Foosball Magazine Interview (July 2009) with USTSF President Larry Davis (Full Version)
July 6, 2009
In detailed response to your interview questions:
FM) First let me congratulate on you new baby. I know this has kept you busy but I have to ask has the USTSF progressed in the U.S. the way you would have liked it under your tutelage?
LD) Thanks, my regular day-job work schedule in the military was already overwhelming and getting worse, but as great as having a new baby has been, it hasn’t exactly freed up any more time!! But on your very first question, yes, the USTSF has indeed made some progress. What I’ve found, however, is that with all our volunteer staff being workaholics in their own lives, the time we have and the amount we can contribute at any one time is limited. As dedicated, skilled and experienced as we are (with each of us having nearly a full lifetime of foosball promotions experience) the progress we’ve made has been slow, incremental and while important, it has certainly not kept pace with people’s expectations.
FM) What major goals were set and have you reached them this year?
LD) This year’s goals included:
a) Our first full tax filing (which brings us up to date for the first time in six years). Until recently none of the USTSF Board of Directors had much tax accounting experience and because our total operating budget has almost always been less than $10,000 annually we’ve been able to extend the full filing until now.
b) The establishment of the structure for a national state championships program (which Kathy Brainard initiated, drafted and disseminated to the new volunteer USTSF Regional and State Directors that we’ve already established in 32 states). And a follow-on dissemination of instructional information from myself to the state directors on how to run better state-level tournaments in their areas, to include working with local businesses, charities, sports authorities, convention & visitors bureaus and media, and coordinating these to gain sponsors for their events and greater visibility for the sport.
c) Continuing to conduct open USTSF General/National Assembly meetings – the first for this year being held at the Tornado HOF in Las Vegas and the next being at the Tornado World Championship Series in Dallas this coming September – at which all players, promoters and operators were/are invited to participate. In connection with both we invited ITSF’s President Farid Lounas to attend and to hold open-to-all question and answer sessions.
d) Conducting open elections for those USTSF Board of Directors positions that will become available again this year. This election will take place at Tornado Worlds in Dallas in September, and all interested should contact Pat Ryan to submit an application. By the way, in 2010 another two Board positions will open up to new candidates, as will my own position.
e) Continued work on maintaining positive, ongoing relations with all USA manufacturers and/or manufacturer reps, including Tornado, Warrior, Bonzini USA, Shelti, Medalist and others. As can be seen, such relations do not imply total engagement or even partial engagement in their respective marketing projects, it could be as simple as just an open dialogue. Of note, USTSF is free to work with any manufacturer on any promotion – we are not somehow locked into supporting only ITSF tables at the expense of furthering the sport as a whole. But I think one of your next questions will go into this topic deeper.
f) USTSF has been assembling its five-year update package to the U.S. Olympic Credentials Committee. The USOC can’t actually act on our initial, quite extensive package (submitted in 2003 and acknowledged by the USOC in early 2004) until in fact, the sport becomes “recognized” as a sport by the International Olympic Committee – ITSF’s main task and reason for being. As result, the five-year update package (a huge project in itself) remains only a reminder to the USOC of our structural progress and continued work as a National Governing Body for the sport in the USA.
g) Continued duties as a National Governing Body, such as sanctioning of tournaments, qualification of National Champions and selection of a U.S. National Team for international competitions, media & player communications and sport development (including the previously mentioned National State Championships program, our Tables for Kids and Tables for Troops programs, establishment of our Sponsorship Best Practices, Ask the U.S. National Team and State Directors’ web forums at Foosball.com, and more).
h) Where we’ve come up short (as we always do) is in fundraising. Many of the potential projects and ideas we have (or that people have suggested to us) require either at least one full-time staffer and an office space, or in some various other ways require funding support to even get them off the ground. As to date we’ve never charged any players any dues, membership, licensing or administrative fees, we’ve relied 100% on donations. It’s only in this last year that we’ve also begun to receive disbursements from the ITSF’s national federation development fund (which ITSF receives from the manufacturers’ sales of ITSF tables in those federations’ respective countries). At this point however, that amount is still very modest (a total of 5K over the last 12 months) and not sufficient to alone help us accomplish anything of significant scope in terms of either our goals or impact to the players. Proposed means of additional (non-ITSF) funding support that will continue to have no out-of-pocket cost to the players, and means for hiring full and part time employees will be on the agenda for the upcoming National Assembly meeting.
