Rocky Wilson speaks on the collapse of Tournament Soccer

Date: July 27th 1996

I was at the $400,000 Tournament Games Spectacular Tournament in
Chicago in 1991--the final collapse of Tournament Soccer. Lee Peppard
is alive and doing well in Algona/Pacific WA and is currently running
one of the largest soft tip dart promotion companies in the country:
Medalist Marketing. He is a success now because of the learning
experience he had with Tournament Soccer.

There were a lot of bad feelings after the 1991 Tournament, a number of
players were not paid for money. I heard that when Jim Wiswell killed
himself, that TS owed him a sizeable sum of money. I would have hated
to be in Lee's shoes when Jim committed suicide. Enough of that.

WHY DID TS GO UNDER? My opinion, based on the facts I know (remember
TS was a Seattle based company), is that Lee was a fast and furious
gambling sort of guy. He bet the house on the tour, and as long at the
table sales kept going he was fine. The philosophy of TS was that the
promotions DROVE sales. The pattern was (1) give out some money, (2)
get it back from table sales, (3) give out some bigger money, (4) get
it back from table sales, (5) give out some even bigger money, (6) get
it back from table sales. Intermixed in there somewhere was some
borrowing to get the money to give away for the next round.
In order to keep this up, TS had to change their product every
couple of years significantly enough to require the vendors to purchase
new tables: thus the standard green top in 1973, the lime greenie in
late 74/early 1975, the "Quarter Million" Greentop in mid 1975 to about
early 1977, the "Bluetop" in 1978/79 and finally the browntop in 1979
(?) through 1981.
What killed TS is a combination of (1) Their marketing strategy of
expensive promotions that they didn't have money for that WOULD BE
FOLLOWED by the Table Sales to pay for that promotion, or at least
enough success so that they could borrow more money for the next
expensive promotion. The business philosophy set up a foundation that
was a house of cards waiting for someone to pull the bottom card out.
(2) A horribly cheap product. The old TS Tables were built in
Taiwan out of the worst crap available. The men broke all the time and
vendors only bought them because they thought they might make money on
(3) The planned obsolescence of Green Top, Blue Top, "Get Down
Brown" Top, etc. Vendors saw the pattern and were not pleased.
(4) Going to 50 cents a game from 25 cents in 1978 or 1979. A
dramatic move at best, but one that needed to be made, but one that
couldn't be made at the same time.
(5) Pac Man saw that house of cards and gobbled the bottom card up:
in other words, when the video craze hit, a good video game would earn
$300/week and take up a quarter of the space of a foosball table did
that earned between $40 & $80 a week tops. Let me see should I get
$1200 a week, or $40 a week? Tough decision. Thus in order to be
competitive, the attempt was made to charge 50 cents for a game of
foosball--an attempt that failed miserably.
When the Video Craze hit, Tournament Soccer's sales went from over
1000 units per month to less than 100--virtually overnight.
(6) Now for the juicy stuff. Because of the marketing success (?)
of TS, it decided to do two things: Start building dart boards and pool
tables and air hockey's, and to align itself with Atari Corporation in
Sunnyvale, CA. Notice that Atari was in Sunnyvale, CALIFORNIA, not
Chicago, Illinois, where all the other game manufacturers were (until
Donkey Kong came out, anyway).
With both moves, developing new games and aligning themselves with
Atari, TS was stepping on some mighty big toes of some mighty nasty
people. From the grapevine, I've heard that one (or more) of the feet
that those toes were attached to lifted up and squashed TS. It wasn't
tough because TS was in it's death throes anyway.
I've heard it was an orchestrated combination of deals being made
with TS and then suddenly being pulled out from under them, and
lawsuits from various directions that were expensive to litigate.
Add this to the fact that the company was highly leveraged and
based on a house of cards foundation which was quickly tumbling because
or lack of sales and you have a not so happy picture.

I'm not sure of just how much of what Todd says is true, but I know
that Lee lost his family (by divorce, not death), his livelihood, his
house and his car after TS went under--which wouldn't happen if he was
taking the foosball players for a ride.
The TS years were some of the best years of my life, and I owe it
to Lee. Sure I was following a dream that suddenly faded, which might
have been detrimental to me overall, but it wasn't Lee's fault that the
sport died--it wouldn't have got to where it was without him.
Sometimes, though, I wonder just where I would be if I hadn't
played foosball--I'd probably have done better, I guess, but who knows?

Mind you I prefer Tornado's philosophy--build a good product and
let the product drive promotions--a much more conservative
approach--and one that has been proven in the test of time. Tornado
was around when TS started and they are still around.
By the way, TS tables are still made, but few are sold, and they're
still as cheaply made as ever, perhaps a little more so. They new ones
are "Black tops".

I guess I've babbled enough, but I hope I've told a good story.
Todd saw it from one side. Sounds like you were partying with staff at
TS, eh, Todd. I saw it from another side--I was in the amusement
industry at the time.

Any other perspectives out there?