above. The photo shows the AMA covered motorcycle parking area, provided for both staff and visitors, on this year’s Ride to Work Day. It was mostly sunny and about 80 degrees the afternoon I took the photo. It appeared that two AMA staffers rode to work that day.

The video shows the parking lot at RevZilla on Ride to Work Day. RevZilla has a little more than twice as many employees at its headquarters as the AMA has at its, but the difference in the number of people who rode to work is more like 35:1.

One of these two entities has seen its membership drop by nearly a third since 2008. The other was founded in 2008 by three guys with no employees and now has about 200 employees.

Could it be because one of these two entities understands its customers and one doesn’t? Could it be that people who actually live and breathe motorcycles themselves are going to be more successful at connecting with people who share that passion? The only reason you pay $49 to join the AMA is either because you want to race in an event or, more often, you want to be represented by an organization that understands you and has your interests at heart. If the people who work there don’t even ride a motorcycle on a beautiful, sunny, Ride to Work Day, maybe that’s why they’re having trouble connecting with their “customers,” which in this case are the hardcore motorcyclists who are potential members.

Could that be because when Dingman came in he fired a bunch of people who cared about motorcycling and replaced them with top lieutenants (some of whom did not even ride) chosen mainly for their personal loyalty to him?

Ten years later, we’re still waiting for Dingman to “start doing things right” — or, for the AMA Board of Directors to take notice and do something about it.

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5 Responses to “Two images that show why the AMA is going nowhere”

  1. Bill Andrews says:

    The Ding-man (yeah I went there) was responding to a private email that Bill Wood sent out explaining how the organization may fold due to dwindling funds. He illustrated this trend by watching the public tax returns over the last decade.
    It apparently was wildly popular and was resent so many times it finally got back to the AMA killer.
    On another note, I recently got an email, supposedly directly from the great AMA liberator, asking for my membership–had his email attached. So I responded kindly… Well, you can imagine.

  2. Xrider says:

    the sign says visitor parking, are the employees parking motorcycles somewhere else not in the picture?

    • Lance Oliver Lance Oliver says:

      That covered parking area is reserved for motorcycles and is used by both staff and visitors, mostly visitors to the Motorcycle Hall of Fame Museum located next to it. There were no other motorcycles in the parking lots that day beyond the two in the covered parking. Almost never do you see a motorcycle outside the covered parking, unless there’s a huge crowd there for an event and that area is full. Also, the AMA’s own Ride to Work Day tweet showed just the one bike, the same one seen in my photo. If there were several staffers’ bikes lined up, I’m sure they would have shown them in their own tweet.

  3. Max W. says:

    I had a feeling the AMA was out of touch with riders today and especially young ones who don’t even know the AMA exists but I never thought it was because people at the AMA don’t even ride. This is very strange to me. Everyone who is a AMA member rides so I always assumed everyone who works there rides too. I wish I had covered motorcycle reserved parking at my job.

  4. Tom Byrne says:

    I am an AMA member because with my $49 I get road service, a variety of discounts and a sometimes entertaining magazine. The AMA made a big deal over a minor trade spat with the European Union and expressed no concern with bigger trade issues which could affect motorcycling in the United States. However, I am not terribly disappointed with it. This is because I did not expect much in the first place.

    The AMA is like other enthusiast organizations. They tend to be insular and cliquish. Leadership surrounds themselves with yes people who love the emperor’s clothes and try to hang on to the past while the world changes around them. When I think of typical enthusiast organization leadership, Prince Prospero or a certain gent who locked himself in a bunker come to mind.