i) A national ratings system – this is ALWAYS a contentious issue among players, promoters, and manufacturers alike. Moreover, any system used is data entry intensive, again requiring that USTSF at some point pay someone to validate and verify the accuracy of tournament results submitted and to administer the system as a whole. While we have motivated volunteers on a ratings committee, each of whom have their own ideas and perspectives as to how to work a system that can satisfy the greater majority, another agenda item for the National Assembly meeting will be who that will be (such as Shaun Cooper, Mark Winker, Bruce Nardoci or others) and how to compensate them. In the meantime, as President I have set as the policy going forward that the USTSF will have a stand-alone, unbiased, unaltered system. And based on a vote at the last USTSF Board of Directors meeting in Vegas last March, I have endorsed the further concept that if any manufacturer or promoter does NOT want to use the USTSF’s system and published points they can either 1) take the USTSF’s points and “adjust” them as they see fit (example: USTSA) provided that they first document their system for those adjustments and have their system certified by USTSF, or 2) use their own ratings system and have that certified by USTSF as a whole (example: Bonzini USA). In any of these cases, if a tournament is sanctioned by USTSF, all charts for rated events are required to be submitted to USTSF within 10 days and updated ratings to be posted online within 30 days. In all cases a certified system will be in place, providing compliance with USOC requirements of USTSF as a governing body.
j) There’s more, but I’m already turning this interview into an epic so let’s move on to the next question…
FM) When will the next USTSF meeting be and will it be open to the players for discussion?
LD) As mentioned earlier, USTSF’s major meetings occur semi-annually at Tornado HOF and Tornado Worlds, primarily because the largest number of the USTSF Board, Regional and State Directors are in attendance at those events. As smaller numbers of the same folks attend some of the other tournaments (such as TKO, KY State or others) we may meet for less formal discussions. Since myself, Jim Waterman and Pat Ryan are all living in the same region at the moment, we also meet on a monthly basis at a tournament held in Maryland. Bruce Nardoci sometimes joins us at Virginia state level tournaments. In every instance since USTSF began almost seven years ago, all our meeting sessions at any level and any venue are open to the public. For the major meetings at HOF and Tornado Worlds, we announce the meetings and post a proposed agenda on the USTSF website. And at all tour events, we announce the open invitation to such meetings repeatedly (and from time to time we actually do get people to attend and even contribute to the discussions).
FM) How does the USTSF support the ITSF?
LD) The USTSF primarily provides the following support to ITSF via:
a) annual national federation membership dues (approximately $1,400 per year as an ITSF “Regular” [full] member at the current exchange rate),
b) coordination and processing ITSF tournament sanctioning requests from manufacturers and promoters in the USA,
c) promoting those events on the USTSF website and via targeted national and international press release distributions,
d) ensuring qualification opportunities for USA players to the ITSF World Championships and selection of a U.S. National Team to participate in the ITSF World Cup tournaments, and
e) acting as ITSF’s official representative at ITSF sanctioned tournaments and in media events/interviews at those tournaments in the case where ITSF has no other officials present.
FM) What major goals not associated with the ITSF are on the horizon?
LD) While I discussed much of this in answering your second question, I would add that USTSF is currently in a state of flux, anticipating both a partially new Board of Directors (and possible new ideas and/or directions) as a result of upcoming Board elections, and awaiting meetings with the new leadership at Valley-Dynamo on the way ahead there. There are a couple good marketing and promotional concepts being floated (for both tour and grass roots development programs) but a lot depends on how these factors develop. Whatever happens, I believe our main objective – simply in order to accomplish our current agenda – is to find a way going forward to be less purely reliant on donations as we have been or on ITSF’s recent generosity. But we need to find marketing and fundraising alternatives that do so in a way that doesn’t cost the players anything out of pocket (or at least provides them with something more of value in return than a biannual newsletter).
FM) Who are the major mover and shakers in the USTSF and what are their agendas?
