I expected April Fool's Day to bring, like, two pranks and five mildly silly corporate product announcements for every 193 complaints about April Fool's Day, and wasn't disappointed. Just past midnight Friday --- we realized it was the 1st of April just after reading the news --- bunny_hugger and I fell for the first prank news announcement of the day, although we realized it quickly. The prank was, of course, pinball-based.
The news: the International Flipper Pinball Association declared it would start charing tournaments and leagues to have their results ``endorsed'', and thus counted for IFPA ranking points. Just a dollar per player, with the money going to fund state and national championship prize pools. No discount (or waiver) for charity events or for events meant to bring new people into pinball or anything.
Amusing enough, at least for the ``boo! Stuff is changing!'' scare it delivers. Thing is, bunny_hugger heard rumors that this was in earnest, and that some kind of endorsement-fee scheme was floated to state organizers ahead of the announcement. A real bit of news, announced the one day of the year it shouldn't be announced? But then on the major pinball forums the IFPA folks refused to answer any questions for the day, surely demonstrating that this was all a prank. Or, possibly --- and terribly --- a trial balloon, floated the one day they could walk it back if the response was utterly catastrophic.
The April 2nd update insisted ``this announcement is 100% real and will be implemented for the 2018 season'', which makes it either in earnest or a weirdly committed prank. But then the arguments about it at places like TiltForums have seen the IFPA folks answer practical objections with strategies that step close to without quite being absurd. It's a great performance, if it is a performance.
And then it gets ratcheted up, with (for example) a suggestion about how the pinball rankings might be divided into ``professional'' and ``amateur'' rankings, with separate points tracking for both, and professionals paying (or paying more) for the endorsement of tournaments. Which is daft, but too daft? In short, there's either a real plan being rolled out with Republican-level ineptitude or there's an April Fool's prank being played with such a straight face it might end up actually happening rather than have anyone break kayfabe.
Thing is, some kind of endorsement fee makes some sense. Particularly for state tournaments: the cost of getting to Nationals is borne by the state's champion (or #2, if the champion can't make it). They have to book the flight and hotel and arrange for work vacation one month ahead of time. Nationals are often held in Las Vegas during the same weekend as March Madness's start. This is a heck of a burden; surely something could be done for that? On the other hand, sucking up money from every tournament for the champions means, for example, most of the pinball players in Oregon would be underwriting Portland. How to avoid that? Well, why not divide stuff between professional players and amateur players? Is that crazy? ... Kind of, but is that crazy enough?
The proposed dollar-a-player fee is of this kind. It's not so outrageously high that the scheme is obviously ridiculous. But that's also, like, ten percent of what bunny_hugger's tournaments raise for charity, per capita. It hurts tournaments that pay out to the winners, maybe a small thing. But it seems devastating to tournaments or leagues that neither take in nor pay out money, like Grand Rapids or Blind Squirrel. It would obviously smash the New York Superleague --- would the dedicated players be willing to pony up the cost for all the casual players whose IFPA ranking points they're mining --- but it would also smash events like the Baby Food Festival, that rope people in off the streets to try playing pinball. Those things seem like they should bring people into the hobby, a necessary thing for pinball's survival. Who'd want to suppress that?
It would, my very quick-and-dirty estimate suggests, raise something on the order of $100,000 per year. (I find something like 90 events on the IFPA calendar for the coming week; pretend that's average and that there are 50 useful weeks in the year, and suppose there's something like 20 participants per event.) That's not so much money as to be ridiculous, especially split between the national tournament and the sixty-or-so US State and Canadian Province tournaments. But it's enough money in one set of hands to make anyone justifiably nervous. Like, is the IFPA even an organized corporate body? Do they have a board of directors or anything? Reports on what money they take in and where it goes? And yet. Having a decent lump of money involved is one of the key ways that a sport goes from ``band of enthusiasts'' to ``dedicated, long-lasting organization''. (Also key: trusted impartial referees, and professional fans, which is to say gamblers who aren't being too obnoxiously obvious about it.)
So this is all either a bloody magnificent prank, existing in that liminal space between obvious nonsense and obvious sincerity, or it's a spectacular bit of self-immolation. And I don't know which, even yet.
Trivia: In the National Association of Base Ball Players convention of January 1857, one W W Armfield, representing the Eagle Club, moved that each of the sixteen represented clubs (all from the New York City area) contribute two dollas each to cover incidental expenses. The motion passed. E H Brown (of the Harlem Club), treasurer, warned the players, ``I don't take Spanish quarters''. This seems to be the earliest recorded instance of money raised and shared between teams. Source: A Game Of Inches: The Story Behind The Innovations That Shaped Baseball, Peter Morris.
Currently Reading: Michigan History, March/April 2017, Editor Nancy Feldbush.