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Issue Date: Vol. 45, No. 11, November 2005, Posted On: 11/17/2005


Growing Table Soccer Enthusiasm Spells Comeback For Classic Game


Marcus Webb

U.S.A. — “I think foosball is on the brink of a new peak of success. The grassroots is seeing a groundswell in popularity, and we are on our way back to the mainstream,” said Charles Mackintosh of TornadoFoosball.com (Summerfield, NC). He adds: “We are seeing a good mix of new players coming into the sport, including many young professionals.

“One of my best accounts is Microsoft,” he continued. “They have five foosball tables on their Charlotte campus; they also have table soccer in their headquarters in Redmond, WA. You would be amazed how many offices and factories install foosball in their breakrooms these days.”

Mackintosh is a 30-year man in the world of table soccer. He is a foosball operator, foosball distributor, and an ardent foosball league promoter and tournament supporter. Sales of soccer tables are booming, he says, both to consumers and businesses alike. Earnings from coin-operated soccer tables are strong and steady, he reported. His own company provides the proof: he operates 40 to 50 tables on his route; and he runs successful local leagues that involve other operators. He also supports statewide tournaments across the South and the Midwest, and he sells upward of 300 tables to private parties each year through his website (where sales volume is climbing each year, he said).

“ROI on a coin-operated foosball table is considerable,” he told VT. “It is a solid piece of equipment. The reality is foosball is one of the most stable earners in the amusements industry,” he insisted. “I have been doing this for almost 30 years; foosball is all I do. If you do the minimal maintenance and give foosball the same promotion that you would give to pool or darts or anything else, it will crank out the dollars until the location closes – or buys its own table.”

Mackintosh also speaks highly of the Valley-Dynamo Tornado brand. “It is built like a tank,” he declared.

The one thing Mackintosh is negative about is the viewpoint of the majority of his fellow operators. Most professional amusement operators, he said, simply have the wrong idea about table soccer. These operators refuse to do minimal maintenance, and then blame the equipment when earnings don’t meet expectations. “It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy,” he charged.

According to Mackintosh, successful statewide tournaments are run every year on soccer tables in states like Virginia, Ohio and North Carolina (his company provides the tables for many of them). Over Thanksgiving weekend, TornadoFoosball.com will host the sport’s 23rd Annual North Carolina State Championships, the latest installment in the longest-running foosball championship event in the country. This $20,000 program is expected to draw more than 300 players to the Holiday Inn Brownstone, in Raleigh, NC.

But, he said, few amusement operators bother to get involved in many of the state tournaments for foosball – and many have ignored the sport in general. “Their attitude is: ‘I will only buy one if I have to, in order to get the account,’” he recounted. “They say it will make money at first, but then earnings will drop. The reason their soccer tables don’t make steady money is that most operators don’t service it. Like anything else, foosball requires minor maintenance. You just put a little silicon on the rods every two weeks, and make sure the table is level and lighted. Operators who do this routinely for pool tables wouldn’t – for some reason – dream of doing it for soccer tables. I know if I maintain my equipment well, the table will earn consistent money from the day it’s installed to the day it leaves.”

Operators also receive harsh criticism from Mackintosh for their short-term, fast-dollar mentality. “Another reason why most operators aren’t interested in foosball is that it’s not a big hit revenue item up-front,” he remarked. “The product arrived as a 1960s fad with 40 manufacturers and did very, very well. But then coin-op video games came along in the late 1970s, and video captured the operator’s investment dollars, followed by pool, poker and more. All of these things made bigger dollars, at first. But many fads have come and gone, and foosball is still here.”

Mackintosh also blames the amusement operating community for the fact that legions of potential table soccer fans are utterly ignorant of the existence of coin-op foosball and foosball leagues. This lost income opportunity includes those consumers who are buying many thousands of non-coin tables for their rec rooms each year through Mackintosh’s company as well as from other specialty retailers and major chains such as Sears.

“I have to say that 75% to 90% of the people who contact us through our website has no clue about competitive foosball,” Mackintosh revealed. “We are trying to change that. With every table we sell to the home or an office, we send a DVD showing state tournament championship action and a promotional video produced by Inside Foos, a tournament producer. And quite a few of these table buyers become enthusiastic league members.”

Mackintosh entered the table soccer business in 1976. He and a friend bought and ran a couple of Tornado tables while they were in the Air Force, stationed in San Antonio, TX. After moving back to his home state of North Carolina in 1982, he started Tornado of North Carolina; since the early 1980s, he’s been involved with foosball on the national, state and local levels and has run local, guaranteed, sanctioned tournaments since 1982. Partnering with a vendor in the late 1980s, he operated two local gamerooms under the name Mackintosh Games.

Today, Mackintosh is no longer in the gameroom business, but he still runs his very active and successful foosball route under the name Tornado Foosball of NC. His tables are located in taverns, dance clubs, skating rinks, bowling alleys, restaurants, sports bar grilles, billiard rooms, high schools, and even a volunteer fire department now and then. The company runs two tournaments per week in the Greensboro area. In the fall and winter, Mackintosh and a few other operators (some of whom are his customers), sponsor half a dozen or more soccer tournaments each week across North Carolina. Wife Diana Mackintosh maintains the company’s website and does the bookkeeping.

At Midwest Coin Concepts (St. Cloud, MN), league coordinator Becky Kulkay reports that table soccer is a small but viable component of this route. League promotions were once a broad part of the route’s soccer business. While league activity has fallen off in recent times, Kulkay says the equipment is still profitable without it. And, MCC does plan to restart its foosball league program in its largest soccer location this fall.

“Our biggest location probably has about six foosball tables,” she said. “People are playing them and the tables are making money without leagues. We haven’t run a major league program on this type of equipment for a few years, but last year in this location we did run a qualifying event to take our best players to the state championships. Anywhere from 10 to 24 players competed every Thursday night, some of the same players and some new ones each time.”

To hear Kulkay tell it, league administration is not that difficult. “We put out flyers and teams sign up,” she said. “We put together a league and take care of the paperwork. Leagues make a big difference in the cashbox. The work is putting the teams together; after that everything runs smoothly.”

In the Northeast region, Justin MaGee of Action Jackson Amusements (Malden, MA) describes the operation’s involvement with table soccer as “very minimal” at the moment. Today the route, which specializes in taverns in the Boston metropolitan area, has 10 or fewer soccer tables. “Some of our soccer tables earn well, but they do even better with league promotion,” he said.

The company has plans to start up foosball league activity in November. An enthusiastic player has been recruited to serve as league promoter and team captain. “Leagues are tough to get up and running in this part of the country, even dart leagues,” MaGee said. But he quickly added that once a league is active, the difference in the cashbox is significant. “At one time we probably had six or eight foosball league locations in a small market, with league activity in different bars on different nights,” he says. “Earnings for foosball increased probably 30% due to league support.”

MaGee finds that table soccer generates unique enthusiasm among its fans. “Foosball players are different than anybody I’ve ever dealt with,” he said. “They’re very passionate and they all know each other and play and travel together; it’s a close-knit community.”

More details about non-pool table games is available at vifa.com, the official site of the Valley International Foosball League.

Topic: Music and Games Features

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