LD) “Movers and shakers…” I like that phrase, but of our current primary all-volunteer Board of Directors (myself, Jim Waterman, Pat Ryan, Kathy Brainard, Bruce Nardoci and Jim Stevens) it would be hard to call anybody a mover and shaker. I think that out of those, I would be the most likely to fit that description not on hard-charging, outgoing personality but on creation and implementation of ideas – if only I had the time and resources to follow up. Pat has been key to development of By-laws, Sport Code and other USOC compliance, Bruce to the website, Kathy (and also Mark Winker) to the State Directors program, Ed Geer to accounting and corporate tax filings and more recently to ratings and tournament software. (Note: by and large, our agendas are one with our goals, as described earlier.) Most importantly, we have a lot of great new potential in our Regional and State Directors – talent, creativity, motivation and new blood, as they say. And we’ve had a lot of great new ideas and volunteer support with different projects we’ve had from a wide variety of players, such as Melissa Kegg, Terry & Tiffany Moore, Bob Hamilton, Mark Winker, Alan Cribbs, Ed Geer, Terri Serate, Mury Johnson and several others. For all that have pitched in, we definitely owe our gratitude. Now, if we can get some of those and/or the State Directors to go for the Board positions opening up, I would expect some better moving and shaking to occur on a more frequent, if not more visible basis.
FM) Why is it perceived that the USTSF and ITSF is just a promoting wing of Valley?
LD) I’m personally not sure exactly why that is. I would start first with the obvious confusion for some that USTSF is not USTSA, which is in fact a marketing arm of Valley-Dynamo along with VIFA. USTSF exists independently from manufacturers, promoters and even ITSF. None of them pay us for what we do. In some years, we’ve been fortunate enough that we’ve received sponsorships for U.S. National Team uniforms from Valley, Warrior, Bonzini USA and others. Or folks like USTSA and IFP will allow us to hold fundraising raffles at their tour events and even donated prizes to the raffles such as tables or package deals. And all of USTSA, IFP and Bonzini USA have run fundraising events in which all or a percentage of entry fees go to USTSF to support U.S. Junior & Women’s National Champions in competition at the ITSF World Championships. USTSF has sanctioned and promoted dozens of Valley, IFP and Bonzini tournaments and is even free to sanction others if requested, such as say, on Medalist. This naturally means that USTSF does not genuinely work for either USTSA/Valley-Dynamo or ITSF; and as such are not in their “pocket” in any way. However, it does turn out that until this year, the only ones asking USTSF for sanctioning were either USTSA/Valley-Dynamo or promoters across the country running their events on Tornado tables, or Bonzini USA. As a direct result, the only tournaments we were promoting were, yes, on Tornado or Bonzini which are, yes, among five ITSF “Official” tables/partner manufacturers. But over the last year or two we’ve had numerous communications from Mary Moore, Lee Peppard, Johnny Lott and the Sheltons; we’ve talked with Brendan, as well as folks from Harvard and countless Chinese manufacturers seeking to enter the U.S. market. We remain open to all ideas and possibilities, since the key for us is promotion of the sport itself, not any one specific table. The latest example is the recent agreement with IFP to provide qualification slots at KY State for Junior Doubles and Junior Singles to be able to compete at ITSF Worlds – KY State is not an ITSF sanctioned event and of course, Warrior is not currently an ITSF table but USTSF is able to coordinate this great chance for more USA Juniors to kick some international butt.
And on ITSF being a promoting wing for Valley, that inherently just doesn’t make sense. ITSF has an agenda to support and grow organized, competitive table soccer in as many countries worldwide as they can, as is required by the IOC. To them it doesn’t matter what tables that is done with, as long as the manufacturers meet a certain set of criteria (such as years in business, number of countries distributed to, and most importantly evaluation/endorsement by at least two ITSF national federations other than the manufacturer’s home country). Like all manufacturers of ITSF Official and/or Recognized tables, Valley opts in to ITSF’s program, pays annual manufacturer partnership dues and sanctioning fees for its ITSF events just like all the other partner manufacturers, and is free to opt out just as Jupiter did a couple years back.
