It was in early 2017 that the International Flipper Pinball Association (IFPA) announced an endorsement fee for tournaments that sought to award World Pinball Player Ranking (WPPR) points. The goal: to increase the prestige of the State and National level Championships. In 2018 the fee was implemented, and in early 2019 the collection of those fees manifested in dramatically higher prize pools for State/Provence Championships and the National Championship. The fee, $1 per player per endorsed event, triggered a robust discussion with a lot of speculation on whether the stated goal would be achieved, and the impact on the quantity of events and players involved with the IFPA.
With an entire year’s worth of data at hand, now is the opportune time to examine the impact the fee had in its first year.
The IFPA supplied data on events for 2017 and 2018 (supplementing prior-supplied data which covers back to 2009). The short answer is competitive pinball continued to grow across all measured metrics, the rate of growth did slow, but the growth levels are still significant.
Figure 1 shows the three data sets examined from 2009 through 2018. Figure 2 isolates unique players and number of events, for those wishing to focus more on unique tracking. The three examined data sets are:
- Number of IFPA sanctioned events held
- Number of unique (i.e., different) players that participated in IFPA events that year
- Total attendance (which counts repeated players each time they attend an IFPA event)
As both charts show, the $1 endorsement fee did not prevent competitive pinball from growing in 2018. However, the speed of growth may have experienced impact. Figure 3 provides the data details, including percentage of growth from the prior year, for these three categories from 2009 through 2018.
With the nine percentage of growth figures calculated for each of the three data categories, the lower growth levels become obvious. Average annual growth for number of events is 32.52%, whereas 2018’s growth from 2017 was 19.57%. Average annual growth for number of unique players is 20.96%, whereas 2018’s growth from 2017 was 9.9%. Finally, average annual total attendance growth is 30.47%, whereas 2018’s growth from 2017 was 15.63%.
Is this lower growth due to the endorsement fee? Maybe. It is hard to say, because there are a lot of questions related to how feasible it is to keep adding events (dates and locations can only support so many), players to repeatedly attend more and more events, and so forth. It is important to note 2018 was the lowest growth year only for total attendance (the next lowest year was 2015, with a 20.41% increase from 2014). The lowest growth year for number of events was 2015 (a 11.56% increase from 2014), and for number of unique players was 2016 (a 4.54% increase from 2015).
It is also important to consider just how significant the 2018 growth rates are. If these levels were sustainable, the IFPA would experience a doubling of sanctioned events in approximately five years. It would experience a doubling of its player base in roughly ten years. Thus, even if the endorsement fee is the largest contributor to the growth slowdown, the growth levels are still aggressive.
The other key consideration is whether the IFPA was successful during the endorsement fee’s first year in increasing the prestige of the State/Province and National Championships. The endorsement fee produced a total prize package of approximately $96,000 (U.S. States saw payouts of $66,357.50, Canadian Provinces saw payouts of $6,103.00 CAD, and the National payouts were $18,950.00 plus a new-in-box Stern Pro model pinball machine).
There are several ways to measure prestige. A common one oft discussed during the initial presentation of the endorsement fee concept was media attention. More prize money would equate to more media attention, which in turn would help grow attention on pinball and the prize pools further (namely through sponsorship deals, as seen in other competitive activities). So, did the media attention grow in 2018?
The IFPA tracks media coverage related to their Championship Series. For the 2017-18 period (before the endorsement fee), the IFPA recorded 19 instances of media coverage (across video, radio, and print). For the 2018-19 period (with the endorsement fee), the IFPA tracked 28 instances of media activity. A 47% increase in media attention is significant, but one must consider this data carefully. First, does the IFPA have accurate information on all the media reports for both years? Second, even if the media reports are complete, what are the levels of duplicative coverage versus diverse coverage? Delving into this second question, a good example are the ten media reports in the 2018-19 listing about Oregon specifically (over 35% of total media mentions listed), whereas it appears three mentions of New York were the highest repeated focus in the 2017-18 media breakdown (under 16%).
The IFPA may view any expansion as meeting its prestige goals. That is a question of net coverage gains regardless of focus versus the desire for diverse coverage gains. Their own tracking shows growth in media mentions; whether it is the type of growth they had in mind is up to their interpretation.
The IFPA’s $1 endorsement fee has not reduced participation in IFPA sanctioned competitive pinball. Robust growth levels still came through, though the levels of growth are clearly on the slower side compared to what the IFPA tracked for almost all prior years examined in this article. As for increased prestige, IFPA tracking does show a sizable increase in media mentions of their championship series, though a lot of that growth stems from just a handful of states and does not demonstrate broad state-by-state gains.
Assuming the IFPA continues the endorsement fee (reasonable given IFPA has said nothing about planning to end it), it will be worthwhile to continue to examine the media side of this equation to see if diversified mentions manifest with the next round of Championships. It seems unlikely that the endorsement fee would lag event and attendance growth more than already experienced, since the first year for a major change like this tends to experience the most fallout and there is no reason to expect the situation to compound (unless another major change happens, such as an increase in the fee).