Foosball Pioneer Larry Patterson

Larry Patterson of Cincinnati, Ohio is generally recognized as the founding father of coin-operated table soccer in America. Patterson bowed his first ''Foosball" table here in 1962, selling them initially through coin distributors and in some cases directly to larger operators on an exclusive territorial basis. The Brand and Registered Trade Mark of the table. "FOOSBALL", was registered in the USA and Canada by Patterson. and has resulted in the need for competitive companies to corrupt that word into its various other spellings in order to avoid a conflict.

Patterson's tables were manufactured in Bavaria. Germany under specific construction specifications outlined by the man himself. ''We prepared ten or twelve pages of detailed specifications on exactly what we wanted our table to look and operate like.'' he declared in a recent RePlay interview. ''We didn't buy anybody else's table but designed our own.''

Patterson believes that the original concept of table soccer was developed in the 1920's by members of the Gosteli family of France, an interesting

observation since this would make soccer of French, rather than German. origin. (The Gosteli family. in recent decades. ran the Electro-Kicker company in France, whose products included the Jupiter jukebox. The word ''kicker" is still used to describe table soccer in certain parts of Europe today; Italians often call the call ''Billiardini.")

Patterson sold the ''Foosball'' tables under the firm; name L.T. Patterson Distributors (a partnership). He incorporated in 1965 as Patterson International Inc. In 1969. they conducted business under a new corporation name called American Youth Marketing Corp.

Patterson recalls he first exhibited his "Foosball" tables at the MOA Convention in 1963 ... the first firm ever to show table soccer at the big national show. "Big customers back in those days were Hymie Zorinsky of Nebraska. Bill Sutherland of Oklahoma. Lou Dunis of Oregon ... these were territories where people took to the table soccer concept in large part due to the promotional efforts of these distributors and the particular liquor licensing laws of Nebraska. Oklahoma, and Oregon.'' Patterson said.

We asked Patter to describe those early ''missionary days'' when table soccer was first presented to the coin industry.

''Well (laughs), it was very tough and we were considered to be a little kooky and offbeat and many of the operators wouldn't give us the time of day.'' How did they wear down resistance where they did? ''We showed the operator that he could get an exclusive on something, at least temporarily, which he couldn't get on pool tables. bowling machines or anything else. Once we convinced him that he alone would be able to place and operate these games in his territory, they used this as a lever to get into new locations."

Although coin people moved between three and four thousand ''Foosball'' tables during the period between 1962 and 1965. Patterson was dissatisfied. In 1967. Patterson changed his marketing approach and began to ''franchise" the product. ''That's where the big move came because we shipped some 10.000 tables to franchise holders between '67 and '73." he declared. "It was quite a successful and profitable business at that time, with sales of one million per year-for several years. Our local licensees would operate the equipment themselves. These were not coin people. mind you Many of them were secured through ads in franchise journals like ''Specialty Salesman'' and through business opportunity ads in. for example. the ''Wall Street Journal'' right along with the Kentucky Fried Chicken ads. These people would pay a monthly franchise fee and then, of course, buy the equipment and install it in the taverns and other locations and operate them in the classic route manner.''

In 1968. some of Patterson's licensees held the first soccer tournaments, but as he said. ''they did not reach the level of popularity that we had hoped for and we dropped the idea in 1970. We were looking for tens of thousands of people to take part in them but that just did not happen."

Patterson today is a consulting economist and financial advisor in the precious metals and currency fields, and publishes a widely-quoted monthly investment letter. American Youth Marketing became unprofitable in '71, and Patterson ceased doing business under this corporation name about two years ago. ending the manufacture of the ''FOOSBALL'' brand table-however, Patterson still controls the registered trade mark and is engaged in licensing activities both in and outside the coin trade. "The Franchise end of our business suffered as a direct result of government activity,'' Patterson declared. ''Your judicial systems and legislatures across the country began to outlaw certain types of franchise agreements involving exclusive territories and this caused several big firms to go under. In addition to that. you had tremendous legislative activity on the state level. especially in California and Wisconsin. California considered franchising like a security which had to be registered with their Securities division and sold by circulating a prospectus. Franchising in general has never recovered from all this. But, l will say, if I had it all to do over again, l still would have made the decision to concentrate on franchise holders rather than depend totally on the classic coin machine operator because, quite frankly, operators really didn't want to do all the work to introduce this game to the public. Patterson declares that the collapse of the U.S. dollar in Europe starting in '69 and the doss of a leasehold were other problems from which American Youth Marketing never fully recovered.

After all this. Patterson says he's happy with the present day status of the game in the United States; since it is gaining popularity nationally-not only in the coin version-but in non-coin models for the home and will ultimately give the home pool table a run for the money as a home recreation game.

When and if table soccer is seen regularly on Wide World of Sports-Patterson can simply point to it and say-"That's my baby!"


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