But if there’s any reason that one could call ITSF a marketing wing of Valley, this would be it: Tornado (like Tournament Soccer before it) has saturated the USA market (coin-op, most specifically). This creates quite the cash flow problem, made even worse in today’s economy. See, in the days of Tournament Soccer, T.S. was giving out so much money everyone would buy their tables, they would flood the market, sales revenues would consequently drop off and the tour was no longer sustainable so they just built an entirely new table every two years – forcing everyone (players, operators and distributors alike) to have to buy a new table again. When the players, operators and distributors complained about this, T.S. promised not to change their table anymore and when the cash inflows for the T.S. Browntop began to run dry they attempted to diversify their product line (Tournament Mark Darts, Tournament 8-Ball, Tournament Hockey) only it was too late. With Tornado, Valley has built such a solid, long-lasting table (for which virtually all changes are retrofit-able to tables built as far back as 29 years ago) they’ve not only saturated the USA market but foolishly continue to promote an outdated pro tour concept/marketing model a`la Tournament Soccer – give out more money than taken in at tournaments under the theory that resulting sales in the region of the tournament would more than make up for the losses. In an unsaturated market this works well but is limited in durability, but in an already saturated market this is simply unsustainable and funny enough, Warrior is using the same model. In any case, the one market that is currently wide open and largely unsaturated by Tornado or any other manufacturer is the global market – and this is the very market that ITSF is systematically opening up, organizing, and stimulating demand in at a rapid pace. If Valley didn’t take advantage of that opportunity they’d be idiots. Yet, I hate to say it, despite their seeming to take advantage of ITSF’s work, they’ve really dropped the ball – they simply don’t have the sales force and international marketing resources to follow up on all the new countries/markets (unlike say, Garlando, who has capitalized on new ITSF member countries and federations to an exceptional degree and is the only ITSF partner manufacturer that can document significant growth in sales over the last six years).
FM) As a follow up has anyone contacted Brendan or Mary about involving them in ITSF/USTSF promotions?
LD) I covered some of this question previously in terms of USTSF’s open relationship with IFP/Warrior, but to add to that: USTSF has offered IFP/Warrior the opportunity to have their tables reviewed/endorsed to ITSF by USTSF’s Equipment Standards Committee. At first Mary and Brendan were motivated to do that, and to have their tables reviewed by two other federations as required (Canada and the UK, I think), but then came an interfering factor – Brunswick’s threat to take legal action regarding patent infringement of the playing figure (and possibly the bearings, but I’m not 100% sure on the latter). They then opted to wait until a new playing figure was developed which would further reduce ITSF’s objections as for the most part, ITSF partner manufacturers can’t be suing each other. Of note, since there are two levels of ITSF partner manufacturer tables, “Official” and “Recognized,” new partners must begin as “Recognized” and with some time (not sure how long that is) and proven tournament track record as a “Recognized” partner may subsequently apply for full “Official” partnership. As I understand it, USTSF table review/endorsement of Warrior and submission to ITSF for partner status by Warrior remains on hold as they evaluate sales and/or other benefits to be gained by such arrangement. I know Brendan’s a savvy businessman, so I’m sure if/when the time is right he’ll re-engage that issue.
FM) Why are the ITSF so rich and the USTSF so poor?
LD) In reviewing ITSF’s annual budget and financial statements (both on their websites and handed out to all federation reps at every ITSF Worlds/World Cup every year for vote and approval by all 52 ITSF member federations), I really don’t see ITSF as “rich.” Their accounting data shows them as pretty much break-even, with a budget that’s been fairly consistent over the last three years in size. But other than having a great full-time staff of five that USTSF would love to have (or steal away from them), ITSF does have several things that provide them with an operating budget that allows them to accomplish much more visible activities than does the truly “poor” USTSF. One is an international sport governing body subsidy provided by the French government that is specifically deemed for staff payroll and office expenses.* At around 61,000 Euros (currently about $90K) it doesn’t cover nearly enough to pay all five ITSF employees (including ITSF President Farid Lounas), but it certainly helps. Next is that all ITSF partner manufacturers pay annual partner dues (which varies depending on if they’re Official or Recognized partners); seven manufacturers combined for about 42,000 Euros total. Next is that all 52 ITSF member federations pay annual federation membership dues (which varies based on if they’re full “Regular” or “Provisional” member federations, and also can vary with total number of active tour tournament players in the given country); about 22,000 Euros. Next is cash inflow from the ITSF “License” or “Sticker” fee on all ITSF partner manufacturers’ competition and training model tables, sponsors for ITSF WCh/WCup, and ITSF tournament sanctioning fees, together coming to about 117,000 Euros. And there’s a small amount of cash in from ITSF merchandise sales and miscellaneous donations. Their total cash-in is about 263,000 Euros, or about US $370,300.00. The ITSF payroll totals 115,000 Euros; the ITSF WCh travel awards to players averages 25,000 Euros per year; the license/sticker fees are redistributed 40% to ITSF WCh/WCup competition/admin expenses, 40% to the national federations where any ITSF tables are sold, and 20% to the ITSF Development Fund to help develop organization in newer/lesser developed member countries; total 100,000 Euros. Admin/Advert/Travel/Web/Video Production/Int’l Sport Commission Memberships/Misc expenses total 75,000 Euros (some of which is paid by the 40% of ITSF sticker fees mentioned above). Total cash out: about 250,000 Euros. ITSF Accounts receivable: 27,200 Euros; Accounts payable: 42,250 Euros. So, pretty much break even. But it is a big enough budget to do stuff – stuff that without charging memberships and landing multiple sponsors and significant donations USTSF can’t begin to do. Of note, ITSF’s accounting is done each year by JS Consultants, and ITSF is required to submit its accounting each year to both the GAISF, and to the IOC credentials committee along with its annual condition of sport update package to the IOC, prior to Farid’s annual progress meeting with that same committee.
USTSF’s average operating budget to date has been just under US $10K, and that’s with my own average personal donation of over $6K in each of the last three years. The rest has been small USTSF staff and player donations, and an occasional team uniform sponsorship or raffle donation from promoters or manufacturers. Having said that – as noted much earlier – ITSF recently has provided USTSF with some funding back through its license/sticker program, so that’s helpful. (And in fact, USTSF can’t predict if, when or how much we’ll ever receive from this or how long the benefit will be in place – so any such funding back from ITSF is considered a transient bonus at this point). But as also suggested earlier, our sense is that players don’t see any value in what they get with their current USTSA memberships and at the same time none of USTSA, IFP/Warrior or Bonzini USA see any reason to collect memberships on behalf of USTSF at their events no matter how or how much USTSF promotes their tournaments for them. So, USTSF continues to seek ways that we can generate working funds without imposing on players or relying on ITSF or any manufacturers/manufacturer promoters.
* The French government has historically supported/subsidized international sport governing bodies for virtually all sports that are willing to headquarter there. Because of these advantages, very many such organizations – from soccer to chess – do. It’s a lot like banks that headquarter in Switzerland, Luxembourg or Grand Cayman; or like insurance companies that headquarter in Iowa or American businesses that incorporate in Delaware – it just makes sound business sense to do so based on the benefits or incentives that those places provide.
FM) Why is all this money from U.S. promoters not going to the USTSF?
LD) Kind of explained in a number of areas in this interview. Beyond what’s already been said ITSF federation dues, manufacturers dues and tournament promoters’ ITSF sanctioning fees paid to ITSF can be shown as all being effectively used by ITSF in helping to organize, grow and communicate the sport worldwide. Certainly ITSF doesn’t use it to “line their pockets” as some might claim – the documentation just doesn’t support that. But since USTSF is just starting to see a small amount of that back from ITSF, we don’t see structure and use of funds as a problem. Most tournament promoters don’t seem to see ITSF tournament sanctioning fees as a problem either, since all it takes is one or two extra package deals purchased by ITSF points-race chasers showing up at their tournaments and it more than makes up for the cost. Add to that the free advertising on the ITSF and USTSF websites, and the added benefit to tournament promoters that USTSF has been providing: free professional press release distributions (which attracts not only media but sponsors) and everyone seems to be a winner. However, as also noted previously, USTSF is free to sanction tournaments independently of ITSF. If there are promoters who want to work with USTSF but for whatever reason can’t or don’t want to work with ITSF, USTSF can still help. We’ve got our own draft sanctioning criteria on the USTSF.org website, which will soon be ratified at the upcoming September USTSF General/National Assembly meeting in Dallas.
FM) Anything you would like to add that the USTSF is doing that maybe we aren't aware of and could help on?
LD) Most all of USTSF’s current areas of concern were mentioned in this interview already, but there’s two key areas in which we need help. One is, we need Ed Geer to remain more focused on our accounting and tax filings (the area in which he originally volunteered to help USTSF). As such we also need some tech-savvy volunteers to help in managing USTSF’s stand-alone ratings system (Mury Johnson and Shaun Cooper were doing it for a long time but their personal lives have severely restricted their volunteer time). Next is, we need another volunteer – someone with a good marketing and budget projection background – to put together a proper 5-year marketing plan for us. I could do it very effectively myself but I’ve really got zero available time. Beyond that, USTSF will have Board of Directors positions opening up, all our committees need to be staffed and projects worked. We need volunteers to work our collegiate program, our Tables for Kids program, and our Tables for Troops program. The list goes on and on. USTSF has always been about open player involvement & participation, but what we REALLY need are doers who love the sport as much as we do and if given a project have the will and motivation (and time) to run with it. If you’re one such person, please contact USTSF: firstname.lastname@example.org. We want to talk to you.
One other thing: keep in mind that USTSF is not in the business of running the pro tour in the USA (as some people think we’re trying to do, while others actually want us to do) or even of running individual tournaments or leagues (the business of promoters/manufacturers), and neither is ITSF (with the exception of their World Championships/World Cup events). Both organizations are sport governing bodies having as their main objectives (though different means and resources) the growth of the sport and recognition of that sport by Olympic format entities such as IOC, GAISF, USOC, etc. (Again, “recognition” does not mean foosball in the Olympics itself, but it does mean vastly greater credibility with sponsors, the public, and eligibility to be an event at second tier world games events, such as the Pan-American Games, Asian Games, World Indoor Games, and more. See this link for a list of IOC “Recognized” sports and tell me why table soccer shouldn’t also be one of them: http://www.olympic.org/uk/sports/recognized/index_uk.asp). Over and above that, USTSF does indeed take the issues and concerns of the USA player base, its promoters and manufacturers seriously and directly to ITSF using the means provided, such as proposals for vote by the ITSF Executive Commission and ITSF’s various committees, and/or proposals for vote at and by the ITSF General Assembly. The USTSF – together with Tornado as the only USA table participating at the moment and whose table is the primary one in less than 10% of ITSF member federations – is probably one of the more vocal, demanding and often most contentious federations (since the “old” days of Canada’s Adam Imanpoor hijacking GA meetings and presentations). However, in the GA the USTSF is only one of 52 member federations and in the end each member federation has only one vote on every issue brought before it at the GA. If USTSF makes its arguments well in these forums, those arguments have often gained support from many other countries who will agree, even many whose tables are not Tornado. It’s a fair and equitable process, and one in which the sometimes visionary, sometimes radical ITSF President Farid Lounas often finds himself and/or his concepts reigned in by the majority. But that doesn’t mean (much like myself and many others with a great passion for this game) that once he has something in mind that he won’t persist...
Thanks Phil, and thanks to all who’ve made it this far in reading this interview! I hope I didn’t talk everyone’s ear off or write everyone into submission. I know people prefer short, concise answers but my view is that if you don't know the full reason, rationale or detail (or at least know where to find it in writing) then all that remains is rumor and speculation.
Very respectfully submitted,
Larry Davis, President
United States Table Soccer Federation
P.S. Phil, As promised I’ve attached copies of ITSF’s accounting data and other related documents, as voted on/approved annually by the 52 member nations of the ITSF General Assembly. You’ll note the itemized balance sheets are in French but that with very basic analysis you can pretty much tell what each area denotes. The summary sheets at the end of the balance sheets (approx. pages 14-15) and the annual budget that’s voted on/approved by the General Assembly are actually all in English, as is the open invitation to the ITSF General Assembly. Last, I’ve attached the ITSF Administrative Code, which includes on pages 20-21 some of the specific sums paid by member federations for dues, and by ITSF to players as travel awards at the ITSF Worlds. However, note that the ITSF's fiscal year ends on 31 August each year, so these last accounting documents don't reflect the contributions made by sponsors, manufacturers and the host country federation and/or the massive expenses paid in holding the huge combined ITSF World Championships/World Cup last January which I understand ITSF took a loss on. ITSF Sport Code attached as well. Enjoy…